Bearing Witness

Week 15 in Gaza > Media > Refurbishment > Products > Goodbyes

Well this will be my last weekly update from Gaza, as my four months in the Strip is almost over. As I write this entry I only have four days left and I am sad and excited all at the same time. Sad to be leaving behind all my new friends, as I unsure when I will get to see them again : [ However excited about my travel plans and knowing that I am on my home to my family and friends, who I have missed so much : ]

After we sent out the email introducing Gaza’s Ark to her share holders and supporter, we felt it was time to introduce her to the media. So this Sunday at 11am in the Port of Gaza we will hold a media event to show Gaza’s Ark to the world. This has meant that I have spent the majority of this week complying a media list, drafting and sending out emails and spending more time on the phone than I care to mention. However it looks like we will have good variety of media in attendance, insharlla, to conduct interviews and witness the initial stages of the transformation of our fishing trawler into a cargo vessel that will attempt to export products Palestinian products from Palestine via the only mediterranean port closed to international shipping. Here is our media advisory for the event > http://www.gazaark.org/2013/06/05/media-advisory-come-and-see-gazas-ark/

While I have not spent a whole lot of time in the port this week, I am pleased to report that the refurbishment process is moving along nicely. We have finished the sanding of the vessel in preparation for the fiber glassing to begin and the last pieces of the winch structure will be removed on Sunday while the media event is underway. You can now follow the progress of the refurbishment process on our website > http://www.gazaark.org/2013/06/05/gazas-ark-photo-album/

There has also been movement on the solidarity item that will be sold through the Gaza Ark project, we have received the prototypes that were commissioned last week and now the products committee have the difficult process of chosing between the wrist band with the Palestinian flag or the wooden brooch in the shape of historical Palestine, with a keffiyeh pattern burnt into the wood or my favourite the heart-shaped brooch painted with the Palestinian flag.

Unfortunately with the media event, work on the solidarity item, documenting the refurbishment process and finalizing plans for my work on the products and civil society endorsements to continue in my absence – my work load has only increased this week, not giving me the time I would have liked to say proper goodbyes to my Gaza peeps. The Gaza Ark Steering Committee have well and truly got their last pound of flesh from me, for month and a bit anyway. However I have had a chance to catch  up with most of the peeps who have supported, encouraged, advised and inspired me during my time in Gaza > Sukran ictir my Gaza peeps, I miss you already!

Myself with Habibi Awni and two of his young cousins : ]

Myself with Habibi Awni and two of his young cousins : ]

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 14 in Gaza > Palfest > Products > Refurbishment

This week in Gaza was great, Pal Fest came to town, the refurbishment process is now moving along well and my last couple of product tasks are progressing nicely : ]

Palfest in Gaza was fantastic, Susan Abulhawa of “Mornings in Jenin” fame, Lina Attalah former Egyptian Independent journalist and fellow Tahririan, Nora Younis producer of “Reporting a revolution” and Ali Abunimah co-founder of the Electronic Intifada all came to town to do presentations, run workshops, present documentaries and help inspire the already inspirational Palestinian youth activists. Everything from BDS to hasbara to humanizing the Palestinian cause was discussed, debated and argued about. I attended workshops with Ali Abunimah and Susan Abulhawa on the first day of the festival, saw a presentation by Lina Attalah, Susan Abulhawa and Ali Abunimah at al-Aqsa University on the second day and also checked out Nora Younis presenting her film “Reporting a revolution” on the third day. Unfortunately Gaza Ark commitments meant I could not attend the closing concert, which celebrated Palestinian culture old and new, with performances of Dabke through to hip hop. Thank you to all who organised Palfest in Gaza, it helped me get my focus back on the big picture and away from the daily struggles of being part of a rather large international solidarity project.

On the Gaza Ark product front we have commissioned the production of two small solidarity items that will soon be available through Gaza’s Ark. These items will be instantly recognisable as Palestinian and have a price point around the $5 mark. They will be targeted at international solidarity groups, who will hopefully buy them in bulk to sell at information stalls and protest rallies, we have already had some expressions of interest in these items from groups in South Africa, Canada and Australia. We have also started the production of English labels for our agricultural products. We now have 7 agricultural products for sale through the Gaza’s Ark project, including Dugga, Za’atar,Maftoul, Debes, Honey, Ajwa and  Makhtom. Plus soon to be announced Olive Oil from the Olive Tree Protection Society > so what are you waiting for, go forth and buy into the hope Palestinians have for an independent economy > http://www.gazaark.org/products/

The refurbishment process of the Ark is also moving along nicely, this week has seen sanding of the boat in preparation for the fiberglassing to begin and the removal of the last parts of the winch structure. We are also preparing for the boat to be removed from the water so the major structural work can begin. The removal of the boat from the water will also hopefully see the start of filming for the Gaza’s Ark documentary. Everything seems to be starting to come together and while it has been a long difficult process to get to this point, as no one has ever tried to sail from Gaza against the blockade, I am now feeling more confident every day about the success of the Gaza Ark project. Not to mention I now have an even greater appreciation of what the those pioneers in the Free Gaza Movement went through when they attempted to do what no one else had done. I just hope we have the same result as they did back in 2008, but that will not be possible without your support. Go to http://www.gazaark.org and donate and spread the word, Palestinians don’t want hands out they want their freedom !

The Ark refurbishment continuing at pace

The Ark refurbishment continuing at pace.

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 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 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 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

Palestinian Solidarity Under Attack – Forum Presentation

Recently I was asked to participate in Forum put on by the Palestinian Action Group in Sydney called “Palestinian Solidarity Under Attack”. I was honoured to speak alongside Marrickville Councillor Cathy Peters, who put the BDS motion to Marrickville Council that created such a stir in the right-wing media last year, and Damian Ridgwell, one of the Boycott Max Brenner 19 currently being persecuted – oh sorry that is prosecuted – in Melbourne for supporting the call to boycott Max Brenner – whose parent company the Strauss Group openly supports the Golani Brigade and other IDF units involved in the military occupation of Palestine.

Below is my presentation that itemises some of the obstacles that Israel and her Apartheid loving supporters put between Free Gaza Australia and our participation in the international movement to break the illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza.

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As was mentioned in my introduction I was a representative of Free Gaza Australia [FGA] on Freedom Flotilla II – that was stopped in Greek Ports in July last year – and also Freedom Waves – which made it out of the Turkish port of Fethiye and to 45 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza in November – Throughout the process of organising, fundraising and participating in the flotilla movement, FGA has faced many challenges from the typical slurs of ‘anti-Semitism’ right through to acts of state sanctioned violence.

The first obstacle we faced in participating in the FF2 was getting our funds to our partners in Canada, who were purchasing our vessel the ‘Tahrir’. Our first transfer was delayed until we provided information about the law firm we were sending the money to and the purpose of the transfer. We provided the information that we were part of an international movement to challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza and that the law firm represented our partners, the Canadian Boat to Gaza initiative.

That transfer went through, however a few months later when we went to make the next transfer – it keep bouncing back and our bank could not tell us why ??? We tried sending it to different accounts and in different amounts – all bouncing back with no clear explanation ??? In the end we had to send the money with the participants – Not long after this the Bendigo Bank closed our account – again in less than clear circumstances – with one bank employee telling us that any account with the word “Palestine” in it would set off red flags.

Once in Greece the authorities slowed us down with a litany of bureaucratic obstacles in regards to the Tahrir: such as the temperature of the hot water, even though it was the middle of summer in the Mediterranean and no one wanted hot showers; the width of the benches that we would as a beds when we were out at sea, even though no one could show us the regulation stipulating the width of beds on ferries; the fact the emergency beacon identified the boat under its old name and needed to be replaced, even though it gave a correct GSP location; plus making us submit and re-submit form after form after form to the Harbour Master’s office.

While navigating these bureaucratic obstacles, two of the boats in the flotilla (the US boat “The Audacity of Hope” and our boat the “Tahrir”) had complaints made against their sea worthiness by the Israeli Law Centre. These complaints were made not as a way of stopping us, as both boats had already passed all the relevant inspections – several times – but most likely a way to slow us down and prevent us all from sailing together – making the job of intercepting and boarding us easier. In another attempt to minimise the number of boats in the flotilla the Swedish and Irish boats both had their propeller drive shafts cut in acts of sabotage.

Also during this time a number of flotilla participants in Athens were mugged and had their phones stolen – no money, no jewellery, just their phones – in an effort to infiltrate our communications – as it was already clear we were being watched. This was all being done with a back drop of Israel and the US applying immense diplomatic pressure on the countries where the flotilla boats were docked – in an attempt to prevent us from setting sailing permanently.

We navigated these obstacles only to then be slapped with what can best be described – as a dubious ministerial edict – that had no basis in law. The edict stated that “no ship could leave a Greek port bound for Gaza” – no matter what the conditions or the circumstances – and with that the blockade of Gaza was extended to European waters. Undeterred by the ministerial edict, we made a run for international waters – only to come up 4 miles short.

After the disappointment of Greece we needed to amend our tactics. Israel had varied its strategy of deterrence from violence to the full court press of diplomatic pressure, intelligence service monitoring

and legal challenges – on top of the usual smear campaign and threats. After a comprehensive analysis of the events in Greece we decided our best option was to take advantage of the window of opportunity we had before storm season began in the Mediterranean in mid-November. Israel thought that it had dealt with us for the year and if we organised this new mission as covertly as possible we might catch the Israeli government napping.

After some deliberation about possible ports of departure – which were now very limited – we reassembled in Turkey in November for “a day trip to the Greek Island of Rhodes sailing out of the Turkish port of Fethiye”. While I’m sure we did not catch Israel totally by surprise, I do feel our strict protocols for the discussion of the mission, the quick turn around and our choice of departure port did help us get the jump on them, as it was clear we were not under anywhere near the same leave of surveillance as we were in June in Greece.

While our change of strategy got us out of port and to international waters – everyone aboard was well aware of what awaited us of the coast of Gaza. The Israeli military has a long history of targeting peaceful protesters with violence and the Israeli Navy did indeed take control of the Tahrir using water cannon, tazers and brute force.

I think it’s interesting to contrast the vast difference between the way the Greeks and the Israelis undertook the same task. In July, Greek authorities managed to take control of the Tahrir – and almost 50 people on board, using only one small cutter and two Zodiacs – carrying a total of ten coastguard officers. IN CONTRAST – Israel sent hundreds of heavily armed troops – on at least three warships – and between 15 and 20 assault boats.

Once we arrived at the port of Ashdod we were physically removed from the Tahrir with the use of stress positions and pressure points. We were then strip searched or in some cases a more accurate description would be sexual assaulted. During this search/assault all of the documentation of our violent boarding was confiscated as “evidence” – basically all of our cameras, computers, storage devices were stolen, and the Tahrir was impounded – all of which we have not seen since and are appear unlikely to ever see again.

From Ashdod we were taken to Givion prison where we were detained for a week for the crime of entering Israel illegally – even though we had no intention of going to Israel until our boat was violently boarded by the Israeli Navy – who once they had control of the Tahrir in international waters set a course for Ashdod – and then once in the port of Ashdod forcibly removed us from the boat – hence entering illegally, confusing to say the least.

While these obstacles no doubt make the organisation of actions in solidarity with the Palestinian people much more difficult, they almost always show the true nature of the Israeli state – REPRESSIVE ! – helping us in our mission to show the true nature of the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, which too often is classified as a “conflict” – which is incorrect, it’s the ”oppression” of Palestinians by Israelis – which is becoming clearer every day thanks to the heavy- handed tactics of the Israeli State.

July 7, 2012 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments