Hunger, disease ‘inevitable’ in Gaza

 
Israel’s Sustained Bombing Created Massive Disease Risk

Overcrowded Shelters, Dirty Water, and Breakdown of Basic Sanitation

After more than a month of being subjected to sustained bombing, the besieged people of the Gaza Strip are now confronted with another threat to life: disease.

Overcrowding at shelters, a breakdown of basic sanitation, the rising number of unburied dead and a scarcity of clean drinking water have left the enclave “on the precipice of major disease outbreaks,” according to the World Health Organization.

As an expert in Palestinian public health systems who wrote about the many relationships between war and health for my forthcoming book “How War Kills: The Overlooked Threats to Our Health,” I believe that the looming crisis cannot be underestimated. The easy spread of infectious disease in wartime conditions can be just as devastating as airstrikes to health and mortality – if not more so. Health care services in Gaza – already vulnerable prior to the Israeli bombing campaign – have essentially no capacity to cope with a major outbreak.

Disease already rampant

History has proved time and again that war zones can be a breeding ground for disease. Anywhere impoverished and underresourced people crowd for shelter or access to resources – often in facilities with inadequate living conditions, sanitation services or access to clean water – is prone to the spread of disease. This can be through airborne or droplet transmission, contaminated food or water, living vectors like fleas, mosquitoes or lice, or improperly cleaned and managed wounds.

More

In any situation of armed conflict or mass displacement, the threat of infectious disease is among the primary concerns of public health professionals. And from the outset of the Israeli bombing campaign, experts have predicted dire health consequences for Gaza.

After all, the Gaza Strip had fragile health and water, sanitation and hygiene sectors long before the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack that killed 1,200 Israelis and prompted the retaliatory airstrikes. The health system of Gaza, one of the most densely populated places in the world, has long been plagued by underfunding and the effects of the blockade imposed by Israel in 2007.

Waterborne illness was already a major cause of child mortality – the result of the contamination of most of Gaza’s water. In early 2023, an estimated 97% of waterin the enclave was unfit to drink, and more than 12% of child mortality cases were caused by waterborne ailments, like typhoid fever, cholera and hepatitis A, that are very rare in areas with functional and adequate water systems.

Other forms of infectious disease spread have also been reported in recent years. Gaza had experienced several previous outbreaks of meningitis – an inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord typically caused by infection – notably in 1997, 2004 and 2013.

In late 2019, a small outbreak of measles – a highly contagious, airborne virus – was reported in Gaza, with almost half of reported cases in unvaccinated people. Despite a relatively high vaccination rate in Gaza generally, these gaps in vaccination and the inability to respond quickly to outbreaks were attributed by the WHO to “the continuous socio-economic decline since 2009, conflict, and closure.”

And the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Gaza Strip hard, exacerbated by the Israeli blockade that prevented or delayed the import of vital personal protective equipment, testing kits and vaccines.

France 24: “Hunger, disease ‘inevitable’ in Gaza as fuel runs out • FRANCE 24 English”

A system overwhelmed

The vulnerability of Gaza’s health care meant that from the outset of the latest conflict, organizations such as the WHO voiced concern that the violence and deprivation could quickly overwhelm the system.

There are several ways war in general, and the conflict in Gaza in particular, accelerates and promotes infectious disease risk.

Almost concurrently with the start of the bombing campaign, Israel imposed siege conditions on Gaza. This prevented the import of fuel needed to run generators for vital infrastructure. Generators are needed because Israel shut off electricity to Gaza.

As fuel has essentially run out in recent days, this has meant no power for desalination plants or for solid waste collection. As a consequence, many people have been forced to consume contaminated water or live in conditions where living carriers of disease, like rodents and insects, thrive.

Even basic cleaning supplies are scarce, and equipment used to sterilize everything from medical equipment to baby bottles is inoperable.

These unhygienic conditions come as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza attempt to flee the bombing to the few remaining places left to shelter. This has caused massive overcrowding, which increases the risk of an infectious disease outbreak.

Children especially vulnerable

Already, the WHO has reported worrying trends since mid-October 2023, including more than 44,000 cases of diarrhea in Gaza.

Diarrhea is a particular risk for young children who are prone to profound dehydration. It represents the second-leading cause of death worldwide in children younger than 5 years of age. Half of the diarrhea cases reported in Gaza since the Israeli bombing campaign began have been in children under 5.

Meanwhile, nearly 9,000 cases of scabies – a skin rash caused by mites – have been reported, as have more than 1,000 cases of chickenpox.

More than 70,000 cases of upper respiratory infections have been documented, far higher than what would be expected otherwise. These are just cases that were reported; undoubtedly, more people who were unable to get to a health facility for diagnosis are also sick.

Reports of the spread of chickenpox and upper respiratory infections like influenza and COVID-19 are particularly dangerous considering children’s vaccination schedules are being highly disrupted by conflict. With health services overstretched and the mass movement of families, young children and newborns are likely going without vital, lifesaving inoculations just as winter – the peak season for respiratory infections – arrives.

Upper respiratory infections are also exacerbated by the amount of dust and other pollutants in the air due to the destruction of buildings during bombing.

Then there is the direct impact of the bombing campaign. A lack of antibiotics – due to both the siege and the destruction of health facilities – means physicians are unable to adequately treat thousands of patients with open wounds or in need of medical operations, including amputations.

More death and suffering

Increasingly, doctors are even running out of wound dressings to protect injuries from exposure. Poor infection prevention controls, high casualty rates and high concentrations of toxic heavy metals, among other factors, are leading to reports of antimicrobial resistance, which occurs when bacteria and viruses evolve over time to no longer respond to antibiotics and other antimicrobial medications. This has the potential to lead to health issues long after the bombing stops. Similar trends were also seen in Iraq, where antimicrobial resistance rates remain highdespite the peak of bombing campaigns ending many years ago.

And with many bodies laying under rubble, unable to be retrieved, and the necessity of digging multiple mass graves near sites where people are sheltering, there is also increased risk of disease arising from an inability to adequately dispose of the dead.

While the images and photos from Gaza of areas and people that have been bombed are devastating and have caused a massive death toll – at least 12,000 by mid-November, according to Gaza health authorities – the rapid spread of infectious disease has the ability to cause even greater mortality and suffering to a population reeling from weeks of sustained bombing.The Conversation

Yara M. Asi is Assistant Professor of Global Health Management and Informatics, University of Central Florida.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
 

Rainwater is the property of Israel

Rainwater is the property of Israel
byu/temporary_staying inlostgeneration

“Israel even controls the collection of rain water throughout most of the West Bank, and rainwater harvesting cisterns owned by Palestinian communities are often destroyed by the Israeli army.” | @amnesty report: The Occupation of Water https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/11/the-occupation-of-water/
 

Light in Gaza Speaking Tour in Milwaukee


Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire book cover. (Photo: AFSC)

American Friends Service Committee, Sep 27, 2022

    11/17/22 update: WORT’s Gil Halsted talks with Yousef Aljamal and Asmaa Abu Mezeid, two of the Light in Gaza authors now on tour in the U.S.

Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire brings together sixteen essays and poems by twelve Palestinian writers. The book includes political essays, personal narratives, economic analysis, and poetry. The book is edited by American Friends Service Committee staff Jehad Abusalim, Jennifer Bing, and Mike Merryman-Lotze and published by Haymarket Books. Read the full press release here.

AFSC is excited to host a speaking tour featuring Asmaa Abu Mezied and Yousef Aljamal, contributors to the Light in Gaza anthology.

Join us for a discussion of this new literary anthology featuring two of the book’s co-authors: Asmaa Abu Mezied and Yousef Aljamal.

This book imagines what the future of Gaza could be, while reaffirming the critical role of Gaza in the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

“This is a different view than most Americans see in the news.  Usually we see people in Gaza being killed or living without electricity. So they are either victims or superhumans. You miss the everyday family gatherings, the importance of nature. We hope this book inspires people to want to learn more,” said Jennifer Bing, director of the AFSC Palestine Activism Program in Chicago and editor for the Light in Gaza book project.

We will talk with the authors about their contributions to the book, and discuss the current conditions in Gaza. We will also be discussing the role that we here in Turtle Island can play in support the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

This event is co-sponsored by: Milwaukee 4 Palestine (milwaukee4palestine@gmail.com); Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, Party for Socialism and Liberation (Milwaukee), Jewish Voice for Peace (Milwaukee), Students for Justice in Palestine (UWM), Students for Justice in Palestine (Marquette University).

About the speakers:

Asmaa Abu Mezied is economic development and gender expert working to address issues of gender, development, and climate change.  Her main area of focus is women’s economic justice through gendered economic policies, women’s rights in economic sectors, unpaid care and domestic work campaigning, inclusive markets, and feminist economics in fragile and conflict areas. Asmaa is a beginner gardener in the Gaza Strip and is interested in the intersection of Palestinian political, agricultural, and environmental identities. Asmaa is a policy member and a current fellow at Al Shabaka, a Palestinian think tank.  She was an Atlas Corps Fellow with U.S. President Obama’s Emerging Global Leaders, a Gaza Hub-Global Shaper Alumna in the initiative of the World Economic Forum, and a 2021 Mozilla Foundation Wrangler at “Tech for Social Activism” space. 

Yousef M. Aljamal is a Palestinian refugee from Al-Nusierat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He has obtained an MA degree from the Department of International and Strategic Studies Department at the University of Malaya. He is now a PhD Candidate at the Middle East Institute at Sakarya University in Turkey. Aljamal, besides his research interests in diaspora, security, and indigenous studies, has contributed to a number of books which highlight the Palestinian narrative. He translated two books on Palestinian prisoners entitled The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag (2013) and Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak (2016). He also co-edited the book A Shared Struggle Stories of Palestinian and Irish Hunger Strikers (2021). Aljamal has published a number of journal articles on topics that include Palestinians in the diaspora, travel restrictions imposed on Palestinians, and struggles for liberation. Over the years, he has spoken at various forums and platforms to highlight the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.

Palestine: Where Manufactured Water Scarcity Meets Climate Change


Destruction of the water network in Masafer Yatta, South Hebron hills, Area C of West Bank. | Courtesy: Nasser Nawaj’ah, B’Tselem, 25 November 2020

Anna Abraham, Currently, October 12, 2022

The Israeli-occupied territory of Palestine faces both natural and state-sanctioned acute water scarcity. 

The term “man-made climate change” is used to reiterate the role humanity has played in causing the climate crisis. In present-day Palestine, which is suffering from acute water scarcity and colonial occupation, the term takes a whole new form. 

The semi-arid Middle East and North Africa region is considered a climate hotspot due to its natural dryness. Droughts are common and locals have, over time, adapted to these circumstances. Palestine is no stranger to these conditions.

The heatwave that hit Israel and Palestine this summer brought extreme temperatures to the region, raising temperatures by 5 degrees C (41 degrees F) above the seasonal average. In the Jordan Valley, the eastern portion of the West Bank region of Palestine, temperatures soared as high as 45 degrees C (113 degrees F).

However, despite these extreme changes, Israelis, in both the Zionist State and the Settlements, did not face any water shortages, while Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as usual, did.

“The chronic water shortage [in Palestine] is the outcome of the Israeli occupation regime,” said Eyal Hareuveni an Israeli researcher with B’Tselem working on water issues.

“All Israeli settlements are built in opposition to the international humanitarian law. In the Jordan Valley, communities that depend on water for agriculture and consumption have lost it to the wells that Israel is digging for neighboring settlements.”

The West Bank

While Palestinians in the West Bank don’t have water to drink, Israelis in the settlements fill their swimming pools to the brim, highlighting a glaring disparity. 

According to Palestinian officials, Israel controls 85 percent of the water in this region and has a say in how the rest is allocated. Year-round water cuts, therefore, which can last weeks, have become a core facet of Palestinian life.

And while most Israelis and settlers can consume between 240 and 300 liters of water per day, most Palestinians only reach about 73 liters — much less than what the World Health Organization regards as the minimum required standard of 100 liters per person. 

Many apartment buildings in city centers have resorted to lining their roofs with black and white water tanks, which residents pay extra to fill when their taps inevitably run dry.

Water tanks on the roofs of homes in Nablus, Palestine | Courtesy: Salma a-Deb’i, B’Tselem, 13 September 2017.

In some rural agricultural communities, water consumption is as low as 20 liters per person per day. Some villages receive water once every 15 days. In the case of poor communities, half the family’s income is spent on water alone. Many are not connected to piped water and must buy water from mobile water tankers and contractors. In Aroura, a village near the capital city of Ramallah, the price of 250 liters (66 gallons) of water from a mobile tanker is $61.

Village of a-Duqaiqah, South Hebron Hills, West Bank, not hooked up to water grid; villagers purchase water from water trucks, paying 4 times as much as the average water tariff for private use in Israel | Courtesy: Nasser Nawaj’ah, B’Tselem, 19 August 2012.

The Gaza Strip

In the Gaza strip, on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the situation is precarious; its limited freshwater resources are being pumped unsustainably.

97 percent of the groundwater in Gaza is undrinkable due to contamination; an electricity crisis has inhibited water wells and sewage treatment operations. The salinity of the water is so high that it ruins faucets, pipelines, and tanks — Gazans have to regularly replace them.

“All the faucets in our house are full of limestone and rust, which makes them fragile. The minute one part needs fixing, everything breaks down. Even the toilet’s ruined from the salt and can break when you clean it,” Hatem Hamad told BT’selem.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor has attributed the crisis to the 15-year Israeli blockade

Depriving Palestinians of water

Israel regularly attacks Palestinian water and sewage infrastructure. In June this year, water pipelines in the West Bank were destroyed. During the military offensive in the Gaza strip last year, 18 sewage water pumps were damaged, 4 of Gaza’s central sewage treatment stations were non-functional and 18,700 meters (20,400 yards) of sewage networks were damaged. 

Destruction of the water network in Masafer Yatta, South Hebron hills, Area C of West Bank | Courtesy:  Nasser Nawaj’ah, B’Tselem, 25 November 2020.

But these are not isolated incidents. Palestinians say that Israel has categorically weaponized water.

After the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza strip, it took control of all water infrastructure and resources in the region. In November of that year, Military Order 158 was issued, prohibiting Palestinians from constructing any new water installation without a permit from the Israeli army. Permits are nearly impossible to get. Water resources, since, have been controlled through several military orders.

In 1995, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo II agreement with provisions on water and sewage that recognized some Palestinian water rights, returning some West Bank water resources to the Palestinian National Authority.

But these water rights are still continuously violated. Israel not only overdraws water, violating the Oslo agreement but also denies access to water by prohibiting new water infrastructure.

“They knew that it is the substance of life. So they denied the water to Palestinians, they denied them life.”

“Palestinians cannot dig for groundwater. Israel has drones in the sky to monitor this. We cannot use any water other than the meager amount that Israel decides by the good graces of the colonizers. Israel also denies Palestinians the right to collect rainwater. Imagine – rainwater, it comes from heaven,” said Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian scientist and founder of the Palestine Museum of Natural History and the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability at Bethlehem University.

“Before the Zionist project, all Palestinian water was used by Palestine. When the project came about, water was their priority. They knew that it is the substance of life. So they denied the water to Palestinians, they denied them life.” 

In 1964, Israel built a dam on the shared river Jordan, blocking the river’s outflow to the Sea of Galilee (or Kinneret). A once green strip in a dry region has been dying and drying ever since. The diversion of the river, and other tactics such as the draining of Lake Hula, resulted in a loss of livelihood for the subsistence farmers and the consequent depopulation of native Palestinians. According to Qumsiyeh, this was a meticulous process that depended on water for ethnic cleansing. 

“Instead of river Jordan, it should be called stream now. You can literally walk across it,” he chuckled.

Before the 1967 war, less than a tenth of the river was in Israel. After the war, almost all of it has been under Israeli control. The river, which once discharged 1.3 billion cubic meters per year, now drips 20 to 30 million cubic meters of water. Still, Israelis are water secure.

“The Israeli settlers next to my village of Beit Sahur [east of Bethlehem] have a swimming pool and even a water park. My village gets water very infrequently and it goes weeks without water sometimes.”

Climate Change

Climate change is set to make things worse, with droughts expected to become more frequent and intense.

“There is already an incredible scarcity of water in this land. In the coming years, we are expecting to see less precipitation and it gets a lot worse in the ‘worst-case scenarios’. There are numbers as high as a 25 percent reduction in rainfall,” said Karim Elgendy, Associate Fellow at the Environment and Society Program of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House.

A recent report found that the Eastern Mediterranean region, where Israel and Palestine lie, is heating up at twice the global average, leaving the occupied Palestinian territory even more vulnerable to water and food scarcity. Palestinians are doubly threatened by climate change caused by the Global North and the occupation actively denying them access to their land and resources.

Qumsiyeh said, “The Zionist project is a project of colonialism. And as you know, the colonialists are interested in the land, [they are] interested in the natural resources. They don’t want the people who come with these resources. So they deprive people of their land, of their water, of their resources. And that’s not enough. They kicked out most of the Palestinians.

Looking Ahead

In the coming years, streams in the region are expected to dry up, forest fires and disease outbreaks to increase and the cost of agriculture to rise. Experts say that it will eventually become dangerous to venture out in the heat of summer.

“They [Palestinains] are not aware of western conceptualizations of climate change and adaptation,” said Muna Dajani, a Palestinian environmental activist, and researcher who holds a Ph.D.from the Department of Geography and Environment at London School of Economics, in an interview with Currently last year when speaking about how Palestinians grapple with the realities of climate change.

“They might tell you that they have more pressing issues to deal with.” 

Going forward, experts like Dajani say it will be important for Palestinians to use their voice and re-establish their connection to the land, which has been severed by the occupation.

“The occupation and control over resources have caused the alienation of people from their land and water. Palestinians must be able to speak about climate change in their own language. Even though climate change is a global issue, it is also a very personal and local one.”

Mazin Qumsiyeh: Palestine Is a Climate Justice Issue

Join us to learn the environmental reality in Israel/Palestine today, what is being done by the land’s indigenous protectors. and what we can do to support their efforts.

We are honored to have one of Palestine’s leading voices on Palestinian activism and resistance, Mazin Qumsiyeh, an authority on the natural world of Palestine and environmental justice. Dr. Qumsiyeh is the founder and director of the Palestine Museum of Natural History and the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability at Bethlehem University.

The world’s climate and environmental crisis touches every corner of the globe.The most vulnerable and marginalized populations of the world are bearing the brunt of climate change and suffering daily environmental injustice. Nowhere is that more true than in Israel/Palestine. For Palestinians, climate change is not just a natural phenomenon, but a political one. Israel‘s regime of occupation and apartheid, which denies Palestinians the right to manage their land and resources, greatly heightens the impact of the climate crisis for Palestinians, making them more vulnerable to all climate-related conditions.

Yet Israel cultivates an image worldwide as an environmentally conscious, “green” society. It is even considered to be an environmental leader for the world. The reality is dramatically different.

He is also the author of several books, including Sharing The Land Of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle and Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment, and he has been called “the most important chronicler of contemporary popular resistance in Palestine.”

When we gather online with Mazin Qumsiyeh, representatives from around the world will be meeting in Egypt for the United Nations’ global climate conference, COP27. As we will see on November 9th, the fight for climate justice for all is directly connected to the Palestinian struggle.

Sponsored by Methodist Federation for Social Change and United Methodist Kairos Response.

Gaza is Not a Breaking News Cycle



The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy

August 11, 2022

 

Good Morning,

As you might have seen or heard, Israel launched yet another assault on the besieged Gaza strip, with bombardments and airstrikes killing 45 Palestinians and injuring more than 360, so far.

With the announcement of yet another precarious ceasefire, the international community’s attention is likely to move away from Gaza, yet again, leaving its people to mourn and rebuild in isolation under Israel’s 15 years of ongoing military siege. With this being Israel’s fifth assault since 2009 it is crucial to educate and inform ourselves and each other on Gaza, and to fight against its invisibilization and its dehumanization as mere periodical news cycle. Gaza has an ancestral history that is an integral and enmeshed part of Palestinian history. We must fight to keep it as part of the whole, and look ahead with a long-term vision, united against Israel’s intention to fragment and isolate Palestinians everywhere. 

This is why we are sharing with you again our latest Palestinian Takes email from June on Gaza, marking the passage of 15 years of Israel’s military siege. The email includes various Palestinian perspectives and resources on Gaza’s present and past, intertwined to bring us to the current moment.

The Nakba in 1948 and “the Gaza strip”:

  • Gaza has been inhabited since around 1500 BC, a thriving port for multiple cultures. Right before the Nakba of 1948, Gaza was one of many of Palestine’s districts, including the areas of Bir Al Sabi’ (Beersheba). As Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations began, 49 villages of the Gaza district were destroyed and more than 200,000 Palestinians were expelled from the southern and coastal areas of Palestine to smaller parts of Gaza district, which came to be known as the Gaza strip, as we learn in the Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question.
  • Since 1948, Gaza has become the epitome of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return movement, embodied more recently by the Great March of Return, that was co-initiated by Ahmad Abu Artema: “I wondered what would happen if 200,000 protesters gathered near the Israel fence with Gaza Strip, and entered the lands that are ours”.

The centrality of Gaza to iconic Palestinian food and land cultivation:

  • At home, on the sidewalks or dangling from the roofs of the shops at the markets or crossroads, this is how the branches of the unripe dates, called the “red gold”, announce they’re in season, a fruit after which the city of Deir Al-Balah (Land of Unripe Dates) is named.
  • Famous recipes have been curated by Palestinian chef Laila Haddad in The Gaza Kitchen cookbook, documenting people’s history and daily life through traditional dishes like the Rumaniyya (eggplant lentil pomegranate bowl) and Dagga (hot tomato and dill salad).
  • With its long Mediterranean coastline, fishery became a major source of food culture and sovereignty for many families. Yet, following the Israeli blockade in 2007, fishermen were systematically prevented from accessing the sea beyond 20 nautical miles, which gradually decreased to 3 nautical miles, while regularly being targeted and shot at by the Israeli naval army.
  • “In a few years there will be no more fishing at all, we will have to forget our profession and become traders”, said Gaza fishermen in a documentary on the topic.

    Fishermen on a Gaza Beach, 1987
    (Palestinian Museum Digital Archive)

A testing ground for apartheid, weapons and colonial repression:

  • In 1948, Palestinian refugees “were not expecting that their exodus would be prolonged for seven decades, and that they would be subjected to condescending efforts to void their right to return.” writes Jehad Abu-Salim.
  • In the span of two decades, the Israeli regime has led four aerial bombardment campaigns, killing and injuring thousands of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza, intentionally treating it as a testing ground for its military capabilities before it is exported all over the world.
  • “All the injustices Palestinians in Gaza face are a direct consequence of the continued denial of freedom, dignity and return. Overshadowing it with a humanitarian crisis is depriving the people in Gaza of their political will and reducing them to poor, powerless and passive subjects.” – writes Abir Kopty.
  • This thematic chronology by the Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question is an important resource covering how main events unfolded in the Israeli assaults on Gaza in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014-2015.
    This visual by Visualizing Palestine explains how the Israeli closure on Gaza started long before the blockade and in the height of the 1990s peace process.

We will never forget and never forgive: Palestinian testimonies from under the rubble:

  • “My brother was the only one who lived the long 12 hours under the rubble with me. He was calling my name every 5 minutes, asking: ‘Omar are you still alive?’ In his last moments, he asked me to forgive him and pronounced the Shahada. He knew he wouldn’t make it.” – This is the testimony of Omar Abu al-Ouf, the only survivor from his family of 17, who were all killed by an Israeli airstrike on their house in Gaza in May 2021
  • “My siblings and I were playing the moment when the rocket hit the ground, it exploded in front of us. I look around and I see my sister, cousins and brother! I gasped and held my sister and hugged her, I could not leave her.” – testimony of 15-year-old Batoul Al Masri who lost her brother and younger sister after an Israel missile hit them while playing in May 2021.

Gaza, an artistic, creative ground:

  • A group of youth in Gaza launched a platform designed to share stories with the world, defying harmful stereotypes through storytelling: We Are Not Numbers.
  • Gaza Mon Amour, a film released in 2020 and produced by the twin Tarzan brothers exiled from Gaza, is a powerful, moving tale and a love story where Gaza’s ancient Greek heritage meets today’s reality, full of humanity and love behind destruction and war.
  • I am 22 years old, I lost 22 people – A painting by Zeinab Al-Qolaq whose home was shelled by an Israeli airstrike in 2021, killing 22 of her family members overnight, including her mother and three siblings.

Only after having unpacked the situation in Gaza can prospects for decolonization and liberation be found.

Though it is not always easy to fight against oppressive forces, we shall remain strong and united, educating, mobilizing and organizing with you from Gaza, to Nablus and beyond.

In Solidarity,

Inès Abdel Razek,
Advocacy Director

Jewelry for Clean Water Campaign, 7/22/22

Jewelry Sales for Clean Water is an emergency campaign by Palestine Partners to support members of the Women in Hebron cooperative in constructing a desperately needed cistern to assure access to clean water. (At last report, $3500 of the $6000 goal has already been reached!)

About the campaign

Laila lives with 14 members of her extended family in a small house near the city of Al Khalil/Hebron, in occupied Palestine. For two summers now they have been without safe water. Recently, three of seven small children and two pregnant women have fallen seriously ill. The youngest children, only 9 and 14 months old, have been hospitalized after drinking water that doctors say may have been chemically contaminated or stored too long in the heat.

Her West Bank village has rudimentary municipal water, but Israel has seized control of the Palestinian aquifer in order to supply its illegal settlers there with unlimited amounts of water. This results in restricted, interrupted, or non-existent water flow to Palestinian villages. Palestinians must buy water, either from small trucks in often unsanitary containers, or from water trucks capable of filling underground cisterns. Laila’s house has no cistern, so her family has been forced to rely on the risky small containers rather than water from the safer and more reliable large trucks

Laila is selling hand-made earrings and necklaces to raise the $6000 needed for materials so that her sons can build a sealed water cistern that will enable the family to purchase safe water from a reputable source year-round, instead of small unsafe containers of water at hugely inflated cost. But she needs our help NOW to sell enough of her work to purchase the construction materials, so that her sons can begin the work.

Links to
Learn More,
Make Donations,
Shop for Jewelry, or
Buy a Gift Certificate!

7/22/22
Work has begun. They got the space dug out and all went well with that; Laila got a good excavator and nothing crumbled or caved in. Now they are getting ready to pour the concrete bottom of the cistern.

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The Plight of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta

Ayman Mohyeldin, MSNBC, Jul 15, 2022

On his first Middle East trip as president, Joe Biden began by visiting Israel, a country he’s been to 10 times since he was a senator in 1973. On this latest trip, Biden discussed how to address Iran’s nuclear program, and re-stated his support for a two-state solution.

But one thing he didn’t cover when he met with Israeli leaders is what’s happening in Masafer Yatta, a region of the occupied West Bank where mass evictions are taking place. And it encapsulates the plight of Palestinians in a way few other stories do.

Stop the Line 5 Pipeline Expansion

The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project supports these efforts by Indigenous Women to end fossil fuel projects and protect water.

USA, April 27, 2022 Today, Indigenous women leaders, joined by over 200 organizations, representing millions nationwide, submitted a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers urging the department to deny necessary permits for the expansion of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, and to conduct a federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the entire pipeline within the Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdiction.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline was originally built in 1953, and continues to operate nearly 20 years past its engineered lifespan, transporting 22 million gallons of crude oil each day through northern Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and under the Straits of Mackinac. Currently, Enbridge is proposing to expand the Line 5 pipeline, despite the strong opposition of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and other Tribes.

Enbridge proposes to route Line 5 through hundreds of waterways that flow into the Bad River Reservation, their extensive fisheries, and the navigable waters of Lake Superior. The letter sent today delivers key information detailing the impacts the Line 5 tar sands pipeline expansion project would have in the region, and clarifies how it directly undermines Indigenous rights and perpetuates the climate crisis:

“We call on you to reject permits for the expansion of Line 5. This plan places massive risk squarely upon the Bad River Tribe and the Red Cliff Tribe against their will. Furthermore, we consider the pipeline construction an act of cultural genocide. Damage to the land and water destroys food and cultural lifeways that are core to our identity and survival. The pipeline would cut through more than 900 waterways upstream of the Bad River Reservation. The U.S. EPA determined that the plan ‘may result in substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts’ to the Kakagon and Bad River slough complex. This is unacceptable.”

The letter also brings attention to the ongoing investigations and environmental issues with Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, and details Enbridge’s pattern of misrepresenting risks, violating permits, and covering up environmental damage. While constructing the Line 3 pipeline, Enbridge caused at least 28 frac-outs, polluting surface water and releasing undisclosed amounts of drilling fluid into groundwater, amongst other permit violations.

The letter concludes by bringing attention to the global repercussions of the Line 5 pipeline, noting that increased fossil fuel production will not support President Biden’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, nor align with the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which calls for urgent emissions reductions as quickly as possible.

The letter comes from Indigenous women who are advocating to stop Line 5, and is endorsed by local and national groups representing Indigenous groups, environmental organizations, health professionals, faith groups, and more. Please see quotes from the original signatories of the letter below:

Jannan J. Cornstalk, Citizen of Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and Director of the Water is Life Festival: “There needs to be a shift, to ensure that Tribes and Indigenous communities are part of the process not after the fact but from the very beginning. That’s consultation. Our very lifeways and cultures hang in the balance as pipelines like Line 5 get rammed through our territories and water. These are our lifeways– when that water is healthy enough that rice is growing– that not only benefits our communities, but that benefits everybody up and down stream. The Army Corps and Biden Administration must put people over profits. Allowing Line 5 to proceed is cultural genocide. The disturbances go deeper than you are hearing. That water is our relative, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our water, our sacred relative.”

Aurora Conley, Bad River Ojibwe, Anishinaabe Environmental Protection Alliance: “As a Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe member, I am calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to reject the permits for the expansion of Line 5 in northern Wisconsin. The construction of this pipeline will bring massive risk and destruction. We do not want to see irreversible damage to our land, water, and wild rice. We do not want our lifeways destroyed. The United States Environmental Protection Agency, stated in their own letter that this plan “may result in substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts” to the Kakagon and Bad River sloughs complex. The Ojibwe people are here in Bad River because of the wild rice. This pipeline would cut through more than 900 waterways of the Bad River Reservation. This is unacceptable. We will not stand for this. We are saying “No” to the expansion of Line 5.”

Jaime Arsenault, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe: “When it comes to extractive industry, the Army Corps has historically chosen not to use every tool at their disposal to ensure meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations occurs and to listen when Tribes say ‘no’. We saw a multitude of preventable environmental tragedies  occur in Minnesota with the destruction brought by Line 3. As a result – wild rice, watersheds, traditional life ways and the wellbeing of Indigenous communities are still under constant  threat. And so, what will the Army Corps do about that? Right now, the Army Corps has the opportunity to protect Waterways, rice and lands in the destructive pathway of the Line 5 pipeline proposed by Enbridge. Honor the treaties, deny the 404 permits and ensure a federal EIS is conducted.”

Rene Ann Goodrich, Bad River Tribal Elder, Native Lives Matter Coalition and Wisconsin Department of Justice MMIW Task Force Member: “Grandmother, mother, auntie, relative to the peoples here in Wisconsin, Minnesota and along the great lakes. I represent Indigenous grassroots community-led work within these territories, bringing awareness and advocacy leading to action for our MMIW,R families. I am a family advocate. I am greatly concerned about how the Line 5 pipeline, all pipelines, and the fossil fuel industry contributes to missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives ongoing epidemic. We saw what happened at Line 3. Even with preventative measures from Enbridge to reduce violence, there were still documented instances of trafficking and we still see an increase in solicitation and violence. Pipeline projects that bring an influx of hundreds to thousands of temporary workers – they bring this violence into our communities. This is totally unacceptable. How will Line 5 be any different.The Army Corps of Engineers can help us protect our indigenous women, girls, two spirit relatives and people by denying the permits and making sure Line 5 never reaches the ground.”

Carrie Chesnik, Oneida Nation, Wisconsin, Executive Assistant at R.I.S.E. Coalition: “We have an opportunity here to cease the Line 5 pipeline, together. We all have the responsibility and agency to act in a good way, to care for the land and waters. What our communities have known for a long time is that the water is hurting, Mother Earth is hurting, and pretty soon we won’t have clean water for our kids, for future generations. As a Haudenosunee woman, an auntie, daughter, and sister, I have an inherent responsibility to the water and our children. We are in a moment where we must stop our global dependence on fossil fuels– this is too critical, too crucial, we need everyone to stop this. Every single one of us has agency and a responsibility to take action, honor the treaties, and protect Mother Earth. It is the time to be brave and courageous.”

Gwendolyn Topping, Associate Judge, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa: “I feel that this is important as a mother, a sister and a community member.  I have walked for the water and I have spoken for our stolen relatives. I have gathered rice, berries and medicines.  Line 5 will only cause harm to the natural life that our people has passed on traditionally.”

Gaagigeyaashiik – Dawn Goodwin, Gaawaabaabiganigaag (White Earth-Ojibwe), Co-founder of R.I.S.E. Coalition, Representative of Indigenous Environmental Network: “As a member of the Wolf Clan I have an inherent responsibility to protect the environment and the people. The United States Army Corps should be on my team, we should be working together. The government has failed to protect the water— something is wrong. The process is broken and here we are again speaking against Line 5, after the fight to stop Line 3, where we followed the process, 68,000 people stood against Line 3. Everything terrible that has happened, we predicted would. We say ‘No, do not go through these lands, no!,’ and still this continues. Our treaties are being ignored and yet, treaties are the SUPREME LAW of the land. It is time to honor the treaties as the supreme law of the land. We have been through this entire process and realize it was never meant to work for the protection of our 1855 Treaty lands and water. What can the Army Corps do to help protect these lands? We are the women calling upon you to rise to protect all that is sacred.”

Nookomis Debra Topping, Nagachiwanong (Fond du lac), Co-founder of R.I.S.E. Coalition: “We have been through this whole process. We’ve attended these public comment periods, we’ve demonstrated, we’ve marched, we’ve stopped traffic, we’ve put ourselves on the line to stop this, because what we said was going to happen has happened.  I don’t want to hear your excuses, I don’t care what the permit needs. “NO” means “NO”.  What part of that don’t you understand?  Nibi (water) is sacred, what part of that don’t you understand?  Manoomin is sacred, that is our life blood, that is us, that is why we are here. What the State of Minnesota and Canadian Corporation Enbridge have done to us is genocide. We’ve followed the process, the science is there, the evidence is there. Deny Enbridge any further allowance to destroy our mama aki (earth).”

Carolyn Goug’e, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa: “I am an Ojibwe elder, a mom, grandmother, Jingle dress dancer and a water protector. I have grown up on the Shores of the beautiful Lake Superior and have raised my family here, alongside all who call our beautiful area home. Our families sustain themselves by fishing and gathering medicines. I, amongst the many Anishaanabe Women, Men, and friends have taken a personal oath because of our love and for the teachings of our Anishannabe Elder, Grandma, and friend Josephine Mandamin baa, (Anishanaabekwe), The “Water Walker”. Auntie Josephine, she has since gone home with Creator, but we continue to carry on our responsibilities.

Our protocols are based on Ojibwe Ceremonial understandings of water. I (we) walk to honor the rivers, the lakes and the spirit of the water. In our walk we call attention to the sacred gift of water, the source of all life. Oil spills are of great concern to the Anishinaabe people. They have caused disasters to our water, fish, animals, our manoomin, and our vegetation. We do not want pipelines across our counties, communities, or our Mother the Earth.  We, Anishinabe people, we speak for the water. She cannot speak, so we speak for her. We think about our next seven generations and how Line 5 would impact them. Our common denominator of life is water. We know this all from the teachings and oral inscriptions left by our ancestors. This is for perpetuity. I ask the Army Corps to consider this, to consider what we do for the water and how that can guide its decisions on Line 5. I ask the Army Corps to please do the right thing, Deny the permit.”

The Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International

www.wecaninternational.org – @WECAN_INTL

Environmental Justice Has No Borders

A Call to the Environmental Justice Movement

Sign the Pledge

NDN Collective

Israel violently forces Indigenous Palestinians out of their homes and off their land, and harms the environment in the process. Join us in supporting Palestinian freedom and environmental justice by signing and sharing the Environmental Justice Has No Borders Pledge. Together, we can center Indigenous rights and oppose Israel’s settler colonialism.

THE PLEDGE

Guided by the release of NDN Collective’s Position Paper on Palestine (https://ndncollective.org/right-of-return-is-landback/), we invite organizations and individuals to join us in principled solidarity with Indigenous communities on Turtle Island and with the Palestinian people and commit to:

No greenwashing apartheid Israel! That means:
1. Boycott propaganda trips to Israel
2. Refuse to participate in events or actvities that cover up, or “greenwash,” Israel’s ongoing violence against the Palestinian people
3. Instead, recognize that Palestine is an issue of environmental justice and commit to principled solidarity

ORGANIZATIONAL SIGNERS:

Adalah Justice Project
Adalah-NY
American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA)
Arab Resource & Organizing Director (AROC)
Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC)
Australians for Palestine
Baltimore Nonviolence Center
Catalyst Project
Church Women United in New York State
Daarna
East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC)
Eyewitness Palestine
Gods' Grace Outreach Ministries, International
Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
Jewish Voice for Peace
Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston
Jewish Voice for Peace-New Haven
Jewish Voice for Peace-Twin Cities
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land
Minnesota BDS Community
Movement for Black Lives
Mujeres Unidas y Activas
NDN Collective
Peace Action WI
Sari-Sari Women of Color Arts Coup
St. Louis Friends of Bethlehem
Terra Advocati
The Art Odyssey
Uprooted & Rising
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR)
Visualizing Palestine
Vote Climate

WHY PLEDGE TO UPHOLD ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ACROSS BORDERS?

The fight for environmental justice has no borders. Ensuring the survival of land and people anywhere requires that we oppose settler-colonialism, militarism, land theft, and environmental destruction everywhere.

This pledge is being released on Land Day, a day marking Palestinian protest against violent Israeli removal from their lands, and comes in the aftermath of an incident that highlighted the dangerous persistence of support for colonialism in the environmental justice movement. Recently, the Sierra Club canceled its March trips to Israel. That was the right thing to do: propaganda trips to Israel are harmful to Palestinians and the land they live on, and help cover up Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. But after facing backlash, The Sierra Club, an organization with a history of violence toward Indigenous communities in the U.S., backtracked on its commitment to cancel its trips. The Sierra Club’s reversal is an insult to Indigenous communities everywhere.

Israel was built on top of Palestinian land, just as the U.S. was built on top of Native land. Zionist paramilitary forces bombed and destroyed Palestinian towns and cities, and forced out 75% of the Palestinian population from their homes and their land. Palestinians were separated from their loved ones and from their natural resources and spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Palestinians call this the Nakba, which means catastrophe in Arabic.

Conservation trips to apartheid Israel help the Israeli government cover up, or greenwash, the injustices of the Nakba and Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians.

The Israeli government claims to be environmentally friendly but in reality, Israel is stealing Palestinian land and destroying the Palestinian environment. Indigenous Palestinians have cultivated and cared for the land for centuries and their call for solidarity should be respected. Just two examples of Israel’s impact on the environment:

1. Forests: Israel has uprooted over 800,000 native olive trees owned by Palestinians and planted forests where nearly 9 in 10 of the trees planted are invasive species that harm the land and the people. Israel’s planting of non-native trees has resulted in rapid desertification.
2. Water: In 1967, Israel took control over Palestine’s water resources and continues to restrict Palestinians’ access to water. Israel sinks wells and taps springs, forcing Palestinians to buy back their own water. This is harmful to Palestinian farmers and all Palestinians.

As a coalition of racial and social justice organizers, we call on the Sierra Club to uphold its basic responsibility to stop harming Indigenous struggles and drop these greenwashing trips. We invite other environmental justice and conservation organizations to be guided by NDN Collective’s new Position Paper on Palestine (https://ndncollective.org/right-of-return-is-landback/), and sign our Environmental Justice Has No Borders pledge. The pledge asks organizations and individuals in the environmental justice movement to center Indigenous rights by heeding the Palestinian people’s call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of apartheid Israel, including ceasing “greenwashing” activities and propaganda trips.

This is a moment of deeper reckoning for the conservation and environmental justice movements writ large: Indigenous peoples know intimately the violence of dispossession, displacement, and settler-colonialism, and most organizations remain complicit in this violence. Our collective call-out of Sierra Club only highlighted the need for justice that was long past due: Environmental, climate, and Indigenous justice all necessarily require divestment from the U.S. military, the single largest consumer of fossil fuels globally that enforces the occupation of Indigenous sovereign lands, from Turtle Island to Palestine. Repairing harm to Indigenous communities starts with actively resisting settler colonialism through concrete commitments to resist militarism, including refusing to participate in the propaganda that props up these policies.

Colonization and erasure of Indigenous people is never green—it's deadly to people and the planet.

Sign the Pledge

Share this form at: bit.ly/NoGreenwashingPledge

NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power. Through organizing, activism, philanthropy, grantmaking, capacity-building and narrative change, we are creating sustainable solutions on Indigenous terms.

Maia Project Update

For Over 11 Years



The new unit providing clean water to the kids in Shuka, Rafah (MECA, 12/29/21)

Help us give the gift of Clean Water to the Children of Rafah

There is a water crisis in Palestine that affects the health of virtually every adult and child. In the Gaza Strip poor sanitation and over-extraction have polluted the limited water supply. Israeli military attacks and the blockade have prevented repairs to water infrastructure. Water to Gaza is restricted and often too expensive for families to purchase from a safe source.

MAIA is Arabic for water, and the MAIA Project began when children at a UN school in Gaza picked clean drinking water as the one thing they wanted most for their school.

That’s why the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project joined with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) in 2010 to provide water filters to schools in Rafah. You can help today!

For a limited time we are offering a 22-oz. Trek II aluminum refillable water bottle with this Maia logo for all donations of at least $60.

Donations of $80 or more can also receive a GAZA logo pin. If you want the water bottle and/or pin, please mail a check and send us a phone number or email address with your request; we will contact you to arrange delivery.

  • Make a donation online. Due to coronavirus precautions, this is currently preferred.
  • Mail a check payable to MRSCP with the memo “water”. Send it to
      MRSCP
      P.O. Box 5214
      Madison, WI 53705

The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project is registered as a 501(c)(3) organization and your donation is tax deductible.


Our History with the Maia Project

2019 — 2020 Our current goal is to raise $16,000 for a large Maia filter at the Al Shuka Preparatory School. The siege of Gaza and lack of building materials forces this school to run in two shifts: the first one girls and the second co-ed. A total of 2,200 students and their families will be able to get clean water from this unit.

Maia Brochure 2019 adobe

2018 — 2019 $16,000 for filters at two schools serving 3,250 students and their families in Rafah. A joint project of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, First Unitarian Society of Madison, Jewish Voice for Peace – Madison, and Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. Photos of the filters by Josie Shields-Stromsness, Middle East Children’s Alliance:

  • Drinking Clean Water
  • Drinking Clean Water
  • School Yard
  • School Yard
  • Tank & Filter Unit Delivery
  • Tank and Filter Unit Delivery
  • Units Ready for Transport
  • Filter Unit Fabrication
  • Filter Unit Fabrication
  • Control Panel
  • Control Panel
  • Water Storage Tank
  • Filter Unit Housing

http://madisonrafah.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/maia-bro-for-online590.pdf

2013 $11,500 for clean water at the Girl’s Preparatory School A in Rafah with 1,187 students.

2011 $13,700 for a larger filter system at the UN Girl’s Elementary school in the Rafah Refugee Camp. This donation helped supply 1,800 young girls with a very basic human right; something children and parents in Wisconsin take for granted.

2010 $1,995 to install a desalination and filter system for the Tuyor Al-Jena kindergarten in Rafah, where children are now enjoying clean, safe water. It was donated in memory of MRSCP member Ken Coffeen.

More pictures of Maia filter installations

New Film on Hebron at the New York Times

Mission: Hebron by Israeli filmmaker Rona Segal was published recently in the opinion section of the New York Times website, and can be watched there (with a subscription) or on YouTube.

Mission: Hebron is a short documentary based on interviews conducted by the director with Breaking the Silence testifiers about their service in Hebron. Describing a horrifying yet mundane routine of manning checkpoints, invading homes, nighttime arrests, and violently dispersing protests, they paint a picture of what serving in the second largest Palestinian city in the occupied territories requires, the atmosphere in the city, their interaction with the local population, both Palestinians and settlers, and how they felt about it all.

Screened around the world at international film festivals, the film won the Shagrir Prize at last year’s Jerusalem Film Festival and is now long-listed for the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary.

July 29, 2021
Webinar: What’s happening in the South Hebron Hills?


In the South Hebron Hills, the southernmost region of the West Bank, there are about 122 communities of shepherds and farmers totaling about 80,000 inhabitants. The communities settled there in the early 19th century in order to be close to the pastures and agriculture they owned. In recent decades Palestinian residents have suffered abuse from violent settlers, which the army either turns a blind eye to or cooperates with. Living in a land declared as a ‘closed military zone’ by the army, Palestinians in the area experience daily the expropriation of their land, the demolition of their homes, and the cutting of their water pipes. (tv.social.org)

What’s happening in the South Hebron Hills? Perspectives from the ground
July 29, 2021 12:00 PM Central Webinar

Join Just Vision and +972 Magazine on Thursday, July 29 at 1pm ET / 8pm Jerusalem time for a conversation on what’s happening in the South Hebron Hills, speaking with activists who have been organizing in the area for years.

In the South Hebron Hills (known locally as Masafer Yatta) in Area C of the West Bank – which the Israeli military has full control over – authorities demolish homes and infrastructure on a regular basis while refusing to grant building permits. For residents of the area, fear of violence from the Israeli settlers that surround their villages is ever-present, and the heavy military presence only leads to greater impunity for the settlers.

In the face of this decades-long struggle, Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills, with support from Israeli and international activists, are using tools – from journalism and social media, to storytelling and non-violent direct action – to resist ongoing annexation and draw local and international attention to the injustices they experience or witness daily.

Speakers for this event include Basil Al-Adraa, a Palestinian journalist, activist and resident of the area; Yuval Abraham, an Israeli reporter for Local Call, our Hebrew-language news site co-published with 972 Advancement of Citizen Journalism; and Natasha Westheimer, Australian-American water management specialist and anti-occupation activist based in Jerusalem. The discussion will be moderated by Just Vision’s Executive Director and Local Call Co-Publisher, Suhad Babaa.

How a West Bank Trip Turned This Congressman Into One of Israel’s Strongest Critics

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan tells Haaretz why he welcomes a new Israeli government, even one led by a right-winger like Naftali Bennett who has renounced the two-state solution


Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan. Andy Manis / AP

Ben Samuels, Haaretz, Jun. 7, 2021

WASHINGTON – How does a lawmaker go from surface-level familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to being one of the most vocal proponents of Palestinian rights in the history of Congress?

It starts with Humpty Dumpty.

Rep. Mark Pocan had visited Israel on congressional trips since entering office in 2013, where he spent a bit of time in the West Bank. But it was always through an Israeli lens. After learning more about the conflict from the pro-Israel left-wing J Street organization, the progressive Wisconsin Democrat went again in 2016 on the first-ever congressional trip to Palestine organized by the Humpty Dumpty Institute.

Despite being organized by an NGO that Pocan jokingly admits has “one of the worst names in Washington,” it provided him with a first opportunity to see the land from a Palestinian perspective.

“Having a chance to see things from that perspective opened my eyes about what was going on, and the barriers in getting to a two-state solution that I have advocated for,” he tells Haaretz. “Seeing and talking to people in Palestine firsthand and walking through all the different issues really mattered a lot.”

Pocan, 56, and colleagues Reps. Hank Johnson and Dan Kildee were slated to visit Gaza, only to be verbally denied access 24 hours prior to their visit. They attempted to go anyway, demanding the denial in writing.

“In Wisconsin, we’re common-sense people. When someone says ‘No you can’t go in that room,’ I think there’s something going on and I should check out that room,” Pocan explains. “That was a giant red flag for me.”

He rejects any Israeli justification based on security grounds. “I don’t need anyone telling me they’ve got some faux concern for my security; I’m an adult and I can take care of myself,” he says, recalling a past incident where he was detained for five days by FARC guerrillas while backpacking through the Darién Gap in Colombia. “I woke up to machine-gun fire with paramilitaries on the river and guerrillas on the land,” he recounts.

For Pocan, it’s “imperative” that he can see and talk to people like those in Gaza firsthand. “It’s long overdue,” he says, noting that then-Rep. Keith Ellison was the last member of Congress to visit Gaza, in 2009.

“We know all the statistics: 2 million people; 98 percent of the water’s undrinkable; overt majority of people are on food assistance; people can’t get in or out – calling it an open-air prison is apt,” Pocan says.

Palestinian rights is far from the first human-rights cause Pocan has dedicated his attention to in recent years. “I’m wired to believe we have to support human rights across the board for everyone – and that doesn’t exclude any countries or regions,” he says. “This is just an expansion of what I’ve worked on for decades.”

When he first got into county government 30 years ago, his then-colleague and now U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin helped form a sister-city relationship between his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and Apartadó, Colombia. He also visited Arcatao, El Salvador (another Madison sister city), several times and was also one of the more outspoken advocates in Congress for ending the war in Yemen.

Since his failed attempt to enter Gaza, however, the former Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman has fashioned himself into both a leading voice for Palestinian rights and critic of Israeli behavior, whether through bills, resolutions, letters or public posture.

“I have tremendous respect for Mark Pocan. He came to Congress not being known as someone particularly engaged on Israel-Palestine. Instead of taking the path of least resistance and just going along, he is blazing a progressive trail,” says Americans for Peace Now President and CEO Hadar Susskind.

J Street Vice President of Communications Logan Bayroff echoes those sentiments, saying that Pocan “has become a true leader in pushing back against the injustices of occupation, recognizing how harmful the status quo is for both Palestinians and Israelis. He’s among the growing number of Democrats making clear that rhetorical support for peace just isn’t enough – U.S. foreign policy needs to confront de facto annexation and hold both sides accountable for their actions.”


A workman recycling salvaged construction materials in Gaza City last weekend, following the flare-up between Israel and Hamas. MAHMUD HAMS – AFP

Overwhelming support

Pocan admits the journey has been “a bit lonely” since the 2016 Gaza incident, but he has recently found himself surrounded by a new cohort of lawmakers placing a premium on human rights.

“The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States clearly has made people be more focused on human rights and outward discrimination – both here and abroad,” Pocan says. “Many of the newer members of Congress, especially, have been very vocal on this. They’ve come out of these movements and we’ve got a greater presence of folks working on these issues.”

Pocan also credits social media for allowing people to see events firsthand, including testimonies from Gazans. “We received over 1,000 emails from constituents supporting what I was doing,” in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “and about 165 on the other side – so about a seven-to-one ratio. And the same was true of phone calls, though there are far more emails,” he notes.

The lawmaker has been a central figure in every notable development on this front during this session of Congress. Prior to last month’s flare-up between Israel and Hamas, he co-led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the U.S. to push Israel to better facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations for the Palestinians. He also co-sponsored Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill specifying various actions Israel may not finance with U.S. taxpayer money, while also calling for additional oversight of how that military aid is distributed.

More recently, he co-led an unprecedently harsh letter concerning Israel’s pending evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, organized a remarkable special-order hour on the House floor that cast a spotlight on the Democratic Party’s opposing factions on Israel-Palestine, and co-sponsored a joint resolution of disapproval concerning a $735-million arms sale to Israel.

He did not, however, sense he was part of a real-time paradigm shift.

“I was simply advocating for what I believe: that the only beneficiaries from the Gaza war were Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas. Now I’m questioning whether Netanyahu calculated correctly given what may be happening with the formation of a new government,” he says.

Pocan doubles down. “Look at what really led to the Gaza war: The [Israeli police] attack on the [Al-Aqsa] mosque during Ramadan, the situation with people losing their housing in East Jerusalem. Then start going even farther back: illegal settlements making it harder and harder to get to a two-state solution with land swaps, because even more people will be displaced,” he says.

“Go back years and even decades, and you start to really see – especially in the last eight-and-a-half years – what’s happening isn’t working and getting us any closer to peace. In fact, just the opposite.”


Rep. Mark Pocan speaking at a rally in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential bid last year. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

He is similarly critical of Hamas. “They purport to support the people of Gaza, but I don’t know how you support the people of Gaza when you have the hunger and the lack of clean water and the other situations you have there. It was unfortunate because I truly believe the vast, vast majority of people in both Israel and Palestine want peace.”

‘A different lens’

Pocan believes it is self-evident that support for Palestinians among members of Congress is growing, both in word and deed: “By not only joining letters but being very vocal on the floor of Congress, it helps to give a voice to more members to be able to express similar concerns that they previously had not expressed them,” he says.

He has shared “offline conversations” with at least one colleague whom he considers a close friend and who has traditionally been a pro-Israel advocate. “They understand what my goal is, we just approach it from different ways,” Pocan says. “At the end of the day, all of our efforts are to get to peace in the region and a two-state solution.

“Some of us who aren’t Jewish or Muslim, or particularly religious, can perhaps look at this with a different lens and see a situation where the current conditions are not at all pointing toward a path to peace, and you have to do something different,” he adds.

Pocan, however, rejects “overly simplistic statements” of a supposed Democratic Party divided over Israel, calling these attempts to make the matter black and white. He adds that he “completely agrees” with much of the Biden administration’s approach.

“I was on a call with the State Department about the region several days ago with a few other members of Congress. The administration said themselves that they’ve had conversations with Israel discouraging any unilateral unprovoked actions because that would be a potential problem with the cease-fire and moving toward peace,” he says.

The Wisconsin congressman says his real goal, along with fellow Democrats, is having the U.S. take a more active peacemaking role in the region: “We didn’t see that happening during the last four years, and we want to get back to that point where the United States can help to be a force for good.”

He does acknowledge, however, that he is “perhaps a bit more provocative in putting out some of these ideas that I truly believe, but maybe haven’t been discussed before, to try to show what some of the other consequences or paths to getting to peace are.

“The approach of the Biden administration, especially with the State Department, is diplomacy through direct conversations and perhaps not in public, and that’s something Joe Biden very strongly believes in. Both of our roles help,” he says. “The more I put pressure on the administration, the more likely they are to have private conversations, putting pressure to get peace in the region. We’re taking different roles in what I really believe is a common effort.”


A Palestinian man walking past the site of a building being demolished in Gaza City last weekend, following the latest Israeli-Hamas flare-up last month. MAHMUD HAMS – AFP

Deescalation tool

Pocan is hopeful that a new Israeli coalition government could adopt a different approach in the best interests of both Israelis and Palestinians, but welcomes any change in government at this point (“Many of the problems that have occurred are because of Benjamin Netanyahu putting Benjamin Netanyahu first and foremost”) – even one led by Naftali Bennett, a right-wing proponent of annexation.

“I’m open to seeing what the next results are. I understand how interesting a coalition and how diverse this is, even by U.S. standards. What I do know is that almost to a person that I talked to, whether it be in Israel or Palestine, they want peace. Having new leadership can maybe move that forward,” he says.

A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Pocan could not provide a specific answer on whether he would support the reported Israeli request of $1 billion in emergency aid. He does, however, advocate for some restrictions on dollars while supporting the Iron Dome missile defense tool explicitly as a tool of deescalation.

“If a missile is coming in and you take it out, no one should be killed on either side. But then I watched the response to the Gaza war from Israel where dozens of [Palestinian] children were killed, 100,000 people were displaced, media buildings and roads to hospitals were taken out. That no longer seems like a tool of deescalation to me,” he says.

“Reasonable restrictions ensuring we’re advocating with U.S. dollars for peace is important – I don’t want anyone to die in Israel or Palestine. Iron Dome should operate as a deescalation tool, but if it doesn’t, that’s where some of us are starting to ask questions,” he adds.

Pocan is unsure when he will next visit the region, but he is certain of one thing: “I’m going to get into Gaza somehow.”