< Report Two: Occupation is “An Ongoing Terror” >

Voices of Conscience: Delegation to the Gaza Strip
November 9, 2012

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports.

Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.  As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Submitted reports may be edited for clarity or brevity. Trip reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.


Representatives of Political Parties Support a Unity Government for Palestine
By Diane Adkin

Tuesday was a full day.  We met with some Palestine Legislative Council members after our formal welcome to Gaza by Dr. Ahmad Bahar in the rebuilt hall that was destroyed in the 2008-2009 Israeli Cast Lead invasion.  Eleven people, including one legislator, were killed when three Israeli bombs hit the chamber of government.  Israel destroyed the houses of some representatives too. 

Although all the members present felt that Israel was not interested in sharing the land, the concept of a single democratic secular state in all of historic Palestine was described as the most appropriate and equitable solution, the closest to a humanitarian vision of the future.  This is consistent with what I heard from a conservative Hamas legislator in 2006.  They believe in equal rights for all the people in the land, and Israelis are here now.  But Israel is denying 11 million Palestinians their rights.  They said America must stand for justice and equality of people and nations, if America is to survive.  In history, people have defeated powerful nations – like Viet Nam. 

Later, we heard from 10 representatives of active political parties in Palestine.  They stressed that Gaza and West Bank are one, and what they said applied to both.  We heard multiple times that the division between Hamas and Fatah was a temporary thing, that Palestinians have traditionally been united and want – demand! -  unity, that outside forces (America and Israel) are manipulating the division with threats to withhold aid and tax receipts, shipments into Gaza, etc. , to perpetuate the status quo with all its injustices. They were united in recognizing the hostile military occupation by Israel as the real problem leading to the division.  The solution was free fair elections now to lead to a unity government.  They want self determination and freedom for Palestine as any other country deserves.


Meeting Young Women
By Joyce Guinn

Here in Gaza, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the spirit and endurance of the Palestinian people.  Day after day they practice a form of nonviolent resistance unknown in most other areas of the world by simply going on with their lives against unbelievable odds.  There is no doubt who is the superior entity in this struggle!

Today we were treated to a meeting with a group of young women who have recently graduated from college.  Following graduation they had participated in a 3 month program designed to equip them with skills that would increase chances for obtaining a job.  To say that we were impressed by these young women--their ability to speak on every issue, to plan for the future--is an understatement.  Our young people could learn much from them!

Every group with whom we met had the same message for us:  "This is not a humanitarian problem.  It is a political problem."   It is my hope that our re-elected president will change our policy to one that supports human rights for all and compliance with international law.


Occupation Has Strengthened Us
By Marsha Carlton

"Occupation has strengthened us." 

This from a young woman who had been through the Young Women's Leadership Program of the Women's Graduate Society in Gaza. 

We met with about 15 graduates of this program in Gaza City.  They were all Bachelors or Masters graduates that had been through the 3-month program and were either working or looking for work.  They were all hoping to get higher degrees after they had worked and saved money.  They were smart, outspoken, articulate, funny and determined. 

One of our delegates commented that they didn't fit the American stereotype of young Muslim women in the Middle East.  At the end of our visit one of them asked us to work to change that stereotype when we go back.  We will!


Too Long for Words
By Maya Harris

Gaza. How do you talk about Gaza? The other day was full of meetings with numbers and statistics. We had some real moments though when the director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Raji Sourani, told us how he sees Palestine evolving with the current political division. It was so pessimistic and real! He told us he wanted to talk to us as if he would talk to his people. With all the pessimism, and heartfelt flittering of hope, his spirits brightened when talking about us, the delegation, as ambassadors to the Palestinian struggle in not only Gaza but West Bank.

Even with this political division, the Gazans speak of their West Bank Palestinians and neighbors displaying huge amounts of solidarity for their shared struggles, both unique yet so similar. It is becoming so clear that these parties are not properly representing their people. Which seems obvious, because my political parties in the U.S. don’t represent me, but for some reason we hold this double standard for the Palestinian people.

Why can Palestinians recognize that not all U.S. citizens stand by our government’s policies but we justify dehumanizing Palestinians as terrorists? Are we not sending more drones, bombs, air raids, snipers, blockades, etc. to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lybia than the rockets over the Wall surrounding Gaza?

. . . Gaza is under siege. Do not tell me [Israel] does not occupy here because I saw 3. . . Israeli watchtowers well within the “No Go Zone”. . . The “No Go Zone” is about 17% of Gaza and is self explanatory. Israel has built a large cement wall and fence that marks the border of Gaza. They then for “security measures” formed a “300 Meter” “No Go Zone”. I say “300” because in reality these are loose border zones that change daily and can reach over 500 meters at any given time. All of this area is demolished or being demolished. If you enter it, you will be shot. Israel shows no mercy for the Palestinians. About three weeks ago a 21 year old Palestinian who has mental disabilities was shot to death for touching the fence. Got that fun story from UN OCHA.

This “No Go Zone” also applies to the Mediterranean Sea. Fishing was a major part of the economy in Gaza, before the siege. Starting with the Oslo Accords, Gaza was granted 21 miles into the sea. How nice of them. In 2002, the Israeli Navy changed it to 12 miles. In 2006, 6 miles, and now since 2009 it has been 3 miles, which makes 85% of their fishing off limits. In 2011 there were about 72 incidents that resulted in 36 cases of damage to the boats, equipment, injuries, etc. and one death.

I could go on and on with statistics but I well give one more example to help imagine what sort of crisis Israel is forcing onto the Gazan people:

There are two sardine fishing seasons in Gaza, April- May and September-October. In 2007, Gazans fished about 500 tons. This April they only caught 100 tons. There are about 3,600 fisherman families. Fisherman are arrested everyday and two weeks ago a fisherman was killed. How is he a security threat when he is just trying to beat the odds in Gaza, and provide for his family!? 80% of Gazans cannot provide for their family.

Check all of these statistics! I will link it for you. This is United Nations Backed. Also, I met the people and this alone should validate these numbers and stories.

Now, on top of this “No Go Zone” that was farmland and homes, Israel has a “High Risk Zone” that is from 500-1500 meters into Gaza. In this zone farmers will be shot at for trying to harvest their crops, houses will be bulldozed, Rachel Corrie was killed. Craig Corrie tells me a story of a farmer who wanted the Israelis to know he wasn’t a terrorist, so he took his two sons with him to the field. A jeep started coming up to them so they ran. They shot his 14 year old son and killed him. “High Risk Zone” AKA “Buffer Zone”. . .

Where do I stop. I want to scream at all those who deny this, but I can’t. Rachel Corrie lives here in Gaza. In the schools, the community programs, the eyes of the people, hope in their hearts and the laughter of the children. Do we really have to die to make a difference? I don’t want to die or intend to but change has to happen. I am tired of tip toeing on egg shells. Palestinians are not trying to run Jews to the sea. HISTORY CLEARLY is displaying otherwise. . .

Source for the above: ochaopt.org

This report is excerpted from Maya's blog. To read the original post, visit http://jardingarden.tumblr.com/post/35216298874/too-long-for-words


Education is Highest Priority
By Cathy Sultan

Today we got a glimpse of determination in the face of extreme hardship and it came in the form of a visit to Beach Elementary School in the Al Shati (Beach) Refugee Camp, one of 240 UN-run schools in the Gaza Strip.

The students who must go to school in two shifts for lack of classroom space, due to restrictions on building new schools, are taught Arabic, math, Science, history, geography, religion and art. The literacy rate across Gaza exceeds 90%.

Their newest subject, taught in all UN schools in Gaza, is Human Rights. One student told us it is her favorite subject because it is a subject taught world-wide and it makes her feel less isolated and more a part of the world body.

Education in Gaza is every students' highest priority because as another student said, "when we gain our freedom, we'll be ready to be part of the world."


War “Stole Their Human Dignity”
By Diane Adkin

On Thursday at 4:30 there was an Israeli 'incursion' into a farming area east of Khan Yunis.  Three bulldozers supported by 4 tanks entered Gaza, Palestine from one of the former Israeli crossings (now closed but never for Palestinian use) and a 13 year old boy, Ahmed from 'Abasan al Kabira was killed by a bullet while playing soccer outside his front door.  I know you will not have heard of this in the news, but it is common knowledge in Gaza.  You will be able to read it on the OCHA weekly report here and there will be a report on the PCHR website.  I grieve for the family and for all Gaza.

On Wednesday we met with Dr. Khalil Abu Foul, the Director General of Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City.  The hospital was targeted and extensively damaged in 2008-2009 during Israel's 'Cast Lead' invasion.  Their ambulances were targeted and destroyed and medics were attacked. They were 520 beds before the invasion, 60 beds after. The ongoing Israeli blockade means they could not rebuild until recently when the tunnels began bringing in Israeli-forbidden construction materials.

He said Palestine is the only country in the world still under hostile military occupation, a chronic disaster that is worse than war, because it is a series of acute multi-crises.  1.5 million people in Gaza (of a population of 1.7 million) have severe psycho-trauma because of the ongoing Israeli occupation.  Worse than wounds which they can heal, trauma will never get better under the conditions of occupation.  There is no safe place in Gaza, they have no rights to displace themselves from an area of danger, no protection. He and all Palestinians are continually exposed to danger; every month there are new attacks.  This is their daily life.  None of them feel they can plan ahead, plan for their future, ' not for one minute'. 

Dr. Khalil says the war 'stole their human dignity'.  And it just took the future away from a 13 year old boy, and devastated his family.


An Ongoing Terror
By Michele Bahl

Yesterday we visited the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. Since the siege, which started in 2006 when Hamas won the election, there has been a medication shortage. Israel controls everything that comes into Gaza, and we were told that cancer medications are not allowed in. There are so many things that are not allowed into Gaza, such as materials to rebuild from the Israeli bombings, and utility vehicles to collect garbage. People are dying in Gaza not because there are a shortage of hospitals, but because there are a lack of supplies due to the severe restrictions that Israel imposes on the people of Gaza by this siege.

I haven't seen one Israeli soldier here, but the population of 1.7 Gazans feel Israel's presence here all of the time. It is a terrifying presence.

During Operation Cast Lead, which took place in Dec. '08/ Jan. 09, Israel killed hundreds of innocent civilians. Over half of the population of Gaza is under 18 years old. There is no place that people feel safe in Gaza due to the reality that Israel can attack Gaza and cause widespread destruction at any time.

There is ongoing terror that people face every day, but Americans never hear about it. I believe if my fellow Americans were aware of the ongoing systematic violence that Israel carries out, they would be outraged and want to do something to stop it. If I didn't believe this, I would have no hope.

Raji Sourani, the head of the Palestine Center of Human Rights, shared the following: “Never ever tell a free person what to do; a free person should know what to do.”

Through all of this disaster and trauma, the people of Palestine are incredibly resilient and will never give up their hope of having justice and being free. The many people we spoke with made it clear that the cause of the suffering of the Palestinian people is political, not humanitarian.

“We have the right to plan for our future, if even for one minute. It is a dream for us.”

 “Everyone in the world wants to trust tomorrow, but you cannot trust tomorrow in Gaza.” 

Gaza is an open air prison and I will work as hard as I can when I return to the United States to expose this truth and do whatever I can to work toward change. This is what the people in Gaza have been imploring our delegation to do.


RIP Hamid Younis Abu Dagka
By Maya Harris

RIP Hamid Younis Abu Dagka, 13 years old, who was murdered Thursday afternoon by Israeli Helicopters East of Khan Younis city, in the southern Gaza Strip. I’m shaking. My heart pounds so hard here not with fear but anger. And sadness. How do Palestinians continue to be so peaceful in such hostile conditions? This blog cannot be sugar coated because this situation does not taste sweet like candy but a stale, dry and salty taste that lingers in your mouth.

Yesterday we met a young man who seems like a saint. Anees had such love for Rachel Corrie and told us a story that, while he told it, it was clear it is a permanent black mark on his life. An infection that will never heal.

It was an event that happened during Operation “Rainbow Military Offensive” on May 18th, 2004 in Rafah, Gaza (along the border with Egypt).

Living on the Rafah border his whole life, Anees has never had a good nights sleep. He sleeps fully dressed, shoes on and ID in pocket for he never knows when an incursion or Israeli Military air raid will happen. . . 

On May 18th, 2004, people were hearing word of potential Israeli attack. Anees made his parents leave to a safer area while him and his friend stayed at the house. The situation was getting really intense around midnight, so him and his closest friend left the house, just for a moment, to figure out what was happening. He left his friend for only one minute when 2 rockets shot down in the area where he just left his friend. It was total darkness because Israel had shut down all electricity so Anees and others were using lighters to see the results of these rockets, and to search for his best friend. They found an extremely injured child on the ground and carried him to people who would take him to the hospital. He rushed back to the spot to find 7 bodies strewn on the ground. He could still not find his friend. Later, everyone would ask Anees where his best friend was. To this day no one knows what happened to him. They don’t know if he is dead, in jail, who knows. Never found a body and no one heard from him again.

The next day, May 19th, Anees attended a peaceful protest that ended in a rocket dropped onto the protest and 8 children killed. Our tour guide Khalil was also there and watched the rocket drop. Even though the DAY BEFORE his best friend in the world was murdered, or missing, he still responded in peaceful resistance.

Where do you go from here? Knowledge is power but I feel powerless with all this knowledge when I am continually battled with ignorance and straight up racism. Stop falling into the propaganda and pick up a book of truth. As Blue Scholars say “If you got time to take a shit then you got time to read a book”.

It is the first step to accountability in our tax dollars paying for the weapons that killed Anees’ best friend and thousands others.

This report is excerpted from Maya's blog. To read the original post, visit http://jardingarden.tumblr.com/post/35284640601/rip-hamid-younis-abu-dagka-13-years-old-who-was


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