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.

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

Week 12 in Gaza > Boat > Products > Fishing > Jabalia

This has been a productive week for Gaza’s Ark, we were excited to announce  that we have finally purchased the fishing vessel that we will now converted into Gaza’s Ark, plus we had our second release of Palestinian products that will be exported aboard the Ark. While on the personal front I spent a night on the water doing some accompaniment work with Palestinian fishermen off the coast of Gaza and also spent some time in the Jabalia Refugee Camp.

The moment we have been working towards for the last 12 months finally arrived this week and we are now the proud owners of a 24 meter fishing trawler that we will covert into a cargo vessel to export Palestinian products from the only port in the Mediterranean currently closed to shipping. Even though the size of our cargo vessel will only allow us to attempt to export a symbolic amount of products from Gaza. Our main aim is to raise awareness of Israel’s strangulation of the Gazan economy, that prior to the blockade was an export based economy. Exports are currently at just 2% of pre blockade levels, this has resulted in a youth unemployment rate of around 50% and this figure does not take into account the levels of under employment which are rampant in the Gaza Strip. You can find the official purchase announcement here >  http://www.gazaark.org/2013/05/14/breaking-we-have-purchased-gazas-ark/

This week also the second release of products that will be available for sale through the Gaza Ark project. The second release focused on Palestinian agricultural products and includes > Honey, Debes – which is a date molasses, Maftoul – Palestinian couscous, Za’atar and Dugga – which are herb mixes. For more details on the these products check out the products page on the Gaza Ark website > http://www.gazaark.org/products/

Tuesday night I finally got to do some accompaniment work with Palestinian fishermen in Gaza, fishermen in Gaza are on the front line of the blockade. As Israel has unilaterally, in violation of the Oslo accords, limited their fishing zone to three nautical miles from the coast of Gaza. This means that they are unable to access to majority of their fish stocks that inhabit the rocky bottom nine nautical miles from shore. In addition to this fishermen are often attacked by the Israeli Navy within the this three-mile limit, these attack have resulted in injury and even the deaths of Palestinian fishermen in Gaza. The reduced profitability caused by the three-mile limit and the risk of attack by the Israeli Navy have resulted in the number of fishermen in Gaza falling from over 10000 to just over 3500 who fish the waters off Gaza currently. After 12 hours work by 14 crew, they only had 15 barely half full creates of fish to show for their nights work and no fish over 10cm in length. Check out my photo’s from the night here > http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.478190475584236.1073741836.158095294260424&type=1

Finally this week I was taken on a guided tour of the Jabalia Refugee Camp in Gaza yesterday, at last count in 2002 the camp had a registered population of 103,646 inhabitants. The camp only covers an area of 1.4 km² making it one of the most densely populated places on earth. The camps proximity to the Israel boarder means in has been the scene of much Israeli violence, but despite all this, what struck me most on my tour was the joy that the children of the camp found in their impoverished surroundings. It was a real lesson in appreciating what you have and not concerning yourself with what you can’t attain > Thank you for this lesson in perspective Jabalia : ] Check out my photo’s from the tour here > http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.478705638866053.1073741839.158095294260424&type=1

The sun setting over the three mile buoy off the coast of Gaza.

The sun setting over the three-mile buoy off the coast of Gaza.

The kids of Jabalia Refugee Camp.

The kids of Jabalia Refugee Camp.

May 17, 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 9 in Gaza > Airstrikes > Products > Inspection > Endorsements

Well this will be my last update for a couple of weeks, as I am off to Europe for some well-earned R&R > even if I do say so myself. It has been an eventful couple of weeks since my last entry, I have met many wonderful new producers, secured a rather significant endorsement, participated in the final inspection of the possible ark and survived my first Israeli airstrike.

On Tuesday night Israel launched its first airstrike on Gaza since the November ceasefire and my arrival. I became aware of the strike via twitter when I started reading unconfirmed reports of several Israeli attacks in the North and East of the Gaza Strip. The information coming through was confused and suggested that their where F-16 and drones thick in sky over the port area, where I live, so I ventured outside to see for myself. However I struggled to hear anything over hum of the night here in Gaza, aka the generators that power most of the buildings in the Almenia area where I live. I then returned home to check for media updates and found that Haaretz had confirmation of the attacks, which it stated where in response to Palestinian rocket fire.

Interesting how Israeli attacks are almost always reported as responses, when reported at all, but Palestinian attacks are never framed in the same way ??? Take the November ceasefire for example prior to the Tuesday nights events there have been over 100 Israeli violations of the agreement, that have left four Palestinians dead and scores injured, yet in all the articles I read in the western media on the topic nowhere did I read “the Palestinian rocket fire was in response to over 100 Israeli violations of the ceasefire agreement”.  It seems Israel’s and the west’s idea of a ceasefire between the Palestinians and the Israel, is that Palestinian resistance stops, while Israeli oppression is allowed to continue unabated.

On a more positive note I now have 14 new producers on board with the Gaza Ark project, excuse the pun, whose products will be available in our second release of products coming soon > http://www.gazaark.org/products/ . The project now has a good variety of products to choose from agricultural goods, arts and crafts, carpets, furniture, Jewelery, pottery and even organic cleaning products. However unfortunately, but as expected, they all had stories of difficulties they now face due to the illegal blockade. Confirming the importance and the need for the Gaza’s Ark project. Weather its difficulties getting the raw material need for manufacturing or the stories of unemployment caused by the lack of access to exports markets.

The story of Mahmoud Attallah and his two son’s who have a pottery factory in the Old City in Gaza has stay with me all week. Mahmoud has had to lay off his entire workforce due to the blockade, as his factory prior to the blockade used to export the majority of their pottery to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He and son’s now struggle to keep the business going on their own and to make enough to even support their own family. His is a factory that used to support over ten families and now barely supports one.  This story is common in Gaza and shows clearly the indiscriminate nature of the blockade and the collective punishment that it enforces in violation of international law.

This week also saw the final inspection of the possible Ark, all that remains now is for the Steering Committee to approve the inspection report and for the Gaza’s Ark financial officers to sign on the doted line. On the endorsement front, I secured a rather significant endorsement of Gaza’s Ark this week. However due to the media teams decision to embargoed this and all future endorsements I can not tell who the endorsement is from, but lets just say I am rather chuffed about it. The decision about placing an embargo on the endorsements is so the project can make the most impact with them, through carefully timed media releases.

In addition to this I have been working closely with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions [PGFTU] on a letter writing campaign between the PGFTU and their international comrades in support of Gaza’s Ark. Here is the link to the first general letter from the PGFTU to their international brothers and sisters > http://www.gazaark.org/2013/04/02/letter-of-support-from-unions-in-gaza/ . However going forward  there will be specific letters from the PGFTU to specific unions internationally to increase awareness of the situation here in Gaza and the importance of the Gaza’s Ark project.

As my first tour of duty draws to a close the main reflection I have of my first two and a bit months in Gaza is that I hear the word “only” way to often here. “Only’ one person was injured in last nights airstrikes, I “only” spent two years in-goal in Israel, I have “only” lost one family member to the occupation forces > what the Palestinians of Gaza have had to put up with and become accustomed to is completely unacceptable, when will the rest of the world see this ???

Mahmoud Attallah and his two son's in their pottery factory in the Old City of Gaza

Mahmoud Attallah and his two son’s in their pottery factory in the Old City of Gaza

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Week 8 in Gaza > Photo recap of my first 2 months in Gaza

Well today marks the end of my first two months in Gaza, it has been at times wonderful and inspiring and at others frustrating, emotional and even heart breaking. So as I struggle with the written word at the best of times, I have decided to let my photo’s do the talking this week – by posting some of my favourite photo’s of the last two months. However one thing I have learnt over the years, its people who make somewhere special. So in that spirit I have not just selected photo’s of the  cool things I have done, but also photo’s of some of the people who made them special. Sukran ictir my Gaza peeps, this blog is dedicated to you.

What it is journey is all about, Gaza's Ark > the anchor from the Ark, insharalla one day soon it will be dropped in a European port.

Insharalla one day soon Gaza’s Ark will be dropping anchor in a foreign port.

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.

In the buffer zone, the sign say's it all > BDS now yella !

In the buffer zone, the sign say’s it all > BDS Israeli Apartheid now yella !

In the buffer zone, where existence truly is resistance.

In the buffer zone, where existence truly is resistance.

Hanging with the Gaza Ark Youth Committee

Hanging with the Gaza Ark Youth Committee

Getting ready to speak at a PPP protest in support of Palestinian prisoners

Getting ready to speak at a PPP protest in support of Palestinian prisoners

The optimism of youth

The optimism of youth

Filming a fundraising video for Gaza's Ark > that's a wrap !

Filming a fundraising video for Gaza’s Ark > that’s a wrap !

Sunset over Gaza

Sunset over Gaza

Kevin Neish inspecting the Ark

Kevin Neish inspecting one of the possible Ark’s

Heading out to sea with my peeps from the PPP

Heading out to sea with my peeps from the PPP

Translator extraordinaire Awni

Translator extraordinaire Awni

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

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

Rally in Rafah to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Rachel Corries murder by the IOF

Gaza Ark's nautical brains trust

Gaza Ark’s nautical brains trust Mahfouz and Nizar in their element at the port

Norma from PSC and Laila from Snad Charitable Society at the Gaza Women's Trade Fair

Norma from PSC, Laila from Snad Charitable Society and myself at the Gaza Women’s Trade Fair

Sunset over the Mediterranean

Sunset over the Mediterranean

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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 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 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

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

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