Bearing Witness

Week 13 in Gaza > Refurbishment > Endorsement > Documentary > Rafah

Well this week has been another productive week, though after the excitement of last week with the boat purchase and the second product release it almost seems mundane. Even though this week saw the start of the refurbishment process, we received another significant endorsement and we finalised the arrangements for a full length documentary to be filmed about the project.

The week started with the winch being removed from our fishing vessel, the first step in our vessel being transformed from a fishing trawler into a cargo vessel. This was an exciting day, as it was the start of turning what has for the last 12 months been a wonderful idea into a reality : ] We now have a work plan approved by the steering committee that should see most of the major tasks of the refurbishment being completed by the start of Ramadan, when things in Gaza will slow down dramatically > meaning we should be in a position to challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza by the end of the year.

However this will only be achieved with your support, Gaza’s Ark is reliant on grass-roots donations to achieve our goals, so please consider supporting our project by buying a symbolic share in the Ark or raising awareness of the project to your friends and family and together we can help build the hope that Palestinians have for an independent economy.

When I came to Gaza my instruction on the civil society endorsement front, was to achieve a board spectrum of civil society support. This week  I went a long way to achieving this. I now have civil society endorsements from Islamic, secular and leftist civil society institutions and organisation of the Gaza’s Ark project. Keep an eye on the Gaza’s Ark website in the next couple of week for a major announcement of the all civil society organisations and institutions that have signed on to support the Gaza’s Ark project > http://www.gazaark.org/\

The other piece of major news out of this week is that when have found a journalist in Gaza who is willing to undertake the task of documenting the Gaza Ark project for a full length documentary. Yousef Al-Helou who works for The Real News Network [TRNN] has got on board with the project, excuse the pun, which we all very excited about. Yousef is a great journalist and has a long history covering the Gaza Strip, first for Press TV, before moving to the TRNN. Personally, apartment from the fact that this unique project is going to be documented for posterity, the best thing about having the documentary made is that post the sailing of the Ark if I am asked to do presentations on the project I won’t have to bore the peeps in Sydney with my limited public speaking skills. I can now show the documentary and then conduct a Q and A session with the audience > I can hear the Sydney solidarity communities sighs of relief from here.

This week also saw the closure of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt, the only route out of Gaza for the vast majority of Palestinians living in Gaza. The crossing was closed after militants in the Sinai kidnapped 7 Egyptian military personnel who worked at the crossing, even though there was never any link from the militants to the Gaza Strip. You could feel the tension building here in Gaza as the closure dragged on, almost like the pressure release valve had been turned off.

Finally this week saw the release of an interview I recently did about the Gaza’s Ark project on New Zealand radio station Plans FM > forgive the lack of clarity, I conducted the interview after spending the whole night out doing accompaniment work with fishermen off the coast of Gaza > http://plainsfm.org.nz/on-demand/earthwise20may13/ Note to self > do not do interviews the morning after spending the whole night out doing accompaniment work with fishermen !

Our nautical brains trust devising the refurbishment plan.

Our nautical brains trust devising the refurbishment plan.

May 23, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 10 & 11 in Gaza > Illness > New Priorities > Farming

Well I have been back in the Gaza Strip for the past two weeks, although this is my first update since returning from my two weeks R&R in Paris because the day after I arrived back in the Strip I became violently ill. I got salmonella poisoning on my last night in Cairo and the night after I arrived back in Gaza the symptoms started to kick in diarrhea, a fever of 40+ degrees and sever abdominal cramps. Thinking it was just a bug I struggled with it at home for several days, before deciding I needed urgent medical treatment and was I rushed to Al Awada hospital. After 24 hours of fantastic care from the dedicated staff at Al Awada, whose work with limited resources is quite amazing, I was released with a course of four medications. I am almost back to being fighting fit thanks in large part to my peeps in Gaza, Sukran ictir Awni, Mona, Adie and the staff at Al Awada  for being there when I needed it : ]

Since recovering I have had my new priorities set by the Gaza Ark Steering committee. I have been tasked with finding a local news crew to cover the refurbishment process of the Ark for a documentray film, while also finding a independent film maker to prepare monthly video’s to show the progress of the build to our international supporters via our website > www.gazaark.org. In addition to this I need to find supporters in Gaza to continue my work in Gaza post my departure in mid June. While I am also continuing my work on civil society endorsements and Palestinian products to be exported aboard the Ark.

On Wednesday morning I managed to find some time that was not taken up with Gaza Ark tasks, to undertake some accompaniment work with farmers harvesting wheat in the buffer zone. The “buffer zone”is a strip of land on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip and is a military no-go area that extends along the entire northern and eastern perimeter of the Gaza Strip adjacent to Israel, but inside Palestinian territory. It has at times stretched up to 1.5 kilomenters into Palestinian territory, however after the November cease-fire Palestinians were granted access to this land again, however like most agreements Israel reaches with the Palestinians what is written in the agreement does not often happen in reality. The buffer zones conitued enforcement has resulted in loss of Palestinian lives and land. For more on the buffer zone and it’s effects check out his article on the Diakonia website > http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=4090 . I hope to continue this work for the last month that I am in the Strip, here are some photos from the morning.

Harvest season in the buffer zone.

Harvest season in the buffer zone.

The boarder with Israel.

The boarder with Israel.

Adie responding to the IOF, that had just sent several live rounds over our heads.

Adie responding to the IOF, that had just sent several live rounds over our heads.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Week 7 in Gaza > Rachel Corrie > Boat > Haidar Eid > Obama

Well my seventh week in Gaza has come to a close and as I sit here with a sand storm lashing Gaza outside and whistling through my window, I am wondering what I have achieved ? Sometimes it feels like Dabke, the Palestinians national dance, should be two steps forward and one step backwards. However after some soul-searching I realise these solidarity projects are always an emotional rollercoaster and we are making progress shaway shaway, aka step by step – thanks in large part to the dedication and commitment of the Gaza Ark steering committee here in Gaza and internationally. Maybe the reflection has been brought about by the fact I am a long way from home on the eve of my birthday and I am missing my peeps, who I now havent seen for almost five months. – but what ever the cause it is always good to take stock.

This week started with the 10th anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s murder by the IOF, the town of Rafah held a rally to show their ongoing appreciation and gratitude to Rachel and her family. The saddest thing about the day for me was that a decade on from Rachel’s murder the houses she was trying to save still have not been rebuilt and the bulldozer driver that crushed her to death by running over her, more than once, has never been held to account for his actions – much like the state he resides in, Israel ! Here are some photo’s from the day > http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.456846691051948.1073741828.158095294260424&type=1

I know I have been saying this for  week or two now, but we are close to purchasing the vessel that the Gaza Ark project will refurbished to sail across the mediterranean in an attempt to open the only port in region closed to shipping, and in the process hopefully establishing a vitally important trade route for the besieged Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. Contacts have been negotiated, drawn up and translated – all that remains before the purchase process is complete is for one final inspection to be undertaken before we sign on the doted line.

The highlight of my week however was meeting Haidar Eid, who amongst other commitments, is on the Gaza Ark Advisory Committee.  He is also an Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University, a member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [PACBI] Steering Committee and a co-founder of the One Democratic State Group. Haidar is incredibly insightful and sharp and he spent the afternoon schooling me on all things Palestinian, hopefully it was the first of many lessons from Haidar while I am in Gaza.

This week also saw a visit to Palestine by Barack Obama, his itinerary and speeches laid bare the double standards of the US position on the occupation and discrimination that Palestinians endure. Describing Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as “inappropriate”, not illegal. Talking about a two state solution, which fails to address the discrimination of the 1.5 million Palestinians residents of Israel – not to mention the right of return that has been denied to over 5 million Palestine refugees. As Ali Abunimah pointed out this week on twitter > There is no “two state solution” to the problem of Zionist racism and land theft. During his visit Obama’s often talked about the shared values and similarities of the US and Israel, this might have been the most honest thing he said all week, as both countries are colonizing entities that committed massacres and ethnic cleansing of the population indigenous to the land they settled on.

The double standards in the US foreign policy on Palestine are also reflected in the mainstream media. For example, Israel has, on average, breached its November ceasefire with the Palestinians at least once a day. Resulting in the death of 10 Palestinians and injury of nearly 700. However the mainstream press would have you believe that the ceasefire was only broken on the 26 February 2013 when a single rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel and resulted in a damaged Israeli road. The deaths of Palestinians didn’t rate a mention in the mainstream media, but a damaged road in Israel is news worthy ???

Rally in Rafah to commemorate the10th anniversary of Rachel Corries murder by the IOF.

Rally in Rafah to commemorate the10th anniversary of Rachel Corries murder by the IOF.

March 22, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Week Four in Gaza > Mavi > Prisoners > Arabic > Al Mezan > Editing

To start the week I attended a presentation by Kevin Neish a fellow Tahririan and Mavi survivor, Kevin presentation was on the brutal Israeli Occupation Force [IOF] raid on the Mavi Marmara, the Mavi was a Turkish aid ship that was part of the first Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. The IOF raid in international waters killed 9 human rights activist and left 54 severely wounded, with five of the dead shot execution style at point-blank range.

The main section of the presentation was a 16 minute film that Kevin has narrated about his experiences on that bloody night in the mediterranean.  If you want more than just the Israeli hasbara of what happened that night follow this link and get the real story > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oub0oaPnr8 Here are some photo’s I took of the Kevin’s presentation > http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.448112025258748.99792.158095294260424&type=1

Three days ago I attended a protest rally called for after Arafat Jaradat allegedly died of a heart attack in Megiddo prison, these claims of a heart attack by the Israeli prison service seem to contradict the evidence at hand. Jaradat had told his Lawyer that “he had serious pains in his back and other parts of his body because he was being beaten up and hanged for many long hours while he was being investigated” for the incredibly serious crime of rock throwing. The Ministry of Detainee Affairs confirmed that “Israeli interrogators routinely used hanging techniques and sleep deprivation to torture Palestinian prisoners”. In addition to this Jaradat’s family, who have viewed his body, said there were traces of blood on the body and they rejected Israeli claims that he died of a heart attack.

The protest in Gaza and others throughout occupied Palestine called for a international probe into Jaradat’s death. The protest was also a show of solidarity with Hunger striker Samer Issawi who has been without food now for over 215 days, lets just hope the world wakes up to the draconian Israeli prison system before Samer Issawi joins Arafat Jaradat in an Israeli body bag : / Here are some photo’s of the protest rally, which is the first one I have been to since arriving in Gaza where all the factions came together in a show of Palestinian unity > http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.448112025258748.99792.158095294260424&type=1

This week I also had my first Arabic lesson since arriving in Gaza, Sundus Ghalayini – Mona El Farra’s daughter, has taken on the rather large challenge of teaching me Arabic. I hope that by learning Arabic I will be able to communicate with all levels of Palestinian society, as my shaway – aka little – Arabic means I am not getting the whole story of life in Gaza. Improving my Arabic will also make me more effective in sourcing products and civil society endorsement for the Gaza’s Ark Project. It might also mean that next time I go to get a hair cut here in Gaza and request a little off the length, I don’t walk out with a crew cut ; ]

In addition to this I visited Al Mezan Center for Human Rights to meet its director Issam Younis, who is a member of the Gaza Ark Advisory Committee here in Gaza. We not only discussed all things Ark related, but Issam also talked me through the great work Al Mezan does in capacity building in Gaza and the never-ending process of documenting Israeli violation of international law.  Finally this week I finished editing the Gaza’s Ark fundraising video that me and some of the Gaza Ark Youth Committee filmed last week. However I should give most of the credit for the video to Sami Dawoud a  great local producer and Ibrahim Faraj a man who is so good with a camera he could even make me look OK.  If you’re in Sydney get down to Plunge on the 6th of March for Free Gaza Australia’s fundraiser in support of Gaza’s Ark, where the video will be premiered. Here is a link the FB event page > http://www.facebook.com/events/131257413706111/

Look what else I got this week > my foreigners residence card for the Gaza Strip : ]

Look what else I got this week > my foreigners residence card for the Gaza Strip : ]

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No words left

Palestinians are at a loss to describe this latest catastrophe. International civil society must act now.

“I will play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing.” Those chilling words were spoken on al-Jazeera on Saturday by Ofer Shmerling, an Israeli civil defence official in the Sderot area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. For days Israeli planes have bombed Gaza. Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed and a thousand injured, the majority civilians, including women and children. Israel claims most of the dead were Hamas “terrorists”. In fact, the targets were police stations in dense residential areas, and the dead included many police officers and other civilians. Under international law, police officers are civilians, and targeting them is no less a war crime than aiming at other civilians.

Palestinians are at a loss to describe this new catastrophe. Is it our 9/11, or is it a taste of the “bigger shoah” Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, threatened in February, after the last round of mass killings?

Israel says it is acting in “retaliation” for rockets fired with increasing intensity ever since a six-month truce expired on 19 December. But the bombs dropped on Gaza are only a variation in Israel’s method of killing Palestinians. In recent months they died mostly silent deaths, the elderly and sick especially, deprived of food, cancer treatments and other medicines by an Israeli blockade that targeted 1.5 million people – mostly refugees and children – caged into the Gaza Strip. The orders of Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, to hold back medicine were just as lethal and illegal as those to send in the warplanes.

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, pleaded that Israel wanted “quiet” – a continuation of the truce – while Hamas chose “terror”, forcing him to act. But what is Israel’s idea of a truce? It is very simple: Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonise their land.

As John Ging, the head of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said in November: “The people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence … at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food.”

That is an Israeli truce. Any act of resistance including the peaceful protests against the apartheid wall in the West Bank is always met by Israeli bullets and bombs. There are no rockets launched at Israel from the West Bank, and yet Israel’s extrajudicial killings, land theft, settler pogroms and kidnappings never stopped for a day during the truce. The western-backed Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has acceded to all Israel’s demands. Under the proud eye of United States military advisors, Abbas has assembled “security forces” to fight the resistance on Israel’s behalf. None of that has spared a single Palestinian in the West Bank from Israel’s relentless colonisation.

The Israeli media report that the attack on Gaza was long planned. If so, the timing in the final days of the Bush administration may indicate an Israeli effort to take advantage of a moment when there might be even less criticism than usual.

Israel is no doubt emboldened by the complicity of the European Union, which this month voted again to upgrade its ties with Israel despite condemnation from its own officials and those of the UN for the “collective punishment” being visited on Gaza. Tacit Arab regime support, and the fact that predicted uprisings in the Arab street never materialised, were also factors.

But there is a qualitative shift with the latest horror: as much as Arab anger has been directed at Israel, it has also focused intensely on Arab regimes – especially Egypt’s – seen as colluding with the Israeli attack. Contempt for these regimes and their leaders is being expressed more openly than ever. Yet these are the illegitimate regimes western politicians continue to insist are their “moderate” allies.

Diplomatic fronts, such as the US-dominated Quartet, continue to treat occupier and occupied, coloniser and colonised, first-world high-tech army and near-starving refugee population, as if they are on the same footing. Hope is fading that the incoming administration of Barack Obama is going to make any fundamental change to US policies that are hopelessly biased towards Israel.

In Europe and the Middle East, the gap between leaders and led could not be greater when it comes to Israel. Official complicity and support for Israel contrast with popular outrage at war crimes carried out against occupied people and refugees with impunity.

With governments and international institutions failing to do their jobs, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee – representing hundreds of organisations – has renewed its call on international civil society to intensify its support for the sanctions campaign modelled on the successful anti-apartheid movement.

Now is the time to channel our raw emotions into a long-term effort to make sure we do not wake up to “another Gaza” ever again.

* This article was  taken from the Gaurdian website @ www.guardian.co.uk and was written by Ali Abunimah, Ali is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment