Monday, March 31, 2008

Interrupting Your Day for a Much Belated Announcement

Those of you who know me personally have probably been aware of this for a while, but I realized recently that not everyone who has been reading my blog is a Facebook Friend of mine, a relative or someone who is on my friends and family e-mail.

In late January/early February, after much deliberation, I decided that the changes that we had made with my position at the school were not supporting me in my personal and professional goals, and that I was going to leave the job. I had hoped that a project that I had in the pipeline, to do conflict resolution/leadership training in Jerusalem was going to be funded, which would allow me to stay in the region. However, the sponsoring organization ran into administrative problems with the funder, and the project was put on hold indefinitely.

In late February, I returned to New York City, which is where I am right now. I am hoping to line up funding to do some programs this summer in Jerusalem and the West Bank. I need to raise about $10,000 to cover expenses, as I will have to bring a partner with me, as my original partner was recently denied entry by the Israeli army at the Allenby Bridge when she returned from a meeting with some colleagues in Jordan.

If you - or anyone you know, including grantmakers - would like to make a contribution or receive information about the project, please let me know. You can leave me a message with contact info in the comments section (only I can see it).

Thanks for following along with my adventure. There are so many things that I loved about being in the West Bank, and I am still sorting out my feelings about being back. When people ask me if I'm glad to be home, I say yes - but there is still a bit of yearning to go back to the Middle East. Life, in many ways, is simpler there, although the political situation is complicated...and very little is taken for granted. I am enjoying the creature comforts and cultural diversity of being in New York, but I also look at the price that people pay to live here, and often wonder if it's worth it. Obviously 8 million+ people DO feel that it's worth it, but I'm less and less sure that I'm one of them. When I left New York in August, I shed almost all of my personal possessions. Now, I could go anywhere with little fuss--everything fits into 2 large suitcases and 2 carry on bags. I have lots of options. Perhaps too many.

In my About Me, I mention how there are little pieces of my heart everywhere that I've lived. Add another piece for Ramallah. The question is: when home is where the heart is, but your heart is in so many places...where is home?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Send a Message

I just found out about this service called Send a Message via Mightygoods that allows you to have a message spray-painted on the Separation Wall (perhaps a Valentine to Palestine? Or your sweetheart?).

Proceeds benefit the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Youth Forum, a local organization in Bir Zeit (very close to Ramallah).

Send a message: it's 30 Euros!!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

End The Siege

Edit: here's a video from an Israeli news outlet that covered the convoy/demo. Hebrew speakers will probably get more from this than others:

It was a cold and rainy day in Palestine today, which somehow seemed appropriate for the occasion. I went to Erez Crossing today for a demonstration to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

We brought a convoy of humanitarian supplies (thank you to those who donated!), and rallied outside the checkpoint to try to get them inside.

On the other side of the checkpoint (on the other side of the Gaza separation wall), Palestinians were having their own rally. I wish that we had been able to join with them. They could be heard faintly from where we were, and the word was that they could hear us, too.

Unfortunately, the Israeli commander would not allow our trucks through, so we ended up not getting to watch our trucks pass by into Gaza. It made for a bit of an anti-climatic end, but rumors were spreading that they would allow the trucks to pass by tomorrow.

I certainly hope so!

(unedited) photos from the day:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Palestinian women storm Rafah crossing

Part of me says: These are some brave women--Way to go! Fight for your rights using non-violent resistance!

The rest of me says: How completely embarrassing that the world could allow a situation to become so desperate that these women would take these sorts of measures.

Perhaps calling on Egyptian embassies is a good idea. I know that they are probably concerned that opening the borders would lead to a massive number of people trying to enter Egypt, but at the very least they could open the border for medical emergencies.

Palestinian women storm Rafah crossing; Egyptian police use water cannons, clubs to suppress protesters

Date: 22 / 01 / 2008 Time: 15:34
تكبير الخط تصغير الخط
Gaza – Ma'an – Hundreds of Palestinian women were beaten by Egyptian security forces after the women broke through barbed wire on the Rafah border into Egypt from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday afternoon.

Egyptian riot police used water cannons and clubs to suppress a surging crowd of demonstrators. Women shouted "God is great!" while rushing the gate into Egyptian territory. A number of women lost consciousness in the ensuing violence.

The security forces arrested the women, using dogs to break up the crowd.

Demonstrations began at the Rafah crossing point on Monday, with protesters calling for the border to be opened to allow Palestinian patients into Egypt for medical treatment.

After months of tightening sanctions, Israel imposed a total lockdown on the Gaza Strip on Friday, blocking shipments of food, medicine, and fuel oil. Running on emergency generators, Gaza's hospitals were treating only the most serious cases.

Crowds of women gathered at Rafah crossing on Tuesday morning in a demonstration organized by Change and Reform, the Hamas bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

PLC member Huda Na'im said the demonstrators have no intention of backing down: "We won't surrender until they lift the blockade."

Hamas said that Gaza's problems will not solved be by shipments of fuel alone, but that a complete end to the embargo that has besieged one and a half million people in the coastal strip was necessary.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the demonstrations and sit-ins will not stop until the blockade is lifted.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

I started this as my MLK Day post, but got side-tracked with the Gaza vigil and action alert.

If Dr. King were alive today, I have little doubt that he would have plenty to say about the conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere because when people are willing to enact or condone injustice, it creates an opening for people to continue behaving in an unjust manner, or for people to use the 'well they're doing it in ____" excuse to justify injustices that they may wish to perpetuate on others.

Very often I hear Israelis and Palestinians talk about their violence as though it is justifiable, and I find myself in the uncomfortable and usually unpopular position of stating that it is not.

It is not justifiable for Israelis to kill (directly) over 800 Palestinians in the past two years (number of Israelis killed by Qassams - 1) because rockets are being fired from the Gaza Strip. There are ways to stop rocket fire WITHOUT bombing heavily populated areas or sealing borders. Diplomacy--ever hear of it? Usually the response to that is that there is "no one on the other side to talk to." That isn't true, but you have to be open to hearing what the other side has to say. If you're only willing to talk to people who are going to tell you what you want to hear, there may be a problem finding someone.

As a result of the near-total failure of Israel (and the international community, especially the U.S.) to acknowledge Palestinians as equal human beings who have their own dreams of self-determination in their homeland, hundreds of Palestinians have died and countless Palestinians have been wounded or have died from related causes, such as not being able to get to a hospital or because of malnutrition, poor water quality and lack of adequate medical supplies.

There is no symmetry in the Israel-Palestine conflict. There is one very powerful country with a strong military and the nearly unconditional backing of the world's only military superpower, vs. the non-contiguous, fragmented Palestinian territories which has a weak governmental structure, no formal military, no control of its airspace or borders, and which constantly struggles with movement restriction and the constant confiscation of land via the separation wall and from Israeli settlements.

And yet, I also take the position that armed resistance is unjustifiable.

Often when I say that, many of my Palestinian and Palestinian solidarity circle friends balk. They want to know if I am suggesting that Palestinians just accept their fate and live out the rest of their lives being treated as "less than" Israelis and to be slowly driven from their land until Israel really is from the sea to the river Jordan. Of course not.

There is a difference between self-defense and what is being done with the Qassams. Shooting homemade rockets into a predominantly civilian area is not self-defense, and frankly, doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than antagonizing the Israeli government and giving them a reason to continue the strangulation of Gaza. Based on results, it appears that shooting rockets is only making things worse for Palestinians. Israeli policy towards Gaza and the West Bank is still oppressive when there is a ceasefire. It would be smarter to stop all rocket fire and then watch Israel try to justify its restrictions, and to demand that Israel acknowledge the Palestinians' rights to exist.

I am not suggesting passivity, but non-violent resistance. Non-violent resistance appeals to the good in humanity, in which eventually, people say "enough--this isn't working." Where is the Palestinian's Ghandi or MLK? I know there are many people who believe that nonviolence is the way, but how can they mobilize more effectively?

Ultimately, the answer is not in fighting injustice, but in preventing it from finding a foothold in the hearts and minds of people. That is the essence of the "I have a dream" speech. If there is to be peace in this region, there must also be a willingness for Palestinians and others to work (and struggle) with Israelis to to create a shared vision of what peaceful coexistence will look like. At some point, all of the people must shift and make a commitment to putting aside differences, making apologies and restitutions as needed, and forgiving past wrongs for the greater good and the future of the region.

The past cannot be changed. There is no way to turn back the clock and prevent injustices from taking place. The lives that have been lost are gone forever. Towns and villages have been reduced to rubble and dust, and 40-60 years of exile have created a diaspora of a people that will never be again who they were in 1947. There is not and will never be "justice" for that, any more than there could be "justice" for the Jewish Holocaust, the slaughter of the native people of North and South American, or history's many other genocides and dispossessions. Human beings have been doing terrible things to other human beings since they decided that their "own" people were superior to people who they could identify as "others."

We cannot change the past, but we can create a different future, and we do not have to accept that the way thing have been up until now (the injustice, the violence, the dispossession) is the way things have to be. Human beings are blessed with critical thinking and reasoning skills that are too seldom applied for the greater good.

It is time to start looking at the big picture.

I see my role in this, a citizen of the United States of America, as working with other Americans on this issue. We Americans have a lot of responsibility for how our role in the world affects others, including the Palestinians and Israelis.

I am not the Palestinian Ghandi or MLK, but I do believe there are a few good candidates for the role. I will be wholeheartedly behind them 100%.

Must Read

Skip Schiel's blog:

Skip just left Gaza a couple days ago. He is a photographer, writer and political activist.

Thanks for writing, Skip!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Gaza On Our Minds

My friend Kathy wrote this, but I could have just as easily written it myself. I've been communicating with friends in Gaza via text messages and missed calls. The situation is very grim.

Tonight, we had a vigil in Ramallah at Al Manara Square. Here are the photos.

Please take action.

Dear Friends and Family,

For some time now the situation in Gaza has continued to worsen. Yesterday the Israeli authorities cut all electricity to Gaza. Al-Jazeera reported this morning that hospitals are running on emergency diesel fuel. Children in incubators in the hospitals will die when the emergency supply runs out and around 70 Gaza residents are waiting for kidney dialysis, just to name a few people and activities that are affected by this cutting of electricity. The temperature is cold in Ramallah and will feel even colder in Gaza due to the dampness of being beside the sea.

I tried to call friends in Gaza, but no one answers the phone. Of course the landlines are not working and people are trying to save their cell phones for emergencies.

What is happening in Gaza is a crime against humanity. When will the world wake up and realize this and do something about it? All of this is happening on the heels of the visit of US President George Bush and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier here last week.

Following is a statement released by Al-Haq just 30 minutes ago. Information from the statement can be used as talking points.
Following the Al-Haq statement is some information about a group of Israeli activists responding to the situation in Gaza.


1. If you live in the US or are an American citizen living abroad:

President George W. Bush (202) 456-1414
White House Comment Line: (202) 456-1111 Fax: (202) 456-2461
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (202) 647-6575
Any Senator (202) 224-3121
Any Representative (202) 225-3121
E-Mail Congress: visit
Embassy of Israel, 3514 International Dr., NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202) 364-5515

2. If you live in Canada or are a Canadian citizen living abroad, in addition to contacting your elected representatives,
please e-mail Prime Minister Stephen Harper at:

3. Everyone:
Media contacts:
Ask Journalists to interview Palestinians; there is no shortage of those (e.g. in the US, here is a listing of many Palestinian Americans: ).



Ref.: 01.2008E

21 January 2008

End the Siege of the Gaza Strip

On Sunday 20 January 2008, Israel's ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip, including the blocking of fuel supplies, forced Gaza's only power plant to shut down, plunging over 800,000 Palestinians into darkness. According to the General-Director of the plant, the shortage of electricity caused by the lack of fuel will affect the provision of medical care and water and sanitation services. On Sunday morning, the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, which normally operates 130 wells as well as sewage treatment plants, stated that if the fuel supply is not restored by Tuesday, these services will cease to function throughout the Gaza Strip. Since Friday 18 January, Israel has also closed all Gaza's border crossings and blocked all humanitarian aid, except in exceptional circumstances. With some 80 percent of Gaza's population requiring food aid, the impact of these measures will be catastrophic. This escalation has also been accompanied by an intensifying of Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip in the first 19 days of 2008, costing the lives of 69 Palestinians, including four children and eight women, and the injury of over 190.

Israel 's current policy in relation to the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants constitutes an unmitigated violation of international humanitarian law including, but not limited to, Israel's obligation as an Occupying Power to, at a minimum, ensure the basic needs of the population under its effective control, and the prohibitions on collective punishment, coercion and unlawful reprisals.

Israel 's current policy and recent actions have shown a casual disregard for the lives and dignity of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, treating their suffering and the violation of their fundamental rights as little more than an inconvenience that will earn gentle reprimand from the international community and Palestinian National Authority, but will otherwise be irrelevant. With the intolerable conditions and constant state of fear that the Gazan population is now forced to live under, it is time for this position to change. Israel must not be allowed to shield itself from the implementation of its international legal obligations, nor should the international community shy away from enforcing such implementation. Inarticulate fears of disrupting a "peace process" that exists only in vague declarations and diplomatic handshakes, that treats the Gaza Strip as separate from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Palestinians as a divided people, cannot be an excuse for allowing the continued siege of the Gaza Strip. In fact, if any "peace process" is to succeed, the conclusion reached must embody a sense of justice. This requires, as an unavoidable starting point, that the fundamental rights of all parties be recognised and protected.

Al-Haq therefore calls upon,

Israel to immediately cease all military operations in the Gaza Strip and to end its policy of collective punishment, including the opening of border crossings to allow the movement of goods and people, and restoring the supply of fuel and humanitarian aid.

the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to establish Israel's obligations under international law in respect of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, including ending the collective punishment and ensuring access to essential medical services, food and water and sanitation, as an integral part of any negotiations.

regional organisations and individual states to take concrete measures, including economic and diplomatic sanctions, to ensure Israel's compliance with international law.

all international agencies, including the UN, present in the OPT to actively draw the attention of international decision makers to the impact of Israeli policies on the Palestinian civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

the UN Secretary-General immediately bring the situation in the Gaza Strip to the attention of the Security Council.

concerned individuals and civil society groups to raise Israel's violations of international law with elected officials in their home counties.

Palestinian armed groups to immediately cease the launching of rockets targeting civilian population centres in Israel.

- Ends –

Rabie Abulatifah

Media & Communications Officer
P.O.Box: 1413
Ramallah - West Bank
Tel.: + 972 (0)2 2956421
+ 972 (0)2 2954646
Fax.: + 972 (0)2 2954903



On Saturday January 26,

nobody stays home!

End the Siege!

Relief convoy to our neighbors in Gaza

Does it help the children of Sderot when we force the children of Gaza to drink polluted water? It seems the government of Israel thinks so (if they think).

Gaza is under siege! Hundreds of commodities needed for maintaining daily life are not allowed into the Strip, by order of the Government of Israel. Even the entry of water filters - vital for purifying the water drawn from Gazan wells, which are heavily polluted by brine, oil and sewage - has already been prevented for over half a year. The Israeli media doesn't succeed (and doesn't even try always) to convey to the public a true impression of how severe the situation is. But anyone who has talked to Gazans in the past months understands that the situation has long since developed into a regional disaster, which puts us, too, in danger.

As is well known, the Gaza Strip is a small, poor, overcrowded territory even in "ordinary" times. The occupation of the Strip did not end with the "Disengagement"; on the contrary, passage of persons and goods, in and out of the Strip, was made far more difficult by the Israeli authorities, and no one can enter or leave, by land, sea or air, except by permission from the Israeli security services. As far as Gazans are concerned, Disengagement brought no liberty, but just made occupation that much worse!

However bad the suffering is of the residents of Sderot, Ashkelon and the kibbutzim and moshavim in the area under the barrage of Qassam missiles, mortar shells and sniper bullets, it is in no way a justification for a cruel siege which severely harms a million and half civilians - men, women and children. The siege is an immoral act and a violation of International Law - and from a practical point of view, increasing the bitterness and suffering in Gaza leads to an intensification of attacks on the Israeli side, not to their end. Unlike what we have been made to believe, residents of Sderot and residents of Gaza are not to be seen as opponents: both are victims of a stupid and vicious policy of the Government of Israel.

In the convoy, departing from all over Israel on Saturday January 26, 2008, we will take with us a large quantity of water filters and firmly demand of the military authorities that they be allowed into the Strip where they are urgently needed, together with basic foodstuffs - flour, rice, oil, salt, lentils, beans - for distribution to residents driven to extreme poverty and despair by the siege.

On the border of the Strip we will conduct a protest rally, simultaneously with a rally held by our Palestinian friends on the other side. Together, we will demand of the Government of Israel to remove the siege of Gaza forthwith! We intend to hold the rally where we can have eye contact with the Palestinians, at a distance of no more than one kilometer.

Our friends on the Palestinian side, peace and human rights activists of the Palestinian International Campaign To End The Siege such as the well-known psychiatrist Dr. Eyad Sarraj, will go to the border area despite the great difficulty and risk, in order to greet and support us. It is far easier for us to go towards them and support them. In a joint Israeli-Palestinian action on both sides of the border we will present a true alternative to the continuing escalation, to the shooting and killing, destruction and suffering, missiles and tanks. An alternative of ceasefire, of a true end to direct and indirect occupation, an alternative of peace and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians, for Sderot and for Gaza.

The convoy will include both buses and private cars. It is very important to arrive with a car, if you have

one, in order to create a long and highly visible convoy. If at all possible, let us know in advance, even before

Monday Jan. 21, to Ya'akov 050-5733276 or Teddy 052-5017141. It is especially important to let us know as soon as

possible if you can come with a car - so that we can make better preparations.

Donations to help buy products for the convoy, and defray other expenses, can be transferred via POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033, Israel, or handed to our activists during the convoy itself (checks should be made out to Gush Shalom, and prominently marked 'For Gaza Convoy').

We have made considerable and lengthy efforts to coordinate this activity. The convoy will depart from organized rendezvous points at predetermined hours, in order to arrive together and create a long convoy. The rendezvous points are as follows:

Haifa: Solel Boneh Square (buses & private cars) 7:45

Tel-Aviv: Arlozorov Railway Station (buses) 8:15

Reading Parking Lot (private cars, joined by the buses from Arlozorov 8:30

Jerusalem: Liberty Bell Park (buses) 8:30

Teddy Parking Lot (private cars, joined by the buses from Liberty Bell 8:45

Be'er Sheba: University Gate (buses & private cars) 10:15

Signs, posters and cloth banners for the buses will be available at the rendezvous points. Please arrive in time to 'decorate' the cars. Everybody is asked to bring from home commodities needed in Gaza (milk powder, mineral water [not of Eden Springs], oil, flour, school supplies [satchels, pens and pencils etc.] and cigarettes) as a family package for a Gazan family. If you want you can add a personal letter in Arabic or English to the recipients.

Those who arrive in their cars are asked to tie a symbolic aid package to the roof of the car (if you were not able to do it before arriving, please bring the products and a rope with you, and we will help you tie them at the rendezvous).

We also ask all of you to bring drums, whistles, and those who have them - a shofar, in order to make a huge outcry of breaking down the wall of the siege. Please bring food and drink for a whole day.

Registration for Tel-Aviv and Haifa:

taliashiff@gmail.comTalia Shiff 052-3738832

Registration for Jerusalem and Be'er Sheba: Moshe Pesach 050-9702338

Participating organizations:

Gush Shalom, Combatants for Peace, Coalition of Women for Peace, ICAHD - The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Bat Shalom, Bat Tzafon for Peace & Equality, Balad, Hadash, Adalah, Tarabut-Hithabrut, Physicians for Human Rights, Alternative Information Center, Psychoactive - Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights, ActiveStills, Student Coalition Tel-Aviv University, New Profile, Machsom Watch, PCATI - Public Committee Against Torture.

Details on the Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege to which we are allied:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

BDS - Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

Many people who are working to end the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip promote a strategy known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). Prior to leaving for Ramallah, I was on a local coalition in New York that was exploring this strategy, and also trying to figure out ways to couple it with increasing support for the Palestinian economy through purchasing fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soap, handicrafts and other products. One of the member groups ended up with a creative campaign against Leviev Diamonds, which targets an Israeli American who uses his wealth to support settlement building activity in the West Bank.

BDS was one of the many strategies that helped to end the South African apartheid regime. It works by isolating the offending country economically and socially until they change the undesirable policy.

BDS in the case of Israel/Palestine is a bit more complicated than the South African case due to the level of support that the U.S. government gives Israel both economically and diplomatically (it recently passed a bill worth more than $30B in military aid to Israel). The U.S. never had such a strong backing for South Africa. To learn a little more about how the U.S. supports Israeli occupation and the double standard it has on the BDS strategy, read "Double Standard on Divestment" by Josh Ruebner, which briefly compares the concept of BDS in Sudan to BDS in Palestine.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Executive Decision

This is my blog, and I started it to be an online journal of my experiences and observations of my experience in Palestine. It is not a news blog or even a political blog, and I am not obligated to allow anyone to use it as a forum for their own point of view. I will acknowledge that, because it reflects my personal experiences and opinions, it only tells one version of the Israel-Palestine story through the eyes of a non-Palestinian, non-Jewish American teacher living in Ramallah in 2007-2008.

I didn't start it as a means to have an online debate; frankly, my work here takes up too much of my time to adequately address those who have an opposing point of view. There are many, many other venues, both online and off, where people can become more acquainted with Israeli narratives and justifications for the occupation.

I am going to leave the old comments visible, but from this point on, I will be making comments closed to non-members of this blog. From time to time, should the topic of my current piece demand feedback from readers, I will re-open comments.