Bearing Witness

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

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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

Don’t believe the hype – Hebron and Gaza

I have just returned from a day in Hebron and was horrified to discover that the Al-Rajabi family home is not back in the hands of  it’s rightful owners, the Al-Rajabi family – as was widely report. Yes the settlers have been evicted, but the home is now being used as Israeli Occupation Force [IOF] watch tower. Leaving the Al-Rajabi family still homeless, 13 months after their home was first occupied. Did the Palestinians of Hebron and the West Bank suffer the desecration of their Mosques and graveyards, stoning, beatings and shootings for another IOF watch tower in Hebron ? Did the Al-Rajabi family spent a year in the Israeli court system to get the settlers evicted, so their home could be turned in a  IOF watch tower to protect the very settlers who occupied their house ?

While in Hebron I also was shown by my guide Tom, from the International Solidarity Movement [ISM], a Palestinian home that had been fire bombed during the settler violence that followed their eviction from the Al-Rajabi family home. The house was next door to IOF watch tower, but when questioned by ISM volunteers the IOF soldiers stated they “heard and saw nothing”. I found this strange as they noticed me taking photo’s straight away – I have never heard a Molotov cocktail being thrown but some thing tells me it’s louder than my camera.

I was also told how scores of children where arrested for throwing stones at the settler in vain attempt to protect their homes, Mosques and graveyards. While the only settler arrested was the man accused of shooting two Palestinians, and he was only arrested after B’tselem release video footage of the shooting to the media.

These incidents show just a few of the double standards that exist in the occupied territories, of which there are many more. They clearly show that there is one policy for Palestinians and another for Jews, fitting the definition of apartheid – the development of practices and policies of separation along racial lines. While also showing that the IOF, who under international law is responsible for for protecting Palestinians in the occupied territories, rarely fulfill these obligations. 

While where on the don’t believe hype theme lets talk about Gaza, I am sure that every time Israel lets the smallest shipment of food into Gaza, it’s widely reported in the western media as noble humanitarian gesture, but again don’t believe the hype. These shipments are like a small amount of rain in a drought, it’s welcome but it’s not drought breaking. The blockade of Gaza has now forced UNRWA to closed its doors as of Thursday 18th of December, saying it would be unable to provide emergency food aid to Gazans, since Israel continued to refuse to allow aid shipments into the Gaza Strip, UNRWA is responsible for feeding 750 000 Gazans. This another violation of international law, as it is a form of collective punishment. 

Again I ask, why is the world less offended by the oppression of the Palestinians people than it was by oppression of Black South Africans ? where are the boycotts and international condemnation ?

The Al-Rajabi family home, now being used as an IOF watch tower

The Al-Rajabi family home, now being used as an IOF watch tower

An IOF watch tower, next to a Palestinian home that was fire bombed by settlers after their eviction for the Al-Rajabi family home.

An IOF watch tower, next to a Palestinian home that was fire bombed by settlers after their eviction for the Al-Rajabi family home.

The results of the fire bomb

The results of the fire bomb

My guide Tom admiring the rubbish disposal methods of settlers

My guide Tom admiring the rubbish disposal methods of settlers

December 20, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting Palestinian rights is a universal obligation

 Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a watershed document of our time, in which the world community recognized the “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

True to its nobility of spirit, it declares “the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom from fear and want as the highest aspiration of the common people.”

Sixty years on, the gap between the rhetoric and reality, particularly in the case of the Palestinian people, should be a cause for universal soul-searching. The need to close this gap and to give substantive meaning to the protection of Palestinians has never been greater.

The former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has said that in Gaza, nothing short of a “civilization” is being destroyed. Desmond Tutu has called it “an abomination.”

The Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Maxwell Gaylard, said that in Gaza, there was a “massive assault” on human rights.

Most recently, European Commissioner Louis Michel described the blockade of Gaza as a “form of collective punishment against Palestinian civilians, which is a violation of International Humanitarian Law.”

Fatality figures for the occupied Palestinian territory must surely make us question our commitment to upholding the right to life, that most fundamental of all rights, protected by a broad range of international legal instruments. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed this year alone, 73 of them children, as a result of the conflict; more than double the figure for 2005. Eleven Israelis have lost their lives this year.

The informal ceasefire in Gaza has been welcomed by Israelis and Palestinians alike. For the sake of the sanctity of human life, we hope that it continues substantially to hold in spite of recent violations.

The right to freedom of movement enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration also remains just a distant hope for many Palestinians. The inhumane blockade of Gaza, which, as many senior UN officials have said, collectively punishes 1.5 million people and over 600 physical obstacles to movement in the West Bank are a sad reminder of the world community’s failure to stand by that article.

With an estimated 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including some 325 children, the declaration that “everyone has the right to liberty and security of person,” and that no one shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, has a sad resonance today. Compounding these abuses are statistics that attest to the lack of protection of a broad range of social and economic rights. An unprecedented high number of Gazans–more than half the population–now live below the deep poverty line.

This is a humanitarian crisis, but one that is deliberately imposed by political actors and the choices they have made. It is the result of policies that have been imposed on the Palestinian people. Is it not time to look again at those policies and search for a new approach? Is it not time to question afresh our commitment to the noble tenets of the Universal Declaration?

Overarching all these rights is the right to self determination, the right to a state of which the Palestinians have been deprived through 60 years of exile and dispossession. Rights are best protected within the framework of statehood and we at UNRWA, charged with delivering assistance until the refugee issue is resolved within the context of a final peace agreement, are as aware of this as any humanitarian actor working in the Middle East today.

The chasm between word and deed is a matter of puzzlement to many Palestinians. Locked down in Gaza or waiting at checkpoints in the West Bank, they are at the sharp end of where the lack of protection is most acutely felt. The result has been a cruel isolation from the global community, fed by the inaction of the international system, and leading to a sense of despair and abandonment. In such circumstances, radicalism and extremism easily take root.

But this can be reversed and protection is the place to start. Let us make the protection of Palestinian rights the byword of all our interventions. Let us make the vision of the signatories of the Universal Declaration a reality; continued failure to do so is to our universal shame.

* This article was taken from the Maan News Agency Website www.maannews.netand was written by Karen AbuZayd is the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Before joining UNRWA, AbuZayd worked for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for 19 years.

December 15, 2008 Posted by | Media | , , , | Leave a comment

Settler Violence

Since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000, the incidence of settler attacks perpetrated against Palestinians has been steadily on the rise. In 2007, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented 76 cases of settler violence resulting in death or injury to Palestinians, a 17 per cent increase over 2006. Over the first four months (January-April) of 2008 alone, OCHA has documented 42 cases of Palestinians killed or injured as a result of settler violence. Included among these cases are one child fatality and five injuries. Sadly, Palestinian children are often the victims of violence at the hands of Israeli settlers. Reports from the 1612 Working Group1 indicate that from May 2007 to March 2008, two children were killed and 31 injured as a result of settler attacks. Of these attacks, one child was killed and five injured in hit-and-run incidents; one child killed and one injured in shooting incidents; and 24 were injured in physical assaults.

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the Israeli army and police have an undeclared policy of leniency and compromise toward settlers who perpetrate acts of violence against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory. The army makes little attempt to prevent settler violence, often providing cover and protection for the very settlers who commit these crimes. Israeli authorities often fail to investigate acts of settler violence or bring perpetrators to justice. When cases actually are investigated, they often do not result in indictment or strong penalties. B’Tselem reports that an examination of the human rights organisation Yesh Din reveals that some 90 per cent of investigations opened by the police in 2005 regarding settlers who injured Palestinians or damaged Palestinian property were closed without an indictment being filed.

In cases where settlers are actually prosecuted for crimes committed in the occupied territory, Israel’s Emergency Regulations Law 5727 of 1967 guarantees they are tried before the civil courts and in accordance with Israeli laws. Despite the fact that settlers are living in the occupied Palestinian territory, they are not subject to the same military laws and the military court system as the Palestinians living under occupation. By being subject to the Israeli judicial system, settlers enjoy legal protections and guarantees that are routinely denied to Palestinians in the occupied territory.

* The information in this post was taken from www.palestinemonitor.org 

November 19, 2008 Posted by | Media | , , , | Leave a comment