After a long absence, Maggie Schmitt and I are back updating our Gaza Kitchens blog, which will serve to both keep our readers up to date on the progress of our book (The Gaza Kitchen) and help us tweak the recipes we’ve collected. So please-check it out, test the recipes, give us your feedback! We’re happy to report we now have a publisher (Just World Books in partnership with OR books) and we hope the book will be out by mid 2012!
As Eid ul Fitr approaches, many of us are in a last minute frenzy to find just the right gift for our loves ones in line with the Prophet pbuh’s tradition: “هادوا تحابوا ” or “Give gifts, and love one another”. So in an act of shameless self-promotion, might I propose my book, Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between? You can buy it right here on my blog via the link on the right hand side, through Paypal! Easy! As a triple-bonus (remember, I am giving you a great gift idea, and making your life easy ), part of the proceeds will go to assist Palestinian refugees in Syria, who have been gravely affected by ongoing brutality of the Asad regime there, via UNRWA’s Syria Emergency Appeal.
So go ahead and gift something you can feel good about!
I tuned in to the end of this segment on the Kojo Namdi show, on WAMU’s 88.5 station (NPR), which featured as its guest Bernard Avishai, author of “The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel Peace at Last” and former editor of the Harvard Business Review.
Nnamdi introduced the segment by suggesting that “Israel seems like a strange place to have an economic protest”, what with growth around 4% and its economy booming “making it unique in the region and, really, unique in the entire global economy” (later, a caller named Anne reminded listeners that U.S. tax dollars are actually subsidizing Israel to the tune of about $5,000 per Israeli citizen).
This same caller later brought up another paradox: that of the ever-expanding settlements.
Avishai’s response was telling and brought up a point that I had yet to hear discussed in connection with these protests (possibly because for many of us, it is so obvious): the racism of Israel’s housing crisis. Over 90% of Israeli land is government owned, much of that property stolen from Palestinians following 1948 and 1967 under its “absentee property” law. To privatize this land is to open it up to Palestinian ownership (though here, Avishai continually refers to the Palestinians as the Arabs).
“Housing, of course, is a big deal, but it also is telltale. “Housing is driven by the cost of land. Land is 90 percent controlled or owned by the government. For the Israeli government to privatize and auction off a good deal more land, that would drop housing costs substantially, they would be, in effect, giving up control over what Israeli governments have always been very careful about, namely, creating a sector in housing which was exclusive to Jews.
The danger for the Israeli right — people like Netanyahu — in privatizing land is that Arabs can gain a great deal more land for the expansion of Arab cities and Arab towns. So here is a perfect example of, you know, how far can the government go in creating a bettering of — in bettering the cost of living without providing a kind of lever for Israeli Arabs to expand their own towns and cities?
As far as the settlements are concerned, it is true that the Israeli right, right wing government, have kept the cost of housing low, or at least kept the boiling point around the lack of housing at a lower temperature, by sending lots of people off into the West Bank and into the occupied territories. This is one of the reasons why some settlers and some people in the settlement movement have joined these housing protests because they want to see the government spending a lot more on putting housing in occupied territory.
And this is the kind of thing that this young coalition, this young leadership of the coalition, has to decide. Are they going to say things that, in effect, put a red flag in front of the settlers and the Israeli right? Or are they going to say, hey, we’ve got to do this without expanding into the West Bank?”
Apologies for the absence-was in the middle of moving, traveling, etc… and thank yous to those who left me comments on the Audacity of Hope Video!
I have been following the travails of the various flotilla attempts to sail to Gaza, the sabotage, the ban of BDS…and all I can say is, “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice!”.
For me the flotillas have always been about so much more than “aid”. They are the most concrete example of how the actions of a few human beings can change, or attempt to change, a situation of such perverse injustice; they are the attempt to undermine the false rhetoric that Gaza’s siege is merely about food-and to demonstrate that it is instead mostly about the malicious appropriation of freedoms…to move, fish, farm, learn, love, build, and be.
In line with this, the following letter was delivered to the Greek Government on July 12, 2011 making it clear that the people of Gaza seek freedom and respect for their human rights, including their right to lead a dignified life, not charity. Seemingly deaf to their call, yesterday a spokesman for the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Delavekouras, repeated the Greek Government’s “generous offer” to deliver limited humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza – instead of helping them gain the freedom that is rightfully theirs.
We, members of Palestinian civil society in Gaza, have been watching the actions your government has taken to block Freedom Flotilla 2 from setting sail towards the biggest open air prison – the Gaza Strip – to challenge Israel’s criminal blockade. Israel’s closure of Gaza has deprived us of things that most people take for granted, first and foremost, our freedom of movement. We are not allowed to pursue adequate health care or educational opportunities because we cannot travel freely. We are cut off from our families in other parts of the occupied territory and abroad; and we are not allowed to invite people to visit us in Gaza. Now, you have imported this restriction on the people whose main mission is to stand in solidarity with us.
The people of Gaza are not only in need of humanitarian aid because we are prevented from building our economy. We are not allowed to import raw materials or to export; our fishermen and farmers get shot at when attempting to fish or to harvest their crops. As a result of deliberate Israeli policy, 80% of our people have become food aid dependent, our infrastructure is in shambles, and our children cannot imagine a day when they will know freedom.
Your offer to deliver the cargo of the Freedom Flotilla entrenches the notion that humanitarian aid will solve our problems and is a weak attempt to disguise your complicity in Israel’s blockade.
We are so sorry not to accept your charity. The organizers and participants of the Freedom Flotilla recognize that our plight is not about humanitarian aid; it is about our human rights. They carry with them something more important than aid; they carry hope, love, solidarity and respect. Your offer to collude with our oppressors to deliver aid to us is totally REJECTED.
While it is clear that you have been under enormous political pressure to comply with the will of the Israeli regime, to collaborate with Israel in violating international law and legitimizing the siege, we refuse to accept your breadcrumbs. We crave freedom, dignity and the ability to make choices in our daily lives. We urge you to immediately reconsider and to let the Freedom Flotilla sail.
Finally we recognize the historical relations between our people and your country’s support for our legitimate rights. With this history in mind and your previous acknowledgment of the freedoms denied to us, we are calling on you to allow the freedom flotilla boats to leave for Gaza, thus challenging Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip and illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
Palestinian Network of NGOs (PNGO)
Representing over 60 non-governmental organizations in Gaza
Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza
General Society for Rehabilitation
Deir Al-Balah Cultural Centre for Women and Children
Maghazi Cultural Centre for Children
Al-Sahel Centre for Women and Youth
Rachel Corrie Centre, Rafah
Rafah Olympia City Sisters
Al Awda Centre, Rafah
Al Awda Hospital, Jabaliya Camp
Ajyal Association, Gaza
Al Karmel Centre, Nuseirat
Local Initiative, Beit Hanoun
Beit Lahiya Cultural Centre
Al Awda Centre, Rafah
Middle East Children’s Alliance – Gaza office
Alshomoa Club for Women
General Union for Public Services Workers
General Union for Health Services Workers
General Union for Petrochemical and Gas Workers
General Union for Agricultural Workers
General Union of Palestinian Syndicates
General Union of Palestinian Women
Palestinian Congregation for Lawyers
Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)
Union of Health Work Committees
Union of Synergies-Women Unit
Union of Women’s Work Committees
Palestinian Association for Fishing and Maritime
Palestine Sailing Federation
Fishing and Marine Sports Association
Palestinian Women Committees
Progressive Students’ Union
For further information go to: freegaza.org
A fantastic video shot by a group of Palestinian activists exposing the realities of the much heralded opening of Rafah Crossing, which has been closed for the third day in a row.
I think I might have posted this before on Facebook, but its just so classic I had to do it again here on my blog! Its a video of Australian troops in Gaza in 1939 giving a display of surf rescue as the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s mobile unit transmits the scene to homes thousands of miles away. A small group of men take part in a sprinting race along the beach as Australian troops in uniform march along. The soundtrack plays an Australian wartime song referring to a “nasty nazi”.
AUSTRALIAN SURF MEN – IN PALESTINE
OneWorld has produced a fantastic hit that has the haters in a rage. All proceeds go to supporting projects in Palestine. The song features an all star ensemble of musicians from around the world, and Coldplay has just announced on their Facebook page that they endorse the project. Check it out and pre-order on Itunes.
Just as I was talking about not being complacent and gaining a clearer understanding of Gaza’s closure, Gisha, the Tel-Aviv based Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, today released an animated film questioning common perceptions about Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the closure (as in, its not all its cracked up to be). The film is meant to challenge “commonly held belief that Israel no longer exercises control over Gaza and does not bear responsibility for what goes on there – an opinion voiced ever more strongly since the opening of Rafah”. The film also looks at the way in which the ongoing closure policy mainly harms the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
The film, created by animator Anna Shevchenko, is produced in the style of the “Geva newsreels” that were shown in Israeli movie theaters in the 1950s and 1960s.
The big story of the week has been the much-acclaimed re-opening of the torturous Rafah Crossing. It had been operating intermittently, if at all, and for limited categories of people for more than 4 years now. For what seemed like eternity, the Mubarak regime- الله لا يردهم -, colluding with the United States and Israel to keep Gaza closed, had “conditioned” the re-opening of the crossing on a Fateh-Hamas reconciliation agreement, the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and a return to the much-maligned US-brokered AMA (Agreement on Movement and Access), in which European monitors and live-video streams acted as proxies for Israel, who ultimately retained control over the crossing.
There were some dark, dark times over the course of those four miserable years, and beyond, during which I and tens of thousands of others were prevented from entering our own homes over and over again, during which we were beaten and detained, humiliated and abandoned, when I wondered how would it ever end? How on earth could we as Palestinians find a way out of even this smallest and seemingly inconsequential dimension of our struggle, Rafah, this sole gateway, this portal, in and out of tortured little Gaza? How could such a routine aspect of life, movement, have become so impossible, yet made to seem so threatening, its stifling designed to seem so ordinary and justified? And why could no understand we we were mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, lovers, students and teachers…and we were tired like ordinary human beings get tired, of this miserable, hell. How could the status quo finally change? I can honestly tell you the last thing I expected was for an epic overthrow of Mubarak.
But back to Rafah. Not to be a buzzkill or anything, but I think its time to break down the facts here. Its true that the crossing has been open on a more regular basis (6 days a week) and to a greater number of Gaza residents for visa-free travel (unless you happen to fall into the dreaded 18-40 “male security threat” age-range), and as anyone who has suffered long hours (or days or weeks or months) in the punishing heat or bone-numbing cold of this little corner of the world awaiting entry or exit can attest, this news should be celebrated.
But with access STILL limited to Palestinians in Israeli controlled population registry, the so-called re-opening of Rafah Crossing is simply return to status quo of years past. Only Palestinians listed in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian population registry, carrying an Israeli-approved Gaza ID card, or hawia, can use Rafah Crossing. And those who do cross are still subject to arbitrary security screenings and possible denial of entry-or exit.
Translation: Palestinians from the West Bank or East Jerusalem-even those with hawiat, Palestinians in refugees camps outside the Occupied Palestinian territories, “Filisteeniyit il-dakhil” aka 1948 Palestinians, or Palestinians abroad, are all still not allowed passage to Gaza through Rafah. This includes Palestinian families where one spouse possesses an ID, but the other does not, such as my own family, OR internally displaced Palestinians who live in Gaza but whose IDs were never approved by Israeli authorities (who are not allowed to exit). They number in the tens of thousands.
Additionally, according to the NGO Gisha, the expansion does not appear to include passage of goods, which are restricted to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on construction materials and export.
It also warrants reminding that while one border has been open, Gaza remains under tight maritime and aerial siege, and continues to be closed off to the rest of the Occupied Palestinians territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinian’s cultural, economic, and academic capitals. Israel has a legal obligation to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized as a single territorial unit.
In addition, the deadly buffer zone along Gaza’s coastal borders, which juts up to 2km inland, preventing farmer’s from accessing their farm land, 1/3 of which exists in this zone, is still in place.
The collective result: development, prosperity, and possibility are stifled, as aid dependence rises. We should be under no illusions to the contrary. Gaza is still occupied, is still besieged.
Should be be thankful Rafah’s closure has eased? Absolutely. Should we be complacent, or simply settle for what we have? Absolutely not.
For more, check out GISHA’s “Gaza cheat sheet“, which breaks down the facts and figures and helps you understand what’s really behind the siege.
One of a series of videos created by solidarity activists in NYC in preparation for the June flotilla to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope. A new one featuring Noura Erekat and I is coming soon.