Bearing Witness

Week Five in Gaza > Boat > Mulit-Tasking > Fishermen

This week has been a busy one, the Gaza’s Ark [GA] project has identified the fishing vessel that we will purchase and refurbish to be made suitable to sail from Palestine against the blockade, loaded with Palestinian products for trade with the outside world > drawing attention to Israel’s brutal and inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip. So between inspections of the vessel, negotiations and contract translations the GA team have been well busy.
We are also preparing for the first announcements of products to be sold through the GA project, we have some wonderful arts and crafts from the Atfaluna Deaf Children’s Association and the Union of Palestinian Women, both in Gaza City and we have Ajwa and Makhtom from Al-Ahlyia Association for the Development of Palms & Dates in Deir El Ballah > Ajwa are a type of dates and Makhtom is a delicious date preserve.
Since arriving in Gaza I have found/developed skills I never knew I had or could develop, since arriving I have done public relations, sales, script writing, directing, been a spokesperson, photographer, social media consultant, fundraiser and now estimator : ] The many faces of an activist ! However a friend in Sydney recently reminded me that “the first role of an activist: reach as many people as possible and convince them to do their part” > wise words from a good friend, thanks Raul : ]
The highlight of the week however was the launch of “Israel: Return the stolen boats” campaign. Fishermen from all over the Gaza Strip took their boats and formed a flotilla demonstration at the Gaza port. They demanded their rights to fish the Gaza sea without the threat of attack from Israeli Gunships and that Israel return their stolen 36 boats. The Palestinian fishermen have  seen there numbers go from over 10 000 at the turn of the century to just 3 500 today, due to Israeli restrictions to Palestinian maritime areas. In addition to 36 boats Israel has stolen, another 39 boats in Khan Younis and 48 in Deir El Ballah were destroyed by Israeli bombardments during the 8 day sea and air bombings and shelling last November.

Mohammed Bakr, 25, describes how he, his cousin and his two teenage brothers were abducted while fishing on the 10th February during which their fourth and last boat was attacked and stolen: “We were fishing at 5am and inside 3 miles we saw the navy coming. The Israelis on the gunship ordered us to stop and they shot seven bullets to destroy our engine. At gunpoint they ordered us to take off our clothes and swim to their boat. We were cuffed and covered with a blanket with a hole for our mouths. We were freezing. While detained they shouted insults to us. They asked about our relatives and friends in good Arabic, showed us our house in Gaza on a satellite photo and offered us money to spy for them. That was our last boat, after one had been shelled and two others were taken at sea. Now electricity for our home has been cut because we can’t afford to pay it. We were released but the last boat has gone, our livelihoods are finished.”

Here are some photo’s I took on the day > http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.451282564941694.1073741825.158095294260424&type=3 Is it too much to ask that Palestinian fishermen be allowed to fish Palestinian waters without the threat of losing their livelihoods, their freedom or their lives  ???

I would like to finish this entry by paying tribute to amazing women of Palestine, as I write this entry on International Women’s Day when many of the world’s women are fighting for workplace equality and an end to domestic violence, the majority of Palestinian women fight for the most basic right > Freedom !

Palestinian fishermen > who have seen there numbers halved in the last decade due to Israeli restrictions to Palestinian maritime areas.

Palestinian fishermen > who have seen there numbers halved in the last decade due to Israeli restrictions to Palestinian maritime areas.

March 8, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Week Three in Gaza > Youth > Products > Celebrations > Fundraising

This week I have been feeling a little off colour and actually fainted several days ago, so I have not been as busy as I was in the first couple of weeks. I think I over did it trying to do too much at once when I first arrived and that plus the stress of adjusting to a new environment was just too much for me. However I am feeling better now and I have started to pace myself, as I am here for the long haul.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting the Gaza Ark Youth Committee, a group of inspiring and highly motivated young people who are asset to the Gaza Ark project. Up until our first meeting I had mainly been working the Youth Committees Products Sub-Committee, who had been assisting me in finding producers and helping with translation at meetings, as I only have shawy aka little Arabic at this point.

Hanging with the Gaza Ark Youth Committee

One of the producers that they have put me in contact with is the Palestinian Association  for Development and Heritage Protection and this week I spent an amazing day with their very talented staff, looking at there wonderful embroidered products and incredible selection of heritage items. I am sure you will see some their products in the second release of products available through the Gaza Ark project. On that note keep an eye on the website this week for the announcement of the first release of products available through the Gaza Ark project, we have chosen eight products to start with that will be available for sale through our website and exported aboard the Ark > http://www.gazaark.org

One of the very talented women from the Palestinian Association  for Development and Heritage Protection modeling a hand embroidered shawl

One of the very talented women from the Palestinian Association for Development and Heritage Protection modeling a hand embroidered shawl

This week I also got to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the  Palestinian Peoples Party at a celebration out at Rafah, this was great day to be with the comrades. Shamikh badra, the co-ordinator of their youth wing and who I meet on his trip to Australia last year, has been very welcoming and supportive since my arrival in the Gaza Strip. Which has been very appreciated, as to a certain extent I am flying solo here, unlike my time in Nablus where I volunteered with Project Hope and had a ready-made support network to fall back on. See the photo’s of the celebration here > http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.446680098735274.99569.158095294260424&type=1

Finally this week I shot a fundraising video for Gaza’s Ark, this video will be premiered at Free Gaza Australia’s “Gaza’s Ark fundraiser at Plunge” in Summer Hill in Sydney  on the 6th of March > if you’re in Sydney get your self there to enjoy some amazing Middle Eastern food and to show your support for ending the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Here is the link to Facebook event page > http://www.facebook.com/events/131257413706111/ and here a link to some photo’s of our day filming at the port in Gaza > http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.446982592038358.99628.158095294260424&type=1

Speak next week > my Salaam.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week Two in Gaza > Endorsements > Products > Solidarity

Well my second week in Gaza has come to an end and it’s official, I now have my permit to stay > got to love Palestine, it’s the only place on earth where my criminal record and deportation in regards to my solidarity actions are appreciated on a visa application.
This week has mainly been spent meeting with civil society organisations to seek support for the Gaza’s Ark [GA] http://www.gazaark.org/ project. I have met with the Palestinian Non Government Organisation [PNGO] http://www.pngo.net/, which is an umbrella group for over 60 NGO’s working through out Gaza and the West Bank and the Palestinian  Agricultural Relief Committee [PARC] http://www.pal-arc.org/index.html, whose main goals are to protect Palestinian land from confiscation by the Israeli occupation and to improve the Palestinian agricultural sector. I am honoured to say they now both now endorse the GA project. Although most of the credit for the ease in which these endorsements have been granted must go to the committed and visionary GA Steering Committee, with a special mention to David “the conscience of humanity” Heap – whose visit to Gaza at the end of last year laid an incredibly strong foundation to be built on.
In addition to this I have been chasing up information from several producers whose products are going to be sold through GA. We now have three producers on board, excuse the pun. Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children http://www.atfaluna.net/, Al-Ahlyia Association for the Development of Palms & Dates, as well as a Women’s Group from Gaza who make some amazing cross stitched and embroidered products. Watch the GA website for the first announcement of products to be sold through the project and exported from Gaza aboard the Ark.
I also took my first trip to the buffer zone, The buffer zone is a 300 meter area between Israel and the Gaza Strip, it is a military no-go zone that extends along the entire northern and eastern perimeter of the Gaza Strip adjacent to Israel, but inside Palestinian territory. Its enforcement by the Israeli Occupation Force has resulted in loss of Palestinian lives and land, and to add insult to injury is some of the most fertile land in the Gaza Strip. For more information on the buffer zone check out the Diakonia analysis http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=4090. Saturday was a day of international action in support of Palestinian Farmers and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees [UAWC] in Gaza organised a march into the buffer zone to plant olive trees in an act of defiance to the IOF, see how it went down here > http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=442402179163066&set=a.442402012496416.98962.158095294260424&type=1&theater
This week I also attended and spoke at a protest organised by the Palestinian Peoples Party [PPP] Youth Wing. The protest was in solidarity with the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails, many of whom have never been charged with any offence > let alone convicted ! See my photos from the protest here >http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=442879619115322&set=a.442879529115331.99038.158095294260424&type=1&theater
Speak next week, my salaam.

My turn on the mic at the Palestinian Peoples Party Prisoners Protest

My turn on the mic at the Palestinian Peoples Party Prisoners Protest

February 13, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m in : ]

Well I have arrived in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian people are still as inspirational as I remember : ] Though as I also remember from my last visit there are far to many sad stories : [ Two nights after my arrival a family of six in the Nusiefat Refugee Camp burned to death in their home, when a candle they where forced to use for light, due to the power cuts of  12 hours a day on average, started a fire that trapped the whole family. These death are a direct result of the blockade that I am here to challenge !

In my first week I have had the honour of meeting and spending time with the amazing Dr Mona El Farra, author of the blog “From Gaza with Love”, she is also the co-founder of the Union of Health Workers Committee and numerous women’s, children’s and youth centers serving the needs of the many marginalized refugees in Gaza. I have visited two of these centers already and witnessed the incredible work that they undertake, Afaq Jadeeda – aka New Horizons – Women’s and children’s center and Al Assifa  Cultural Center. Photos from the visits are here http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.440219259381358.98647.158095294260424&type=1 > and here http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.439891096080841.98588.158095294260424&type=1

I have also had my priorities set by the Gaza’s Ark Steering Committee, which are meeting and getting feedback from our Gaza based Advisory Committee, while also sourcing products that will be sailed out of Gaza on the Ark – as our focus on this project is trade not aid – in addition I will be trying to get more civil society endorsement of our project. In addition to these priorities I will also be making a short video to be presented at a fundraiser in Sydney on Wednesday the 6th of March, followed by a Skype call > power, internet and Israeli Occupation Force permitting. Here is the link to FB event page http://www.facebook.com/events/131257413706111/137734983058354/?comment_id=137735286391657&notif_t=event_mall_reply Please show your support and together we can attempt to bring this brutal blockade to an end !

Meeting the inspirational Dr Mona El Farra to hand over some medicine donated by Gaza's Ark to the Red Crescent Society in Gaza.

Meeting the inspirational Dr Mona El Farra to hand over some medicine donated by Gaza’s Ark to the Red Crescent Society in Gaza.

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Kayaktivist Rides Again

Well I’m back in the Middle East and I have to say it almost feels like coming home. The first morning in Cairo I woke to the sound of the call to prayer and from that moment on I have felt welcomed and supported. I am in Cairo to sort my entry into the Gaza Strip to assist with the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project.

WHY ?

That is a question I have been asked time and time again and if I am honest I have asked myself on several occasions, especially over the last couple months as I have traveled through the Americas. Leaving idyllic places and amazing people to travel to a part of the world that is under such violent oppression by the Israeli state, so much so that William Madisha (a South African trade union leader) has stated: “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of Israel’s actions make the actions of South Africa’s apartheid regime appear pale by comparison.”

I guess I personally have several motivating factors. Firstly, the sense of social justice that was instilled in me by my wonderful parents. Secondly, the fact that I have witnessed first hand the brutality of the Israeli state, while I volunteered with Project Hope <http://projecthope.ps/nablus/> in Nablus. After the joy of experiencing a new culture and meeting incredible Palestinian people, whose lust for life under such oppressive circumstance is truly remarkable, I realised that what I was witnessing in the West Bank was a systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine… there is no other way to describe it. Thirdly, that this oppression of the Palestinian people, more often than not, goes unreported in the western media and is unfortunately even supported by my very own Government. Lastly, but definitely not least, my time in Palestine ended with Operation Cast Lead where I saw the very worst effects of the Israeli Military Doctrine of “Disproportionate Force”, which killed over 1400 Palestinians – most of whom where civilians.

Since then I have become a member of Free Gaza Australia <http://freegazaoz.org/> . FGA is an organisation that stands in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza by directly changing the illegal blockade of Gaza, that has been in place (officially) since 2007. However, the restriction on the movement of Palestinians in Gaza dates back to 1991, when Gaza was first cut off from the West Bank and Israel. This blockade is clearly an act of collective punishment, which is outlawed under the Fourth Geneva Convention and has resulted in what was once the economic centre of Palestine becoming home to a population of aid dependant civilians. With at least 70% of the population of Gaza now reliant on aid to provide the basic essentials of life – food, shelter and medical care. I have been honoured to be a part of both recent Australian delegations that have attempted to break the blockade, firstly with Freedom Flotilla Two <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/stay-human-the-story-of-freedom-flotilla-2-from-the-kayaktivists-perspective/> and then Freedom Waves <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/freedom-waves-1413831/>. Lets hope it is third time lucky in FGA’s attempts to break this brutal blockade.

My belief in the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project is also a motivating factor for me. While the Ark will challenge the blockade physically in the tradition of previous flotillas, our focus has shifted from sailing aid in, to sailing trade out. There has been a debate in recent times in Palestine and throughout the international solidarity movement about the effectiveness or otherwise of aid delivery to the Palestine people. Has aid merely maintained an unacceptable status quo? This is a question which is above my pay grade, however it is clear that if the Palestinians of Gaza were allowed to trade their products with the rest of the world, their reliance on aid would greatly diminish. The other benefit of this approach is that as the Ark is being built in Gaza, the process of construction is as important as the action of challenging the blockade – as we can show the difficulties of everyday life in Gaza under the blockade.

How ?

The movable feast that is the process of gaining legal entry into the Gaza Strip has been a difficult one to navigate. When I left Australia three months ago the process had to be undertaken in Cairo, however since leaving that changed to people wanting to enter Gaza needing to inform the Egyptian Embassy in their home country when applying for their visa. At this point there are three main options, firstly through getting an invitation from an NGO in Gaza and then working with your embassy and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo to get approval to enter through the Rafah Crossing. The second option is to be an accredited journalist and apply through the Press Office in Cairo and finally the third option is to attach yourself to a delegation that already has approval. I have been trying all three. Two weeks in I feel I am getting nowhere, if nothing else it has been a lesson in patience. I naively thought that while the Muslim Brotherhood’s election victory has no doubt been a blow to the hope of Egyptians for a secular democracy, that it would make entry into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing easier. However it appears that Morsi – like most politicians – has mastered the art of talking the talk, but has failed learn how to walk the walk.

However the delay in my entry into the Gaza Strip has meant that I have had the chance to meet some incredible Egyptian activists and that I will be around to stand in solidarity with them on the second anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. Their passion and courage has truly inspired me, while their stories have helped put my concerns over living in Gaza into perspective. To me the Egyptian revolution is proof that the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”, is as true today as it ever was.

What ?

While our strategy has changed focus from aid to trade our main goals are still the same as the Free Gaza Movement’s first attempt to break this illegal and brutal blockade: solidarity and awareness. I hope to show the Palestinian people that my Government does not speak for me on the issue of Palestinian human rights and to generate awareness in Australia and throughout the western world about the plight of the Palestinian people. It is my hope that people in the west will understand that this is not an Israeli/Palestinian conflict, rather it is the oppression of Palestinians by Israel.

You help make this happen by buying a symbolic share in Gaza’s Ark and the hope it will build <http://www.gazaark.org/2013/01/15/buy-a-symbolic-share-of-gazas-ark-a-share-in-hope/>

Image

The Kayaktivists in action

January 26, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment