Once More to Gaza

February 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Readers of The Muslim Observer are familiar with the Free Gaza Movement which in August of 2008 sailed two ships from Cyprus to Gaza breaking a decades long blockade by Israel. Four more missions followed successfully. The sixth voyage resulted in an attack by Israeli Naval forces that severely damaged the ship putting the lives of all aboard in jeopardy. The captain was able to bring the ship safely to a port in Lebanon; during the seventh attempt Israeli threats to the safety of the passengers along with terrible weather forced the ship to return to port.The eighth vessel was hijacked by the Israeli Navy, resulting in the confiscation of the vessel and the imprisonment of its passengers and crew in Israel. Despite repeated requests from Free Gaza attorneys, the ship has not yet been returned.
This courageous undertaking was the inspiration for other subsequent movements to aid the beleaguered people of Gaza.

Those who believed that the mission was over, that the dream had ended, did not reckon correctly with the dedication and courage of the people of the Free Gaza Movement. This spring a flotilla of six to ten boats will again sail to Gaza. Of these, five have been funded by IHH from Turkey, and a third, a cargo ship, has been funded by donations from the people of Malaysia. This time the Israeli Navy will be faced with a small navy, a navy of freedom fighters.

The ships will carry reconstruction material essential to the rebuilding of Gaza yet forbidden to them by the Israelis.

Fundraising is essential as is maximum publicity. Returning members of Viva Palestina and the Gaza Freedom March make excellent speakers for fundraising events. Since the Israeli occupiers do not permit the importation of paper or paper products, the Free Gaza Movement has launched a campaign which it has titled: The Right to Read. Books that are desperately needed are listed on the group’s web site: <www.freegaza.org>. If reconstruction material is to be donated, please contact friends@freegaza.org.

Three leaders and founders of the Free Gaza Movement were recently honored by the San Jose Peace and Justice Center. Greta Berlin, Paul Larudee and Kathy Sheets were each given a Gertrude Welch Peace and Justice Award.

The California organization established the award to honor those who made an outstanding contribution to social justice and peace both locally and globally.
Those who support the goals of the Free Gaza Movement but are not able to make the trip are urged to work in an auxiliary capacity.

In addition to fundraising and publicity supporters can urge their members of congress or parliament to join the voyagers. The Movement already has Members of Parliament from South Africa, Turkey, Malaysia, Europe, and South America on board.

Members of a land crew, support crew and media are also needed for the coming journey.

Suggestions, volunteering and contributions may be made at the above cited web site.

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Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze Gaza

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Two weeks ago, almost 2,000 internationals came to Egypt and Gaza in a massive show of civil society’s support for the people of Gaza. Nearly 1,400 persons representing 44 countries in the Gaza Freedom March and over 500 persons with the Viva Palestina Convoy let the people of Gaza know of their concern for the tragic consequences of their governments’ support of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Yet, two weeks later, with the apparent approval of governments (United States, European Community and Canada) that support the quarantine, blockade and siege of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have tightened the squeeze to wring the lifeblood out of the people of Gaza.

US Military Team Visits Underground Wall Construction

The US government continues to assist Egypt in building an underground wall to cut off tunnels under the border of Gaza and Egypt. According to Reuters, on January 14, 2010, three US military personnel from the US embassy in Cairo visited Rafah to follow up on the barrier project. According to security sources in Rafah, visits by US military have been taking place monthly.

In a press conference this week in Washington, US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, “What we’d like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let’s get the weapons smuggling stopped.” Duguid did not address the use of the tunnels to get life-saving food and materials prohibited by Israel.

In December 2009, three Palestinians were killed after a tunnel collapsed beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. The three were reported missing, and later found by rescue workers.

Deadliest Week Since Last Year’s Israeli Attack

Last week, January 6-12, was the deadliest week for the Gaza Strip in the past year since the January 18, 2009, ceasefire that ended Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli air force bombing attacks killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three civilians. The attacks came in response to an increase in the number of mortar shells and rockets fired by Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that caused no injuries or property damage.

Since the ceasefire a year ago, a total of 84 Palestinians, including at least 27 civilians, and one Israeli (a soldier) have been killed. Another 160 Palestinians and seven Israelis were injured in Gaza and southern Israel.

On January 8, 2010, US aircraft flown by Israeli air force personnel bombed tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, killing three Palestinians, including a 15 year-old boy, and wounding another two. Another Palestinian was hurt in a separate airstrike. In two other incidents, on January 6 and 10, Israeli aircraft targeted and killed four Palestinian militants, three of them in one airstrike. Five additional airstrikes, resulting in no casualties, were carried out during the week. Also this week, on four separate occasions, Israeli forces drove tanks into Gaza and conducted land-leveling operations.

Israelis Increase Border Zone Into Gaza

On January 7 this year, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets into areas next to the border fence with Gaza, warning residents to keep a distance of at least 300 meters from the border with Israel and to avoid cooperating with “smugglers” in the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. This doubled the buffer zone along the border from 150 meters to 300 meters, but Israeli forces have opened “warning” fire at farmers as far as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) from the border.

A parallel ban for Gaza fishermen is applied to sea areas beyond three nautical miles from the coast, though often this distance is less in practice. This week, in nine separate incidents, Israeli naval forces opened “warning” fire at Palestinian fishing boats along Gaza’s coast, forcing them to return to shore.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on January 6 and 9 this year, unknown persons detonated bombs in a pharmacy and two coffee shops in Gaza City; no one was hurt, but property damage was reported.

Two Killed in January in Tunnels and Seven Youths Burned in Tunnel Fire

In January 2010, two Palestinians died in two separate incidents involving the collapse of a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border while they were working inside it. At least 70 people have died and 123 others have been injured in the tunnels since the end of the “Cast Lead” Israeli attack on Gaza.

On January 16 this year, seven Palestinians from Gaza were burned in a fire that broke out in one of the tunnels connecting the border towns of Rafah, Gaza and Rafah, Egypt. The seven burned tunnel workers were treated at An-Nasser and Ash-Shifa hospitals in Gaza City.

Digging tunnels and working in them is one of the few jobs available for Palestinian youth in Gaza. Tunnel workers reportedly earn $25 per day, a huge sum in the current Palestinian economy. However, they are subjected to daily bombings by US F-16 aircraft flown by the Israeli Air Force, plus tunnel collapses and fires.

Accidents in the tunnels are frequent. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan, 120 people have been killed working in the tunnel trade in the past three years.

According to OCHA, no commercial gasoline or diesel fuel entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom during last week. Egyptian gasoline and diesel, which is transferred through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, remains available on the open market, with nearly 100,000 liters of diesel and 100,000 liters of gasoline transferred into Gaza per day.

Israeli Tanks Shell Beit Hanoun

Israeli tanks operating near the northern Gaza border near Beit Hanoun targeted civilian properties with heavy artillery fire on January 15, 2010. Tank shells hit civilian homes on the outskirts of the town, causing material damages but no injuries.

Egypt Builds Anchorage for Border Patrol Boats

Egypt is continuing fortification of its borders with Gaza, this time by sea. According to Reuters, Egypt is constructing a port for patrol boats that will block sea routes into Gaza for merchandise, food and weapons.

The border patrol boats will keep Palestinian fishing boats in Gazan coastal waters. Egypt has said it believes the boats are being used to carry out smuggling operations, though there have never been reports of such incidents. “It is to secure the area. It will be used to direct fishing boats in the area to ensure they do not cross the Israeli sea border and risk getting fired at,” the security sources told Reuters.

As Egypt completes the 14-kilometer underground wall along the Rafah border, Egyptian surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea increases the strangling of Gaza. The tunnels are the only way Gazans can bring goods into the Strip. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the area, letting in only 36 types of goods for the past three years.

Future Aid Missions Must Go Through Red Crescent

On January 6, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrators, protesting Egypt’s delay in allowing the aid convoy Viva Palestina into Gaza, as well as Egypt’s plans to build the underground steel wall, clashed with Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. As a result, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and 13 Palestinians were injured, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Eventually, the convoy entered on the same day, carrying food and medical supplies.

However, in response to the clashes, Egypt introduced a new mechanism, through which future aid convoys into Gaza will go through the Egyptian Red Crescent.

No Internationals Allowed Into Gaza

During December, no internationals were allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, until 92 persons from the Gaza Freedom March were allowed in for 48 hours on December 30. During January, only the Viva Palestina convoy personnel were allowed in for 24 hours. Many international persons have letters of invitation from non-governmental organizations to assist in a variety of ways. Only one other international has been allowed into Gaza in January. Egypt has denied the requests for all other internationals. The ability of citizens of the world to assist Gaza when their governments will not is tragically being strangled.

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(Former) Rep. Cynthia McKinney, and Gaza

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sacramento– January 10th–(Ex-Representative) Cynthia McKinney spoke here at the Salam Center, a Community nucleus for the Islamic Community of the Greater Sacramento Area as part of a program put together by the new American Muslims for Palestine (AMP).  Before the speeches by Cynthia and Hatem Bazian (whose comments your journalist will report on in a future article), we ate a communal Halal dinner at the Center. 

McKinney is an Afro-American Person of the Book who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives gaining the ire of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) for her strong support of the Islamic nations of Pakistan and Palestine. The two lobby organizations’ political “war chest” money and power cause her to lose her seat in a prominently Black District twice despite the fact she had served six terms in Congress. 

She has doubts facts about September 11th, 2001, also; so, she served on the Citizens Commission on 9/11.  After looking at the details of that day in New York City, she signed the 9/11 Truth Movement asking for new investigations on the unexplained aspects of that incident. 

While still in the Lower House, she presented Articles of Impeachment against former President Bush, Vice President Cheney and (then) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Further, Cynthia McKinney’s educational background and experience makes her solidly authoritative on foreign affairs.

During Tel Aviv’ attacks upon Gaza she attempted to enter the Strip with humanitarian supplies — twice unsuccessfully by sea and once successfully by land. 

On her first endeavor, the blockading Israeli Navy rammed her ship.  Mentioning that she was not a Palestinian, she asserted “That I [would] die is one of the [most] honorable [things] I could” do. 

On the second effort, McKinney found herself surrounded by Israeli War boats.  All the passengers and crew were “kidnapped” (captured), and imprisoned for ten days.  Cynthia was, additionally, banned from Israel for ten years – including the Occupied Territories (i.e., Palestine). 

After she was released from detention and deported, she received a call from the British Member of Parliament, George Galloway, who is the director of Viva Palestina which has entered Gaza with conveys of trucks containing relief supplies, called Ms. McKinney and asked her to come with his trucks across the Rafah crossing from Egypt into shattered Gaza.  The (prior) Congresswoman described that the horrible devastation of the diminutive State was over-powering, but, on the other hand,  she attested to the defiant spirit of the people.

“We have to resist” our (own) government (U.S.) “…like the Palestinians” the Israeli.  “Washington D.C. is ground Xerox,” too.  Describing her experience on the Coastal Strip, “I was the one whose spirit was uplifted…In my heart, I am a Palestinian!”

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AL-AWDA Convention

May 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Palestinians comprise the largest refugee population in the world today. The Israelis drove out approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. The legal basis for their right of return cannot be disputed. In their treatment of Palestinian refugees, the Israelis not only forced Palestinians to leave ancestral lands, but, through their treatment of them from 1948 until today, they have destroyed a culture.

In the 61st year of the Nakba (the catastrophe), AL-AWDA once again has brought national and international attention to this situation.

The seventh annual convention of AL-AWDA, the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition, was held in Garden Grove, Ca. this past weekend. This well attended, exciting and educational event, titled “Freedom for Palestine”, began Friday evening with a meet and greet session enhanced by outstanding Arabic food.

After the convention opening and welcome, activists from solidarity organizations addressed the audience. These activists included, but were not limited to: John Parker, the West Coast Coordinator of the International Action Center; Richard Becker, a founder and current leader of the ANSWER Coalition, and Cindy Sheehan, a prominent anti-war activist and campaigner for human rights.

A showing of “Salt of the Sea” closed the evening’s activities. This motion picture tells the story of a young Palestinian woman, born in the United States to Palestinian refugees. When she becomes aware that at the time of the Nakba the Israelis froze her grandfather’s bank account in Jaffa, she travels to Palestine to reclaim what she believes is her due. As she sees the conditions of Palestinian existence and meets a young Palestinian man, she comes to realize that what needs to be reclaimed is far more than a bank account.

On Saturday forums were held throughout the day dealing with such timely issues as: “Palestinian Refugees – Background and Current Status”  with Dr. Jesse Ghannam. Dr. Ghannam has established mental health clinics in Gaza and travels there frequently. The clinics and his participation in them are under the auspices of the Gaza Community Mental Health program. In the United States, Dr. Ghannam is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Chief of Medical Psychology at the University of California San Francisco.

“Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” was conducted by Lubna Hamad of Adalah (The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East) New York of which she is co founder. Ms Hamad was a legal consultant for UNICEF in Jerusalem with a specialty of child protection.

George Galloway, British MP and international human rights advocate, conducted a forum on “Viva Palestina”.

MP Galloway also addressed an evening session on “Growing our Global Movement – Freedom for Palestine” which session included fundraising.

Keynote addresses on Gaza in the aftermath of the Israeli attack and the situation in Jerusalem highlighted the luncheon session.

A parallel youth program was held.

The final session of the Convention, held on Sunday, dealt with reports, challenges and future plans.

The Sacramento chapter, which had at one time been part of the San Francisco chapter, reported growth and successful participation in anti war events, BDS and educational series. The Phoenix chapter also reported growth and public engagement.

A suggestion was made to encourage tourism to Palestine,specifically Jerusalem, as the Israeli government is trying to cripple East Jerusalem economically. Tourists should stay at Palestinian run hotels; eat at Palestinian run restaurants, and purchase from Palestinian run shops.

Further, a suggestion was made to coordinate AL-AWDA activity here with AL-AWDA groups in Europe where the movement is extremely active.

Still another suggestion, unanimously and enthusiastically accepted, was to send a small delegation to the Egyptian Consulate to express our dismay at Egypt’s cooperation in making crossing into Gaza through Rafah difficult and erratic.

Booths on display at the AL-AWDA Convention included but were not limited to: Palestine Online Store; A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition; International Action Center; Free Gaza Movement, and Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California in San Diego.

Host committee organizations of the AL-AWDA Convention included but were not limited to: Palestine Aid Society; Muslim Students Association at UCSD, Palomar College, and Mira Costa and the Muslim Students Union at UCR; Free Palestine Alliance, and Palestinian American Women Association.

AL-AWDA may be accessed at: www.al-awda.org.

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