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  • Posts Tagged ‘Gaza’

    To Gaza, With Love

    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.

     

    UNRWA’s Ramadan Ad: Its a Wonderful, Wonderful Life

    Brilliant commercial run by Kuwaiti mobile telecommunications giant Zain on behalf of UNRWA and Palestinian refugees. It is poetic, artistic, and moving all at once without being generic and polemical. The message is not “doom and gloom”, it is “resilience and reality”…life despite the hardship.

     

    Ramadan in Gaza: its in the details

    A fellow Palestinian blogger noted the other day on Twitter that none of us had written up a Ramadan post. Ramadan is a very special time as any Muslim will tell you. But it also brings with it its own unique set of challenges. It is spiritually uplifting, but it is also physically exhausting.

    In Gaza, these challenges are multiplied tenfold. This Ramadan came amidst a merciless heat wave across Palestine. Ordinarily, one can find ways around this by staying indoors or cooling off in front of a fan of air conditioning. But no so in Gaza, where we were enduring continuous 9 hour electricity outages: 8 hours of electricity, 9 hours without, 8 hours of electricity, 9 hours without…and on and on. Since a fuel agreement was reached a few days ago, we are now privileged and get an average of 15-20 hours straight of power, then 12 hours without…not sure which is worse! But the Jerusalem Post reports today that Israel has “balked at a request” by Tony Blair to boost the amount of electricity it supplies to the Gaza.

    Combine that with the blocked off urban construction, and you have your very own personal saunas.

    Electricity aside, there is the issue of access to fresh foods. Few people buy “fresh” meat anymore, opting instead for lower grade imported frozen meat that sells for the half the price. Once again, it must be emphasized: the issue in Gaza is not availability of foods; it is accessibility. The flow of goods in Gaza waxes and wanes with each passing week, a perplexing combination of “premium” Israeli goods and a small amount of West Bank products; tunnel commodities (such as processed cheeses, but also Egyptian lemon-limes and cows); and other “foreign” goods, mainly from Turkey. This is not to mention that one cannot preserve fresh or even cooked foods more than a couple of days, given the lack of electricity to power refrigerators.

    Yet, what I’ve increasingly noticed is that they here are finding ways to make ends meet, to “cope” if you will. Some food aid from here, some zakat from there, some relatives living abroad: many manage in a piecemeal fashion. But they resent being depicted as beggars or victims. Still, the situation takes its toll. You have to look for the signs.

    We recently went to visit a friend of my mother’s, Um Rami, who is a widow and works as a seamstress in her spare time out of her Shati Refugee camp home. She was kind enough to let us photograph her cooking (and alter a heap of clothes for us).

    I noticed her iftar consisted of the following: noodle soup (made with a bouillon cube); rice (from UNRWA food aid); tomato salad (dagga); and mulukhia-made with a couple of chicken wings.

    She was beaming as she recounted traditional recipes passed down to her from her grandmother from their village of Beit jirja and sharing stories with us about her late father’s favorite foods. “The best gift my father-who lived in Saudi Arabia for a long time-confessed to ever receiving was some khubayza (Malvaccae, a member of the mallow family that grows in the wild, and whose leaves are cooked much in the way mulukhia would be) I brought him from Gaza”. Um Rami she wasn’t coming to my door begging or crying for handouts or even wailing in front of television cameras: I saw the hardship in her soup.

    And so Ramadan here takes on a more solemn, persevering character. And it is the hospitality, the humor and the incredible resilience of the people that shines the most this month.

     

    Gaza-the prison camp that is not?

    It’s three years since I’ve been back to Gaza. Much has happened since my last visit. Fatah waged a failed coup and now rules only the West Bank, while Hamas is in charge of Gaza. Israel launched its deadly Cast Lead assault. Fuel shortages. Electricity crises. And so on.

    I needed to regain perspective. So I walked and I talked and I listened. I went to the beach where women – skinny jeans and all – were smoking water pipes, swimming and generally having a good time, irrespective of the purported Hamas ban on women smoking sheesha.

    During the eight hours of electricity we get each day, I logged on to the internet and browsed the English-language papers. It seemed like suddenly everyone was an expert on Gaza, claiming they knew what it’s really like. Naysayers Zionist apologists and their ilk have been providing us with the same “evidence” that Gaza is burgeoning: the markets are full of produce, fancy restaurants abound, there are pools and parks and malls … all is well in the most isolated place on earth – Gaza, the “prison camp” that is not.

    If you take things at face value, and set aside for a moment the bizarre idea that the availability of such amenities precludes the existence of hardship, you’ll be inclined to believe what you read.

    So, is there a humanitarian crisis or not? That seems to be the question of the hour. But it is the wrong one to be asking.

    The message I’ve been hearing over and over again since I returned to Gaza is this: the siege is not a siege on foods; it is a siege on freedoms – freedom to move in and out of Gaza, freedom to fish more than three miles out at to sea, freedom to learn, to work, to farm, to build, to live, to prosper.

    Gaza was never a place with a quantitative food shortage; it is a place where many people lack the means to buy food and other goods because of a closure policy whose tenets are “no development, no prosperity, and no humanitarian crisis“, Gisha, the Legal Centre for the Freedom of Movement, explained in a press release.

    The move from a “white list” of allowable imports to a “black list” might sound in good in theory (ie everything is banned except xyz, to only the following things are banned) but in practice only 40% of Gaza’s supply needs are being met, according to Gisha. The Palestinian Federation of Industries estimates that only a few hundred of Gaza’s 3,900 factories and workshops will be able to start up again under present conditions

    Sure, there are a handful of fancy restaurants in Gaza. And yes, there is a new mall (infinitely smaller and less glamorous than it has been portrayed).

    As for food, it is in good supply, having found its way here either through Israeli crossings or the vast network of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. Of course, this leaves aside the question of who in Gaza’s largely impoverished population (the overwhelming majority of whose income is less than $2 a day, 61% of whom are food insecure) can really afford mangoes at $3 a kilo or grapes at $2 a kilo. A recent trip to the grocery store revealed that meat has risen to $13 a kilo. Fish, once a cheap source of protein, goes for $15 to $35 a kilo.

    Prices are on par with those of a developed country, except we are not in a developed country. We are a de-developed occupied territory.

    All of the above adds up to the erasure of the market economy and its replacement with a system where everyone is turned into some kind of welfare recipient. But people don’t want handouts and uncertainty and despair; they want their dignity and their freedom, employment and prosperity and possibility.

    Perhaps most significantly, they want to be able to move freely – something they still cannot do.

    Let’s take the case of Fadi. His father recently had heart surgery. He wanted to seek followup care abroad, at his own expense, but he doesn’t fall into the specified categories allowed out of Gaza for travel, whether through Egypt or Israel. “He’s not considered a level-one priority,” Fadi explained. “Can you please tell me why I can’t decide when I want to travel and what hospital I can take him to?”

    Even the cream of Gazan high-school students must lobby the Israeli authorities long and hard to be allowed out to complete their studies. They literally have to start a campaign in conjunction with human rights groups to raise enough awareness about their plight, and then look for local individuals to blog about their progress, explained Ibrahim, who was approached by one organisation to “sponsor a student”.

    I have no doubt that if Stephanie Gutmann and Melanie Phillips lived in Gaza their principle worry would not be about “what parts of their bodies they can display”, it would be the fact that they would not be allowed out again. It would be because everything from the kind of food they would have on their plate to when they can turn on the lights to what they can clothe those bodies with and whether or not they can obtain a degree is determined by an occupying power.

    Using the phrase “prison camp” to describe Gaza, as Britain’s prime minister did, is not vile rhetoric. It is an understatement and even a misnomer. Prisoners are guilty of a crime, yet they are guaranteed access to certain things – electricity and water, even education – where Gazans are not. What crime did Gazans commit, except, to quote my late grandmother, “being born Palestinian”?

    Ketchup and cookies may be flowing to Gaza in slightly greater quantities than before. But so bloody what? Goods for export are not flowing out. Nor, for that matter, are people. So while there may be some semblance of civil life and stability in Gaza, there is absolutely no political horizon or true markers of freedom to speak of.

    And as long as freedom of movement is stifled, whether by Israel or Egypt, and export-quality goods, which account for a large portion of Gaza’s manufacturing output, are forbidden from leaving Gaza, all the malls and mangoes in the world won’t make a bit of difference.

    This article was originally published in the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

     

    Gaza at night (and at day)!

    This is what Gaza sounds like when the electricity goes off. Depending on what neighborhood you live in, you will either lose your power in the morning or at night in rotating 8 hour blocks (at 10 am, 2pm and 10pm). The generators have become a fixture of Gaza’s streets now, and power everything from a single computer to an entire 15 story building, depending on their size and horsepower. The countdown to “powering off” is absolutely depressing. Residents now schedule their days around the electricity-opting to visit relatives or friends who are on the “opposite” schedule when their power is off, for example, or working in cafes with large generators instead of their own offices of homes. There have been over 100 generator-related deaths reported according to the UN (carbon monoxide poisoning, accidental fueling explosions, and so on) in addition to an increase in resipiratory illnesses. Blogger Ibrahim Jabour joked on Twitter the other day “can I add to my CV under ‘special skills’ that I am an expert in generator repair and fueling?”

    Gaza suffers from a dire energy crisis (there is a 60% energy deficit, according to a recent report by OXFAM). The root of Gaza’s power crisis stretches back to June 2006 when Israeli airstrikes destroyed all six Gaza Power Plant (GPP) transformers (the power plant resumed operations five months later but at reduced capacity) as retribution for the capture of Gilad Shalit. After Hamas consolidated its power on the Strip in 2007 following the failed Fateh coup, Israel blockaded the territory and began to restrict fuel imports and equipment to Gaza resulting in a a chronic shortfall in the power plant’s production and a mass-dependence on back-up diesel powered generators. Besides earlier attacks, Cast Lead severely damaged the power plant, putting it on the verge of collapse, exacerbated by the destruction of power lines supplying electricity from Israel and Egypt.

    For more, see GISHA’s “Electricity Shortage in Gaza: Who Turned Out the Lights?

    Also see Dissident Voice’s “Gaza’s Electricity Crisis“.

     

    The Music Man of Gaza

    Ibrahim Najjar always manages to make me smile. There’s something about him-maybe its the fact that he’s one of those people who’s been able to actualize his life long dream-in his case, of becoming a music teacher. Maybe its his demeanor-always timidly smiling, always speaking in a soft comforting tone, even in the darkest of times.

    I’ve known Abu Anas, as he is known here, for over 13 years, when I enrolled in his then nascent music institute to learn how to play the 3oud (sadly, I was not as successful in realizing this dream as Abu Anas, namely because I am tone deaf and he is not :) ).

    I think back fondly to those days: we were an eclectic group, including a gifted 5 year old boy and a determined 71 year old woman who had always wanted to learn to play the piano. We sat in a crowded, unventilated room, ill-equipped for music learning, let alone recording, and dutifully followed Abu Anas’s instructions as he enthusiastically asked us to tap or clap out a combination of rhythms after him. The result was a cacophonous and hilarious combination of sounds and hysterical laughter.

    Abu Anas received his degree in music in Cairo (but not before initially enrolling in medicine and “fainting after seeing my first cadaver”) and after that, a scholarship to complete his studies and ultimately teach music in Kuwait. He excels in 17 instruments. In the 90s, when Gaza opened up for “visiting” Palestinians,and a limited number of ID cards were granted to Palestinians in exile, he took the opportunity to return to his estranged home to fulfill his life long dream of establishing a music school

    I periodically visit Abu Anas. The last time was almost 4 years ago, when I wrote an article for Aljazeera about his school (which I now cannot find). He was worried about the safety of his students after Palestinian infighting paralyzed the city.

    Yesterday i arranged to visit Abu Anas again, this time to enroll Yousuf in his institute. I was shocked to learn that the institute (which had since moved from the temporary location to a more permanent one housed in the al-Quds hospital Red Crescent complex) was bombed multiple times and ultimately burned completely to the ground by Israeli forces during their assault on Gaza. Abu Anas told me that no instruments were spared.

    I sense sadness in his eyes when he speaks about his old instruments. But he smiles-as always, when he shows me the new instruments, now in the new and improved Gaza School of Music, down the road. The School was funded largely by the Palestinian philanthropic organization the Qattan Foundation, which is also responsible for the incredible Qattan Center for the Child in Gaza City. Instruments were transported with the assistance of ANERA and a French foundation.

    Abu Anas says they have received nothing but support, and the domestic political environment has not affected them. “Our people are fond of music. It is a part of our culture and rich history.”

    Recently, one of his students won the Marcel Khalife National Music Competition-the highest musical honor in Palestine, with the Qanoon.

    “We have so many prodigies here, the spirit of the human soul here, the resilience of our people and children never ceases to amaze me” says Abu Anas.

    Here’s to the music man of Gaza! For more on his school, see Eva Bartlett’s article for Inter Press Service.

     

    US Navy being sent to Israel

    I’m not in the habit of reporting hearsay, but this one comes from the source itself. A confidential source just told me that a US Naval Officer he spoke with told him they just received sudden word today that they (the US Navy or contingents thereof) are being deployed to Israel next week. The timing obviously suggests the deployment is related to the flotilla debacle, but what purpose their deployment serves is anyone’s guess (well certainly not mine, since I’m not a maritime expert). Perhaps deploying off Iran’s coast along with the Israeli nuclear missile subs under the cover of worldwide protest over and distraction by the flotilla?

    A colleague offers another possibility:

    “Obama has made a deal with Netanyahu that Israel will “ease” its blockade of Gaza on condition that the US monitor Gaza’s coastline and inspect all cargo ships. The object of the exercise here for the US and Israel is to keep Gaza under tight control but defuse the humanitarian issue. Normalize conditions just enough so that they can quiet the international ruckus. It might “work” — from their point of view. Cynical bastards.”

     

    I am Palestine

    Last Sunday, we attended an evening commemorating Palestinian Land Day. I went someone hesitantly since the event was co-sponsored by the PLO mission in Washington. But Yassine convinced it was worth the trip since we were really going to see Ahmed Tibi-the keynote speaker; and a fantastic Dabke troupe; and a oud player.

    The evening started out with the usual declarations and rhetoric by the PLO Mission. Sensing the crowd’s impatience, the Palestinian ambassador pleaded that as Palestinians we should not import our differences from back home. As though a perfectly timed punchline, a picture of Mahmoud Abbas who looked like he was gagging appeared on the screen behind him.

    One of the Mission staff then introduced Tibi as a “proponent of Palestinian rights in the Israeli Knesset” as though it were some secondary issue he is passionate about. The introduction sounded aloof, like an outsider who was introducing Tibi to a foreign crowd, not a Palestinian (the crowd was overwhelmingly Arabic speaking Palestinians, and the speech itself was in Arabic).

    Tibi then took the stage: “I just want to say something here. I was introduced as a mere ‘proponent’ of Palestinian rights. I don’t think you understand, so let me explain. I am not simply a proponent. I dont’ defend or talk about Palestinian rights because I feel like it. I AM Palestinian rights; I EMBODY Palestine. I AM the Palestinian struggle. So please do not insult me.”

    Ouch.

    Tibi went on to talk about what he called the “Triangle” of the Palestinian struggle: The Palestinians inside the Armistice line (OPT/WB, Gaza and East Jerusalem), the Palestinians on the outside in the diaspora and refugee camps; and the 1948 Palestinians.

    In fact, the entire evening the Mission engaged in a pathetic to promote the Fayyad government, to demonstrate how they are making the occupied, divided, strangulated territories bloom with their new economic and institution building initiatives in the West Bank. I nearly gagged when they talked about how impressive the economic growth he has led has been.

    Curiously, Gaza was not mentioned once the entire evening. But then, this is the point. To isolate Gaza; to disappear it from the discourse, subtract it form the equation, out of sight and mind. It was a depressing little facade, where, as in reality, the sideshow attempts to distract from the rottenness lurking beneath and the bitterness simmering just below that. The squashing of any and all dissent and use of torture by CIA-trained Abbas forces in the name of keeping “order” (a friend of mine here in Maryland shares with me daily stories of the torture her brother is enduring at the hands of such forces, who are attempting to “convince” him which way to vote in July’s municipal elections and discourage opposition rallies). Really, a small-scale do-over of Oslo.

    For more on the perils of the so-called Netanyahu-Fayyad Initiative (“West Bank first” and “Economic Peace”) see this excellent article by Ziyaad Lunat on EI.

    “Economic peace,” coupled with the “West Bank First” policy of economic development serves too as warning to Palestinians. They either conform to a political program approved by Israel and Western donors or risk sharing the dire fate of Gaza, under a crippling siege since June 2007.

    Each ribbon cutting ceremony Fayyad attends reinforces the normalcy discourse propagated by the PA and Fatah-affiliated media that contrast it to the destruction and despair of Israeli-blockaded, Hamas-controlled Gaza.

    A year on, the cost of the Netanyahu-Fayyad plan is becoming clear. Low-income Palestinian families and small business are being encouraged to borrow to fuel a high-risk economy. Israel has proven time again that it won’t hesitate to strike a blow against Palestinian infrastructure should they dissent from the current consensus in its favor.

    The economic peace model comes with a dose of cultural imperialism. Palestinians do not have basic freedoms but they are being told that they can enjoy the mundane and superfluous in cinemas and shopping centers.

     

    The radical babes of Gaza

    I want another baby. I really do. Yassine-not so much.

    But he may not have to worry-at least not if Martin Kramer has his way. The current fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs has suggested I -and other Palestinian women from Gaza- should deliberately be stopped from having babies because chances are, they will be grow up to be radicals.

    According to the Electronic Intifada, who first broke the story last week, Kramer offered this fasinating piece of solicited advice in the annual Herzliyah Conference in Israel earlier this month in which he called on “the West” to take measures to limit the births of Muslim Palestinians of Gaza and consider them a form of terrorism, or, as Kramer puts it, “extreme demographic armament”. He also praised the unconscionable Israeli siege for getting the ball rolling already and reducing the numbers of Palestinian babies there (see: infanticide; Gaza Diet). If your skin didn’t curl watching the audience clap at the end of that video, well, save your soul somehow.

    Family Planning, the Martin Kramer way

    Kramer’s argument: Gaza is a cauldron of crazy; there is already an excess of aimless young Muslim men loitering around and many most all of them will be extremists! Solution: they shouldn’t be born to start with. Like I said: brilliant!

    How does he suggest they implement this ground-breaking plan? Stop providing “pro-natal subsidies” that encourage these births. Pro-natal subsidies, you might ask? Is that like pre-natal vitamins? Close, but spinal bifida or not, a baby is still a baby. Kramer is referring to food and humanitarian assistance for “Palestinians with refugee status”, who make up 70% of the Gaza Strip ( and of whom, I might add, 40% are already malnourished, and 80% rely on food hand-outs for survival).

    Yes, you read that correctly. “In other words”, says MJ Rosenberg, Kramer seems to be saying “starve the Palestinians so they don’t have babies and…starving the babies so they don’t grow up.”

    Lest an outraged public be all up in arms about…plagiarism, Kramer himself notes the idea is “not at all original”. Got THAT right…let’s see, where HAVE we heard this kind of chilling drivel before? Hmmm. Oh wait- the Nazis beat you to it! Except back then they called it Eugenics. Juan Cole contends it is a recycled form of Malthusianism.

    Nice company you keep, Kramer. Way to hog the limelight.

    One would think such unapologetic racism need not even warrant discussion. Ever the flag bearer of academic iniquity freedoms, Harvard disagrees.

    This, despite the fact that Kramer’s ideas appears to meet the international legal definition of a call for genocide according to the Geneva Convention (which includes measures “intended to prevent births within” a specific “national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”).

    Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah spread the word about it, trying to force Harvard to take a stand, but instead they rushed to his defense.

    I wonder how long Mr. Kramer’s views would be tolerated if — all other things being equal — he were an Arab scholar who had called for Jews to be placed in a giant, sealed enclosure which virtually no one is allowed to leave and enter, and deprived of food and schooling for their children in order to reduce their birthrate?” Abunimah asked.

    The ghastliness of it all was best summed up by an exchange between the mock Dan Halutz and Doron Almog to the real Martin Kramer on Twitter:

    danhalutz RT @doronalmog: @DanHalutz Remember that time u, me, & @Martin_Kramer debated @Harvard over drinks on how to get rid of those superfluous Gazans? Good times

    danhalutz @DoronAlmog Of course! @Martin_Kramer was all about the “pro-natal subsidies” and you just wanted to bulldoze those Gazans. Me, I like F16s

    danhalutz @Martin_Kramer Dear Sir: I admire your brilliant ideas but fear ending pronatal subsidies will not eliminate superfluous Arabs fast enough.

    danhalutz @Martin_Kramer: I say replace ‘pronatal’ subsidies with ‘pro-morbid’ ones: cluster bombs, white phosphorus, napalm. Let’s co-author a paper!

     

    Gaza, my city

    The other day, Yousuf came home from kindergarten with a small project. He was given a paper to fill out to help him learn his address. It listed several categories: Street, City, State, Zipcode and so on. He yanked it out of his backpack to show me enthusiastically. He had it filled out to the best of his ability (the teacher provided the correct address for them to copy). I tried to make out his elementary phonics-based handwriting and be encouraging all the while. I noticed though under “city” he had written something that did not exactly read like Columbia.

    “Gosa?” I asked.
    “It says Gaza” he said matter-of-factly.
    “Oh-I see. But that’s not your physical address, you live in Columbia, Maryland” I instructed him.
    “Mama, you don’t get it, that IS my address, its my my hometown, even if I live here, that is my real address!” he insisted.
    “But its not even in the United States” I replied.
    “So what. Its my city!” he answered.

    Ok, obviously this was a losing battle. Forget about explaining geography and the limits of physical boundaries to a 5 year old. What does it matter in his mind anyway? His “city” is Gaza; he is IN Gaza, even though he is physically present in the United States.

    That’s Yousuf for you. Even though he only spent a short part of his young life there (his first 2-3 years) Gaza has taken a big part of his heart and he never forgets it. I think in some way, that is how we all feel. No matter how far away we are, no matter how young or old, no matter where we are born and where we end up living, Gaza is in our hearts and is always our city. It casts a spell on you.