Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Boats break the siege of Gaza!

Dear friends,
What an exciting week it has been with the SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty breaking the siege of Gaza! On August 23, more than 40 human rights activists from 17 different countries sailed through the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and into Gaza Port, welcomed by more than 50,000 Gazans.

Please find below the statement issued by the Free Gaza Movement upond their arrival in Gaza, as well as an article by Huweida Arraf who is one of the participants on board the boats (Huweida is also one of the co-founders of the International Solidarity Movement)

You can read more (and see photos and video) about the ongoing campaign to break the siege at their website at www.freegaza.org (or click on their link in the links section on this blog).

In solidarity, Kim
************

FREE GAZA BOATS ARRIVE IN GAZA
23 August 2008


GAZA (23 August 2008) - Two small boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty, successfully landed in Gaza early this evening, breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The boats were crewed by a determined group of international human rights workers from the Free Gaza Movement. They had spent two years organizing the effort, raising money by giving small presentations at churches, mosques, synagogues, and in the homes of family, friends, and supporters.

They left Cyprus on Thursday morning, sailing over 350 kilometers through choppy seas. They made the journey despite threats that the Israeli government would use force to stop them. They continued sailing although they lost almost all communications and navigation systems due to outside jamming by some unknown party. They arrived in Gaza to the cheers and joyful tears of hundreds of Palestinians who came out to the beaches to welcome them.

Two small boats, 42 determined human rights workers, one simple message: “The world has not forgotten the people of this land. Today, we are all from Gaza.”

Tonight, the cheering will be heard as far away as Tel Aviv and Washington D.C.


“We recognize that we’re two, humble boats, but what we’ve accomplished is to show that average people from around the world can mobilize to create change. We do not have to stay silent in the face of injustice. Reaching Gaza today, there is such a sense of hope, and hope is what mobilizes people everywhere.”
--Huwaida Arraf.

Huwaida is Palestinian-American, and also a citizen of Israel. She’s a human rights activist and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. In 2007 she received her Juris Doctor from American University in Washington D.C. Currently she teaches Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. Huwaida sailed to Gaza aboard the SS Liberty.

“We’re the first ones in 41 years to enter Gaza freely - but we won’t be the last. We welcome the world to join us and see what we’re seeing.”
--Paul Larudee, Ph.D.

Paul is a cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement and a San Francisco Bay Area activist on the issue of justice in Palestine. He sailed to Gaza aboard the SS Liberty.

“What we’ve done shows that people can do what governments should have done. If people stand up against injustice, we can truly be the conscience of the world.”
--Jeff Halper, Ph.D.

Jeff is an Israeli professor of anthropology and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent Israeli peace and human rights organization that resists the Israeli occupation on the ground. In 2006, the American Friends Service Committee nominated Jeff to receive the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize with Palestinian intellectual and activist Ghassan Andoni. Jeff sailed to Gaza aboard the SS Free Gaza.

****
Sailing into Gaza

By Huwaida Arraf • August 25, 2008


On Saturday, after 32 hours on the high seas, I sailed into the port of Gaza City with 45 other citizens from around the world in defiance of Israel's blockade. We traveled from Cyprus with humanitarian provisions for Palestinians living under siege. My family in Michigan was worried sick.

They are not na├»ve. They knew that Israel could have attacked us — as Israeli forces did in 2003, killing nonviolent American witness Rachel Corrie (Editor’s note: Corrie, also of the International Solidarity Movement, was run over by a bulldozer operated by Israeli Defense Forces during a protest against the destruction of Palestinian homes; an Israeli military investigation ruled the death accidental) and Brit Tom Hurndall (an ISM representative who died nine months after being was shot in the head in Gaza by an IDF sniper; the sniper was convicted of manslaughter) as well as thousands of unarmed Palestinian civilians over the years.

My family members, though, remember that 60 years ago part of our own family was uprooted and driven from their homes in Palestine by Israeli forces. This loss no doubt fueled my decision to risk my safety and freedom to advance the human rights of innocent men, women and children in Gaza.
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Our two boats were greeted upon arrival by thousands of jubilant Palestinians who in 41 years of occupation had never witnessed such a scene. To get there we braved anonymous death threats and the Israeli military interfering with our means of communications despite rough seas that jeopardized our safety. Before our departure, the Israeli foreign ministry asserted its right to use force against our unarmed boats.

We nevertheless resolved to act, to symbolically end the siege of Gaza – and to do as civilians what governments have lacked the compassion or courage to do themselves. Once here, we delivered critical supplies such as hearing aids, batteries for medical equipment, and painkillers.

When a massive earthquake rocked China and cyclones ravaged Myanmar, the world responded. Governments and civilians alike rallied to help. Yet world governments have witnessed a manmade humanitarian catastrophe unfold before our eyes in Gaza. Karen Koning Abu Zayd, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), has asserted that "Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and – some would say – encouragement of the international community."

Israel claims that its occupation of Gaza ended three years ago with its pullout of soldiers and settlers. But because Israel objected to the outcome of a 2006 Palestinian election that the Carter Center deemed free and fair, it has blockaded Gaza, severely restricting movement of goods and people. Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was quoted shortly before the swearing in of the new Hamas government as saying, "It's like a meeting with a dietitian. We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death."

More than 200 Palestinians have died in the past year according to Physicians for Human Rights – Israel because they could not exit Gaza for needed medical care. Over 80% of Gaza's population now depends on food aid from UNRWA and the World Food Programme. Unemployment is up to an astonishing 45%. And hundreds of young people are being intellectually starved by Israel's decision to prevent them from taking up overseas academic opportunities.

Now that we have made it into Gaza, we intend to assist Gaza's fishermen. We will sail with them beyond the six nautical mile limit illegally enforced by the Israeli navy. Palestinian fishermen are routinely harassed and attacked as they ply the waters to eke out a living. We hope our presence will keep the Israeli military at bay.

We do this because we are horrified that this siege of 1.5 million men, women and children is allowed to continue. We are saddened for the state of our world when decision-makers can sit back and watch an entire people being slowly and purposefully starved and humiliated.

We know that with our two small boats we cannot open all of Gaza to the outside world. We could not bring with us the freedom of movement, access to jobs, medical care, food and other critical supplies that they are denied today. But we brought with us a message to the people of Gaza: they are not alone. With our successful journey we show them that American citizens and others from around the world have been moved to advance humanitarian principles and human rights. Our efforts this week are undertaken in that spirit and with the hope that our elected representatives will one day follow our example.

Huwaida Arraf, a human rights advocate from Roseville, is a lecturer at Al-Quds University School of Law in Jerusalem and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Growing campaign for boycott of Israel




Dear friends and supporters,
the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel has steadily been growing over the last couple of years, as more people become aware of the apartheid nature of the Zionist state.

Please find below an interview I did recently with Omar Barghouti from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

The interview was originally published in the Australian socialist newspaper, Direct Action www.directaction.org.au

in solidarity, Kim

***
Growing campaign for boycott of Israel
By Kim Bullimore, in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine
www.directaction.org.au

In April, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers became the latest union internationally to support Palestinians’ call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The resolution passed by the CUPW, which represents 50,000 workers, states that the union will seek to work “with Palestinian solidarity and human rights organisations to develop an educational campaign about the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and the political and economic support of Canada for these practices”. The union would “call on other Canadian unions to join us in lobbying against the apartheid-like practices of the Israeli state and call for immediate dismantling” of the Zionist apartheid wall.

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian political analyst and one of the founders of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), pointed out that the CUPW was “the first union in North America to execute a boycott against South African apartheid ... They stopped processing mail to and from South Africa.”

100 years of resistance
Asked about the genesis of the Palestinian BDS campaign, Barghouti told Direct Action that it builds on and is inspired by more than 100 years of Palestinian resistance to “the Zionist conquest”. While the idea for a sustained and institutionalised boycott campaign was first raised in 2001 at the UN conference against racism in Durban, South Africa, it wasn’t until 2002 that the first appeals were issued “with the reinvasion of Palestinian cities and the massacre at the Jenin refugee camp, which prompted Palestinian intellectuals and academics to seriously discuss boycott and, eventually, to issue personal appeals, ad hoc appeals calling for boycott”.

In April 2004, PACBI issued the first institutional call for BDS. “The appeal became internationally famous because AUT, the Association of University Teachers in Britain, picked it up and decided soon after to adopt the boycott against two Israeli universities and distribute the PACBI appeal to all AUT chapters in Britain”, he told DA. Barghouti noted that the AUT came under considerable pressure and, 34 days later, the decision was reversed. However, other trade unions began to adopt the PACBI call.

A year later, on July 9, 2005, the first anniversary of the International Court of Justice ruling that Israel’s construction of the wall and its settler-colonies were illegal, a united Palestinian call for boycott, sanctions and divestment was issued with the support of more than 170 major Palestinian unions and other organisations. According to Barghouti, this was “the first appeal in modern Palestinian history to win the support of the three main Palestinian communities — Palestinians under occupation, Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Palestinian exile or refugee community — as well as the support of every major political party in Palestine”.




In June 2006, the 18,000-member Ontario section of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the 7-mllion-member Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (United Centre of Workers) in Brazil came out in support of BDS. Shortly after, the Irish Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, which represents some 200,000 workers, called for sanctions against Israel, while the sacked Merseyside dockworkers in the UK issued a statement calling on trade unions to support the campaign. By the end of 2006, both the Norwegian Electrician and IT Workers Union, with 37,000 members, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, representing 1.8 million workers, had also come out strongly in support of BDS against Israel.

In 2007, the UK National Union of Journalists voted to support the campaign; however, under Zionist pressure, its national executive council rescinded the decision. But this did not stop the newly formed 37,000-member University and College Union at its inaugural conference in May 2007 from voting to support BDS. Barghouti notes that the UCU resolution “doesn’t use the word boycott, but is a very pro-boycott decision that was restated and confirmed in the UCU’s 2008 congress”. Soon after, in June 2007, Unison, then the largest union in Britain with 1.3 million members, voted to boycott Israeli goods and sporting contacts. In July, the British Transport and General Workers Union and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions also came out in support of BDS.

Trade unions aren’t the only supporters of the BDS campaign. In 2006, the Church of England General Synod voted to divest its shares in Caterpillar, the company that supplies the Israeli military with armoured bulldozers used to raze Palestinian houses. In February 2007, the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church decided to advise its congregations of more than 8 million members to divest their holdings from a variety of US corporations that support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.



Official efforts failed
According to Barghouti, the BDS campaign began because “the international official efforts of bringing peace with any measure of justice to Palestine had miserably failed. The occupation has been entrenched, colonies have grown, Israeli oppression of Palestinian citizens has grown, institutional racism within Israel continues unabated, and the denial of refugee rights is even intensifying ... in blatant defiance of international law.

“Israel has been acting with total disregard to international law and with unprecedented impunity in the last few years. That called upon Palestinian civil society to issue an appeal to international civil society to act, since governments are hopeless. That was the main motive, that the three forms of injustice had intensified not just continued — the denial of refugee rights, the occupation and colonisation in the ’67 territories and the system of racial discrimination within Israel proper. They were the motivation for the BDS campaign.”

Barghouti noted that Israel is very worried about the success of the campaign. “Compared with the South African anti-apartheid campaign, we are going much faster, achieving far larger and far more significant victories in a much shorter time.” The African National Congress issued its boycott call in the 1950s but the world did not start to react until the 1970s and ’80s. By contrast, only three or four years after the Palestinian BDS call, “we are seeing an enormous reaction around the world ... Israeli apartheid and boycott have been put solidly on the agenda”.



Criticism
Despite the success of the campaign, not all supporters of the Palestinian struggle have supported it. According to critics, the BDS campaign won’t aid the Palestinian struggle because it will alienate individual Israelis and isolate supporters of the Palestinian struggle within Israel. In response to these arguments, Barghouti was very blunt.

“Palestine solidarity groups, in particular, who now, after four years, say that we are not sure how useful BDS is, or equivocate about BDS, do not deserve the name. I am very clear about this: do not deserve the name, ‘Palestine solidarity group’.” He added: “When Palestinian civil society, with all its forces, unites behind the BDS call and any group claiming solidarity with Palestinians refuses to heed this call, even in any context-sensitive campaign ... then they are not really solidarity groups.” Barghouti pointed out, however: “We are not asking every solidarity group to do everything in the BDS call, just any act of effective solidarity which supports boycott of Israel or divestment from Israel.

“There are three options for the Palestinian people: we surrender, resist violently or resist non-violently. Surrender is out of the question. Palestinians will not surrender. For 60 years, we have proven that despite all massacres and acts of ethnic cleansing, and acts of genocide like what is being committed in Gaza right now, we have not given up our resistance to colonial oppression, to Zionism. So that’s out of the question.

“So we are left with two choices, not necessarily mutually exclusive: violent or non-violent resistance. So those who say that civil resistance such as in BDS doesn’t work, are they supporting armed resistance instead? If so, they ought to come forth and say so — that they support the Qassam [Brigades] and other forms of armed Palestinian resistance as the way that Palestinians should go, in their opinion. If not, and they don’t support the civil resistance either, then they are telling us to surrender, which puts them in the camp of the enemy, not friends, unfortunately.”

The campaign for BDS against Israel, Barghouti said, needs to be seen both as part of progressive social movement across the world, and as part of the struggle by indigenous peoples for freedom and justice. “Indigenous activists should be our closest allies everywhere. As an indigenous population who suffered ethnic cleansings, we do see them as our natural allies, but also every progressive social movement should see the BDS movement as part of their agenda. We are part of the social movement across the world struggling for peace, democracy, justice, human rights and equality for all humans.”

[For more information on the global BDS movement visit its new website, http://www.bdsmovement.net/.]

Friday, August 1, 2008

The murder of Ahmed, Age 10




Another child has just been murdered.

On Tuesday, July 29, Ahmed Ussam Yusef Mousa, aged 10, was shot dead with a single shot to the head by Israeli occupation forces. Ahmed was murdered, just before 6pm, when he and a group of youth from Ni'lin village attempted to dismantle a section of barbwire fencing erected on the village's land by the Israeli occupation forces.

Ahmed is now the twelfth person and seventh child to be killed by the Israeli occupation forces in demonstrations against the apartheid fence [1]. He is one of more than 840 Palestinian children killed by the Israeli Zionist state since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000 [2].

My IWPS team mate and myself received the news of Ahmed’s death last night as we arrived in Ramallah. Within fifteen minutes we were at the hospital. As we arrived Ahmed's little body was being brought into the hospital. My teammate and myself were "lucky" in that we did not see Ahmed but two of our friends and activists from the ISM, who were at the hospital, did. Both experienced activists, they spoke quietly and with disbelief of how tiny Ahmed was.


Ahmed (facing camera) with other boys from his village, a few hours before he died.
Photo: Electronic Intifada and Palestine Solidarity Project

The initial shock, grief and tears we all felt were held at bay over the next few hours as we worked in the ISM's media office, ringing media persons, outlets, pulling together media releases. As we emailed out the press releases to the media and our various networks around the world, the emails poured in expressing shock, outrage and heartache.


Ahmed's father kisses him goodbye
Photograph by Anne Paq, ActiveStills (published with permission from ActiveStills)

As the night wore on we sat with each other, listened and supported each other, especially with those of use who had close ties with the villagers of Ni'lin and who had witnessed the arrival of Ahmed's body at the hospital. None of us could sleep, although we were all exhausted and we sat in the garden as the early hours of the mourning came upon us. Finally at around 3am, we forced ourselves to go to bed, but we all spent a sleepless night thinking about the grief the family must be experiencing - their shock, horror and disbelief - that their little boy was no longer with them.

In the morning, other members of the ISM and IWPS began to arrive in Ramallah, so we could all go to the hospital at 10am to be part of Ahmed's funeral procession and to accompany his family home with his body. At 10.30am, Ahmed’s family arrived, accompanied by many of the villagers from Ni’lin who came to pay their respects. Soon Ahmed's body was brought out and placed in the ambulance. As the ambulance drove out of the hospital car park, we took our place in the funeral procession made up of dozens of cars filled with villagers and others had come to pay their respects. Over the next 45 minutes, as we made our way through the streets of centre of Ramallah, we were joined by more cars, trucks and taxis.


Young Palestinian mourner carries poster of Ahmed in funeral procession, Ramallah
Photograph by Anne Paq, ActiveStills (published with permission from ActiveStills)


Mourners in cars during funeral procession for Ahmed
Photograph by Anne Paq, ActiveStills (published with permission from ActiveStills)

Many of the cars displayed Ahmed's shihad or martyr poster (in Palestine the word martyr refers to anyone killed as a result of the Israeli occupation, not just militants who participate in suicide bombings or who are part of the armed resistance in the camps. Martyrs can be children and/or adults, who have died at the hands of the Israeli military). Ahmed’s poster displayed a handsome little boy, who was small and slight of build. Each time I looked at the poster, I wondered how anyone one could think that this tiny child could be such a threat to the security of their state? What could posses any person to think that the appropriate response to a small child was to fire live ammunition, deliberately shooting to kill?

As I looked at his photograph trying to image why Ahmed had to die, his funeral procession began to make its way out of Ramallah. As we left the city and began to traverse the hills and pass through the surrounding Palestinian villages, we sat in silence, very little to say to each other. As the procession drove on the chants from the Palestinian mourners continued, remembering Ahmed, God and opposing the occupation and the apartheid wall.


Funeral procession arrives outside of Ni'lin
Photograph by Anne Paq, ActiveStills (published with permission from ActiveStills)

As we weaved our way through one village after another, more cars joined us and villagers came to stand on the streets to offer their silent condolences and respect for Ahmed and his family. Along with adults, young children also lined the streets of the villages we passed through. My heart broke as I watch their little faces, many of them too young to comprehend what the procession was about. But as I watched these small children through the windows of our car, I kept wondering if one day they too would share the same fate as Ahmed. And the sadness and anger in me grew once again.


Funeral procession carries Ahmed's body to Ni'lin


Funeral procession arrives at Ni'lin

As we approached Bil'in village, a young father stood on the side of the road, along with a group of young children, many no doubt his own. They stood silent, bravely, in dignity with Palestinian flags held high in remembrance of Ahmed. Suddenly, all the composure and restraint I had imposed on myself since we first heard the news of Ahmed’s death left me and tears began to stream down my face.

When we reached Bil'in, many of the village residents who had been active in the struggle to save the lands of their village were waiting for the funeral procession. As the procession wound through the village, many of them joined us, as we began to make the last leg of the journey to Ni’lin.


IOF attack funeral mourners, including ambulance which carried Ahmed's body
Photograph by Anne Paq, ActiveStills (published with permission from ActiveStills)


As we neared the settler highway that we must traverse to get to Ni'lin, we began to anxiously scan the hills and fields for the Israeli occupation forces who would be waiting for the funeral procession. As rounded the last bend before the highway, we caught our first glimpse of them and wondered would they try and stop the funeral procession? Would the use violence us? Would they attack the funeral procession, as the Israeli military had done on so many occassions before?

As we reached the highway, we could see the Israeli occupation forces had blocked the road and stopped Israeli plated cars from continuing towards the village’s entrance. This sight was a relief. Perhaps, we thought, they will let the funeral procession proceed unhindered. However, as we got closer to the entrance of the village and we and the rest of the Palestinians mourners and other internationals poured out of the vehicles on to the highway, we could see the Israeli occupation forces had set up another barricade near the village entrance. While the barricade did not prevent entry to the village, it was a clear sign that the military want to make their presence known. By placing the barrier directly opposite the entrance, rather then setting it up 50 or 100 or 200 metres or more away as they could have easily have done, the Israeli military seemed intent on provoking a confrontation with the mourners.



Ahmeds' Funeral procession arrives at Ni'lin. Video by Emad Bornat

As Ahmed's tiny body, wrapped in his funeral shroud, was carried above the crowd, the mourners chanted his martyrdom, against the occupation and the wall and for the greatness of God. Soon, smaller groups broke off from the procession to confront the soldiers, yelling at them angrily, as the emotions, anger and grief surrounding Ahmed’s death spilled over. In response the Israeli occupation forces began to throw sound grenades and flash bombs. As myself and one of my IWPS teammates moved closer to the front line to try and offer some sort of international presence, teargas began to be fired by the Israeli military. For the next few minutes, we were caught between the military firing on us and the young Palestinian men throwing stones in response to the occupation forces attack on the funeral procession.

As people began to run, we were swept up in the chaos and at one point people tried to crush past a park car, resulting in several young boys being dragged down and trampled. Suddenly, I saw a man dragging the limp body of a young teenage boy and at first my heart went to my mouth, as I thought another child had been shot. As the young boy was dragged to safety, he began to gain consciousness and my relief was palpable.

Tears streaming down my eyes from the teargas, I tried to locate my team mate and the internationals amongst the mourners who began to regroup. Soon, the funeral procession began to make its way once again, with Ahmed’s tiny body, towards the mosque. As Ahmed was carried up the stairs into the mosque, prayers were called and we waited in quite vigil for Ahmed and his family.

When the prayers finished, Ahmed was brought from the mosque and taken once again by funeral procession to the village burial ground. We walked quietly, as again the chants from the villagers and others Palestinians spoke of Ahmed's martyrdom, God and the occupation.

As we approached the burial grounds, women stood atop the house near where little Ahmed would be buried. As the funeral procession passed by they ululated, performing the zachrohtah, the traditional sound made to wish someone well. In performing this tradition, the women sought to ensure Ahmed's journey to paradise would be happy and joyful.


Women mourners on roof of house, as funeral procession takes Ahmed to be buried


Archway of burial ground with posters of Ahmed

As the men accompanied Ahmed's body for burial, we decided to remain outside. As we waited quietly, two young girls, both under the age of ten, shyly came to say hello. As we conversed, they asked me my name, where I lived and other innocent questions. As I responded, in my badly pronounced Arabic, they also began to ask if I liked Noor, the widely popular Turkish soap opera (which is dubbed in Arabic) that is showing at the moment on Palestinian television. I asked them if they liked Mohanad, the male lead, who all the Palestinian girls and young women have fallen in love with and they told me yes. As I practiced my Arabic with them and spoke of the things little girls find interesting and joyful, I thought again of Ahmed who will never have the chance to play games with his friends or his family and of how he would never be able to speak of the television shows he loved. And again the sadness swept over me for Ahmed and for his family, who would miss him so much.

*17 year old, Yousef Ahmad Younis Amera was shot in the head, twice, with rubber coated steel bullets at close range by the Israeli military, in Ni’lin village several hours after Ahmed was buried. Yousef was declared brain dead several hours after he was shot by the Israeli occupation forces.


[1]International Solidarity Movement (29 July, 2008) Ten year old shot In Ni’lin http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2008/07/29/10-year-old-shot-dead-at-nilin/
[2] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Statistics relation to the Al Aqsa Intifada http://www.pchrgaza.org/alaqsaintifada.html