Video: Israeli blockade of Gaza sea port began in 1967

Al-Ahram Commentary: Gaza depressed about Egypt by Rana Baker

Rana Baker Al-Ahram

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are aware of and strongly affected by the hostile campaign brewing against them in neighbouring Egypt. Especially disheartening for Gaza’s Palestinians was General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to close the Rafah Crossing hours after his speech that ended Mohamed Morsi’s rule on 3 July. For the residents of Gaza, this was enough of an indicator to expect a “return” to the dark days of Hosni Mubarak.

The driving force behind such accusations and outright incitement to murder is Hamas’s allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood, now deemed the enemy of the Egyptian revolution and democracy. This anti-Muslim Brotherhood fanfare has made it easier for anchors on Egyptian state and privately owned TV channels to lump the Palestinians into a single group of Hamas.

Israel’s siege on Gaza and the subsequent closure of most commercial crossing points made Egypt the lifeline and only gateway for the vast majority of the Gazan population. The besieged people of Gaza not only depend on Egypt for travel purposes, but also for most of their goods and construction materials.

Today, an atmosphere of apprehensiveness is enveloping the Strip. Instead of watching Egyptian TV drama series customary in the month of Ramadan, Gazans are glued to news channels, speculating on events as they unfold in Cairo and all over Egypt.

For now, life in the Strip seems to have come to a standstill with travel plans either cancelled or postponed and prices of basic commodities soaring due to the recent military crackdown on the tunnels that link Gaza and Egypt. The crackdown, which caused total destruction or damage to 80 per cent of the tunnels, comes in response to allegations that Hamas militants smuggle themselves into Sinai and Cairo to aid the Brotherhood. This claim, however, has never been substantiated despite numerous claims by army officials about “investigations” into the purported attacks.

To make matters worse, Palestinians in the Strip are now forced into filling their vehicles with Israeli fuel, which is twice as expensive as its Egyptian counterpart. Any rumour about Egyptian fuel at Gaza’s gas stations means kilometres-long queues of vehicles, sometimes blocking roads from the early hours of the morning. This has also led to increased profits to Israeli suppliers directly involved in the colonisation of Palestinian land.

But the economy is not the only side of Palestinian daily life affected by the unrest in Egypt. Politically, Gazans are observing Israeli reactions to the military stepping into the political scene again, weeding the Muslim Brotherhood from electoral politics, with great concern. The Israeli government seems to be satisfied with the Egyptian military’s moves, despite that the Muslim Brotherhood maintained relations with the right-wing government of Israel under Morsi’s rule.

This has caused further anxiety among Gaza’s Palestinians who deem Egypt’s relations with Israel a thermometer by which to measure and expect Egypt’s policies towards Gaza and its residents now and in the future. This feeling of anxiety is coupled with mistrust towards the Egyptian army whose long-standing security cooperation with Israel continues to suffocate the Palestinians.

Because of the military-instigated anti-Palestinian propaganda, Gazans not only fear for themselves but also for their children who are studying or working in Egypt. Today, many Palestinians in Egypt find themselves under the threat of being arrested or attacked merely because of their origin.

To further complicate the situation, students who left Egypt to spend the summer vacation with their families in Gaza are worried about the prospect of not being able to return to their universities when classes resume in September.

All this has made many Palestinians feel obliged to reiterate examples of their long history of support for the Egyptian people’s struggles against foreign invaders and more recently, the 25 January Revolution. In fact, Palestinians were quick to condemn Mohamed Morsi for his November constitutional declaration in which he gave himself sweeping powers even over the judiciary. These statements, however, go either unheard or downplayed and belied.

It is also worth noting that people in Gaza are themselves divided over the crisis in Egypt. Palestinian secular elites and VIPs who flourished under Mubarak hope to see the old regime back in power — this means that they fully support the military takeover. Hamas supporters, on the other hand, are calling for the reinstatement of “legitimacy”. Leftists and moderates find both camps equally guilty of protecting the interests of Western imperialism in the Arab world’s most influential country.

Overall, a deep feeling of disappointment in the Egyptian revolution characterises most discussions, and many lament the uncritical dismissal of Palestinians as ungrateful “terrorists”. Meanwhile, the Hamas government is calling on the interim Egyptian government to open its borders to Palestinians. The Egyptian government, so far, has only agreed to allow patients and holders of foreign passports into Egypt.

The author writes for The Electronic Intifada.

Gaza’s Ark: A bid to break Israel’s blockade… from within

GAZA CITY: Palestinian labourers and foreign activists are working tirelessly to transform a large fishing boat into “Gaza’s Ark” with the aim of exporting local produce in the latest bid to break Israel’s blockade on the coastal strip.

The Ark, which is being fitted out to carry goods and more than 100 passengers, is near completion and is expected to set sail for Europe in the latest high-profile attempt to challenge Israel’s maritime lockdown on the tiny Hamas-run territory.

If they are successful, this will be the first time goods from Gaza have been exported by sea since the signing of the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords.

Significantly, this attempt to alleviate the effects of the seven-year blockade comes from within Gaza, where locals refurbishing the 24-metre-long (78 feet) vessel want to take matters into their own hands, rather than waiting for help from the outside world.

“This will help fishermen, farmers and factory workers in Gaza to market their products,” said Abu Ammar Bakr, who was a fisherman for 40 years before turning his hand to repairing boats.

Mohammed Abu Salmi, who owns a furniture shop, was equally buoyed by the prospect of shipping products overseas.

“Export by sea will resuscitate farming and light industry in Gaza and will ease unemployment… and help to lift this oppressive blockade,” he told AFP.

“We have great experience and produce great furniture,” Abu Salmi boasted.

“We exported to Israel and from there to Europe before the blockade, and people abroad are asking for our products,” he said, pointing proudly at the dining tables and chairs fashioned in his workshop.

Among the items which are to be carried on board for export are fruit and farm produce, furniture, embroidery and other crafts, organisers say.

“The aim is not aid or humanitarian like the boats that were coming to Gaza, it’s a commercial venture to support the Palestinian economy and pave the way to exporting Palestinian products,” project manager Mahfouz Kabariti said.

But a sense of apprehension marks the preparations.

A plaque at the entrance to the quay on which the Ark is being built remembers the nine Turkish activists who were killed in May 2010 during an Israeli raid on a six-ship flotilla trying to reach Gaza in defiance of the blockade.

Although the international outcry which followed the deadly raid forced Israel to significantly ease the terms of its blockade on Gaza, which was first imposed in 2006, tight curbs remain in place on exports and travel.

Breaking the siege ‘from within’

Under the terms of the current restrictions, Gaza fishermen are not allowed to enter waters more than six nautical miles (11 kilometres) from the shore, with naval patrol boats known to fire on those who step out of line.

It is the prospect of a confrontation with Israeli forces that is worrying some of those planning to join the boat on its blockade-breaking mission, with Abu Salmi afraid the navy might “open fire and sink the Ark, or arrest those on board like they did in 2010 and seize the goods”.

Organisers of the project are unsure what action Israel might take.

“I hope Israel won’t stop the boat from sailing to European countries,” said Kabariti.

“It is natural that the Israeli authorities might not allow a boat to set sail from Gaza. But we want to send our message to the world, whether the occupation allows it to sail or not,” he said.

“We want to draw attention to the blockade which is preventing Palestinian products from being exported, and we have an ark that we can use to do it.”

Among those planning to join the Ark on its maiden voyage are a number of foreign activists, who include Swedish national Charlie Andreasson who also took part in the ill-fated Freedom Flotilla of 2010.

The aim, said Andreasson, is “to break the siege”.

“Why would they stop it?” he asked, somewhat naively.

“We’ve been sending ships to Gaza to try to break the siege, and this time we are turning it around and sending a ship from Gaza out to Europe with goods — so we’re trying to break the siege from within,” he told AFP.

Andreasson has been working on the project since early June, when activists managed to raise enough money from European donors to buy up the old fishing boat.

From its purchase to completion, including labour, Gaza’s Ark will have cost an estimated $150,000 (114,000 euros), with its website showing that so far, $110,000 has been raised.

Dozens of people are working to restore the Ark, with local fishermen receiving a salary for their labour and foreign activists volunteering.

The project’s mission statement, according to the website, is to “challenge the illegal and inhuman Israeli blockade”.

For fisherman Bakr, it would be a huge blow if the Ark — which will sail under the Palestinian flag as well as several international ones — never left port.

Fisherman and factory workers would have to watch their goods “festering in warehouses because they’re unable to export them”, he said.

This article first appeared here

The Real News: Fears from fundamentalism are growing in Gaza after Hamas’ latest public modesty campaigns

About Tales of a City by the Sea

The play Tales of a City by the Sea is a unique and poetic journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment during the winter of 2008.  Jomana, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Shati (beach) refugee camp in Gaza falls in love with Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. Their love is met with many challenges forcing Rami to make incredible decisions the least of which is to take a dangerous journey through the underground tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt.  Although on the surface this love story appears to explore the relationship between diaspora Palestinians and Palestinians under occupation, there is a broader and more universal theme that emerges – one of human survival and tenacity.  Tales of a City by the Sea avoids political pitfalls, ideological agendas and clichés by focusing on the human story of the people in Gaza. Although the play’s characters are fictional, the script is based on real life events and is a product of a collection of real stories the author Samah Sabawi and her family have experienced during the events of the past several years. Sabawi has written most of the poetry in the play during the three-week bombardment of Gaza in 2008/2009.

The writer Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian published writer, commentator and playwright.  She has travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt as though she was still trapped in her place of birth Gaza.  The war torn besieged and isolated strip has  shaped her understanding of her identity and her humanity.  So what else could Sabawi do but to indulge in Gaza’s overwhelming presence and to succumb to tell the stories of her loved ones back home.  Her most recent play Tales of a City by the Sea is dedicated to them and to all of those who still manage to have faith and hope even as the sky rains death and destruction.

The script is available to interested theatre makers upon request.  Please email play3wishes@gmail.com for more information.

Ms. Sabawi speaking at the Launch of the The People's Charter To Create a Nonviolent World

Photo courtesy http://thepeoplesnonviolencecharter.wordpress.com/launch-events/

Follow Samah Sabawi on Twitter @gazaheart

Samah Sabawi’s professional bio can be found here

For more information on Samah Sabawi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samah_Sabawi

Let Gaza surprise you!

By Samah Sabawi

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Gaza is one of the most reported on and yet least understood places on earth.  Its mere mention conjures up images of war victims, war criminals, piles of rubble, militants with guns, dead children and weeping mothers.  A simple google search will bring up disturbing images of heart break, terror and destruction.  But all of this is an infliction on a place that has neither surrendered its identity nor lost its beauty to decades of violent Israeli occupation.

Gaza is a city of many tales.  While some are about loss, grief and misery, many others are about enduring love, triumphant moments, tenacity, passion, music and hope that lives beyond the confines of the siege and the occupation.  If you dig deeper than the negative headlines and the devastating news reports you will find many pleasant surprises.  You can take a walk along Gaza’s gorgeous fields, enjoy its magical sunsets, get to know its warm people, visit its ancient sites and eat its delicious dishes.  You will find in Gaza everything that would make you love life with a passion!  So join me here to explore some of Gaza’s unknown side.

The Arts:

There is a common belief that Gaza’s art scene is all but dead.  While it may be true that art in general is not a great priority for the people in Gaza who are too concerned with bigger financial and political issues, Gazan artists continue to create and to excel in their fields.  There is also an appreciation of the need to encourage art in children starting from a young age.

One establishment worthy of salutation for supporting the arts is the Qattan Centre for the Child in Gaza.  This cultural centre is an oasis for the hearts and the minds of children.  Equipped with a large library painted in vibrant colors and comfortable eye soothing furniture the QCC in Gaza focuses on developing the children emotionally and intellectually through visual art, music, education, cultural events and much more.

Below are some images of the QCC in Gaza.  Keep in mind all of the paintings you’ll see in some of these photos were in fact painted by children under 15 years of age at the centre.

The Qattan center was built on land donated by the Gaza municipality and has succeeded in meeting its goal of creating an educational and stimulating space for children and their caregivers.  Parents are encouraged to join their children in the library, engage with them over art and craft activities, or just watch them proudly as they perform their song and dance routines.

Membership at the QCC is free of charge to all children in Gaza from all walks of life and some of the classes offered charge a small symbolic fee.  Many of the events are also free of charge such as the concerts captured in the video below that took place as part of the winter camp activities in January 2013.  In this video below you’ll see a variety of instruments, you’ll hear music of both Arab and western origins ranging from Gershwin to Darweesh.

Also worthy of special salutation is the Gaza Music School and its incredible teachers and talented children.  The children featured in the next video are nine years of age.  They are very dedicated to the art they practice in spite of all the challenges they face including Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Music School  in 2009.

 

The landscape

The Gaza Strip is densely populated mostly by refugees who fled Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes since.  As the population continues to grow in the besieged strip the natural landscape changes to make way for more cement structures and buildings to accommodate this growth.

However, population growth is not the only challenge facing Gaza’s green spaces.  Agricultural land  is shrinking as Israel usurps more of Gaza’s water supplies and if that’s not enough, Israel’s siege, blockade, frequent bombardment and occasional land incursions have left their mark on many of Gaza’s farming land.  A recommended report that sheds great light on this is the UNISPAL report Farming without Land, Fishing without Water.

Below are two pics of bombed trees in our farm in Gaza. The first depicts a tree totally uprooted from the power of a one ton bomb blast.   The second photo  depicts a tree that was uprooted from the blast, flew in the air and actually landed straight on top of another tree.

Despite all of the challenges and the uncertainties of Israel’s incursions and bombings, some farmers have insisted on maintaining their land.  When visiting their farms you get a sense of what Gaza’s landscape looked like before Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing began.   You can imagine how before the refugees were chased into the far corners of their homeland to settle into camps under occupation, how most of Gaza’s natural landscape would have looked like.

The Sea

Perhaps the most important feature of Gaza is its sea.  It is the only landscape that remains unchanged, unaffected by the occupation and the aggression.  The sea is an open recreational space that is free of charge.  For Gazan families the sea is a cure for all of life’s problems.

The food

Finally, no matter where you go to in Palestine, you will always be overwhelmed with warm hospitality and great food.  Gaza is no different.  Here are some pics of some of my favourite dishes, but if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list along with recepies I highly recommend you visit The Gaza Kitchen.  Bon appétit or as they say in Gaza Saha we afya!

The Real News on repression and cultural resistance in Gaza with footage of Tales of a City by the Sea’s public reading

Photo Gallery: Gaza public reading of Tales of a City by the Sea

A reading of the play Tales of a City by the Sea took place in Gaza city at the Qattan Centre for the Child followed by a discussion on January 17th  2013.   The reading was part of ongoing efforts by international artists to break the cultural siege of Gaza and to work collaboratively with local talent.  What resulted from this event was a profound experience for both the writer, the cast and the audience.  The audience feedback (video will be uploaded next week) highlighted the need for creating more space for cultural and artistic events in the besieged Gaza strip.

The Gaza team from left: Khaled Harara, Eman Hilles, Sameeha Olwan, Ayman Qwaider, Mohammed Ghalayini, Manar Zimmo, Alaa Shoublaq, Samah Sabawi, Mahmoud Hammad, Najwan Anbar, Alia Abu Oriban and Ayah Abubasheer.

Sameeha Olwan

Sameeha Olwan reading the part of Jomana.

From left: Mohammed Ghalayini, Ayman Qwaider and Mahmoud Hammad

From left Mohammed Ghalayini reading the part of Rami, Ayman Qwaider reading the part of Ali and Mahmoud Hammad as Mohanad.

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Manar Zimmo reading the part of Lama.

From left:  Mahmoud Hammad, Alaa Shoublaq, Mohammed Ghalayini and Ayman Qwaider

From left:  Mahmoud Hammad as Mohanad Alaa Shoublaq as Abu Ahmed, Mohammed Ghalayini as Rami and Ayman Qwaider as Ali.

Eman Hilles

Eman Hilles was the narrator of our Tales.

Mohamad Akilah

Gaza esteemed musician Mohamad Akilah.

Najwan F. Anbar

Najwan Anbar reading the part of Um Ahmed

In Gaza Tales of a City by the Sea at Qattan Centre for the Child

FinalPoster

Israel’s Gaza Bantustan

First published on AlJazeera

Israel’s one state reality greeted us at the gates of the Gaza-Rafah crossing when we were asked by the Egyptian officer to present our Haweyah (Palestinian IDs) in order to be allowed through. It is not like we weren’t expecting this request, we knew that it would come down to this even though our Australian passports clearly showed Gaza as our place of birth we were still not considered Palestinian nationals in our own home city. Rather, we were treated like foreigners who needed an almost impossible amount of bureaucratic red tape designed to discourage the likes of us of ever thinking of visiting loved ones back home.

Allow me to explain: Since Israel’s establishment it has used the system of ID cards to differentiate between its Jewish and non-Jewish residents and citizens, a distinction needed in order to apply its apartheid discriminatory policies of separate and unequal treatment. When Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank in 1967, its Interior Ministry began to also issue ID cards to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. By 1982, Israel passed the Identity Card Carrying and Displaying Act requiring all residents of Israel both inside its 1948 borders and inside the green line in the Occupied Territories, who are over 16 years of age, to carry at all times these ID cards and to present them upon request to the authorities.

Israeli citizens’ ID cards come in blue plastic casing with the Israeli Coat of Arms on the outer cover. Palestinians prior to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority had orange casings in the West Bank and red casings in the Gaza Strip both with the IDF insignia embossed on the outer cover highlighting Israel’s military control. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories who were forbidden entry into Israel’s 1948 borders had green casings.

 

After the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority and as part of the creation of the illusion of progress, the Palestinian National Authority was handed some limited inconsequential powers. These included issuing Palestinian residents with ID cards. A pointless exercise given that the power to issue these cards hinged on Israel’s approval, which was selectively given. Not only that, Israel continues to this day to control the Palestinian population registry and to assign the actual ID numbers provided for the Palestinian ID cards; the all-important cards required to enter Gaza and the West Bank.

Much has been written about how the system of ID cards is used as a weapon to further cement the fragmentation of the Palestinian population as it confines the Palestinians to their geographic Israeli-controlled Bantustans, forbidding Palestinians with Gaza IDs entry into the West Bank and Jerusalem and vice versa. But perhaps the worst and most insidious effect this system has is in the way it is designed to control and monitor the movement of all Palestinians and to curb the Palestinian population by denying their diaspora the right to come home even if for a short visit.

As we stood at the Rafah crossing, we were confronted with this reality. The Egyptian officer insisted that only Palestinians with the Israeli-controlled Palestinian ID cards are allowed to use this crossing. These orders are a result of an unforgivable move, one of many, that were made by the Palestinian National Authority when in 2005, Palestinian negotiators led by Mohammed Dahlan (a Fatah leader with strong links to Israel and the US) signed an agreement with Israel on movement and access from and to Gaza. One of the conditions they agreed to was restricting the use of the Rafah crossing to Palestinian ID card holders. It is hard to fathom why the Palestinian Authority would have agreed to such an inhumane condition which in reality means that Gazan residents would be cut off from loved ones in exile.

After seven hours of waiting at the Rafah border and after exhausting every connection, every phone number, every thread of hope and every possibility, we managed to make it through. Once inside Gaza, it became abundantly clear that despite Hamas’ visible presence inside the city and the endless waves of green flags, we had arrived into an Israeli controlled Bantustan. The currency used here is the new Israeli Shekel, the IDs all the residents carry are issued by the Israeli interior ministry, all births go through the Israeli national registry, the essential products are all Israeli in this captive market. As I type this to the sound of the Israeli F16 hovering in the sky above, and as I look at the sea patrolled by Israeli cruisers, I am convinced that I am now inside Israel’s one state reality in a Bantustan they call Gaza.

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer and Policy Adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network.  

Follow her on Twitter: @gazaheart

A comprehensive analysis of the arguments surrounding the call for a cultural boycott of Israel

By Samah Sabawi

This paper was prepared for the 7arakat Conference: Theatre, Cultural Diversity and Inclusion November  2012 and was first published in the 7arakat conference E:Proceedings. 

Introduction

International artists find themselves standing at a crossroad between their desire to support all forms of artistic expression, Israeli or otherwise, and the Palestinian civil society’s call to support a cultural boycott of all Israeli state sponsored forms of art. Some argue art and culture are apolitical and boycotting them is an infringement on freedom of expression.  They insist that art is a language of peace and building bridges. Others argue that culture and art are in fact political and can serve as tools of political propaganda and repression.  They highlight the responsibility of artists to affect change by raising awareness about political and social issues. In this paper, I will set out to explore the relationship between the culture and politics within the Palestinian Israeli conflict, while examining the arguments for and against the Palestinian Civil Society’s call for a cultural boycott of Israel.

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions – BDS

Confronting a failed peace process and a disappearing Palestinian state, and inspired by the South African movement to end apartheid, Palestinian civil society in 2005 set out to build a rights based grassroots movement that adopts a non-violent form of resistance based on international law and the universal declarations of human rights. They called on people of good conscience around the world to apply boycotts divestments and sanctions on Israel until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem, and fulfills its obligations under international law toward the Palestinian refugees, granting full equality to the Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel. Endorsed by 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements representing Palestinians in the Occupied Territory, inside Israel’s 1948 boundaries, as well as in Diaspora, the 2005 BDS call represents the voice of the majority of Palestinian civil society and its three demands articulate a unified Palestinian vision that cannot be dismissed. The BDS call is now endorsed by hundreds of leading international human rights activists, including prominent figures such as Stephane Hessel (2010), co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Holocaust survivor.

The Palestinian Campaign for Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel (PCABI)

In 2006 the majority of Palestinian cultural workers, including most filmmakers and artists along with hundreds of international cultural workers and artists issued a unified statement in support of BDS. Today the list of artists who have publically joined the cultural boycott and have cancelled performances in Israel includes celebrities from around the world like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Annie Lennox, Brian Eno, Devendra Banhart, Tommy Sands, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron amongst many others. The list also includes some incredible writers like Eduardo Galeano, Arundhati Roy and Alice Walker, as well as accomplished filmmakers such as Ken Loach and Jean-Luc Godard.

However, not all artists respond favorably to the boycott call. Some still choose to perform in Israel like pop icons Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga to name a few. These artists insist that performing in Israel is about promoting peaceful co-existence by bringing people together. They maintain that cultural events such as concerts are apolitical and should remain so. They complain that the boycotts single out Israel unfairly and that artists – according to Elton John – should not “cherry-pick” their conscious (“Elton John performs in Israel”). They also argue that boycotts are a blunt instrument that amounts to collective punishment of the Israeli people.

Is culture apolitical?

In order to understand the relationship between culture and politics within the Palestinian Israeli context it is important to review the history of Palestinian culture and the political challenges it has faced throughout the years of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

In an article that appeared in Haaretz (15 May 2012) commemorating Nakba, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi described Palestinian society prior to Israel’s establishment in1948 as highly developed commercially, artistically and culturally. Its economic development was one of the highest in the Arab World and its high school enrolment was second highest with 379 private schools as early as 1914, and dozens of bookstores. In fact, Ashrawi wrote that between the years 1911 and 1948 Palestine had at least 161 newspapers, magazines and other publications and a vibrant cultural scene with cinemas, live theatres and musical concerts both by local artists as well as visiting giants like Egyptian icon Om Kalthoum and the Lebanese singer Farid Alatrash.

All of this was disrupted in 1948 when Israel was established on the ruins of Palestinian villages. Since then Palestinian culture became the target of a systematic and deliberate attempt at erasure by the Israeli authorities. For example, a story which broke out only this year on Al Jazeera titled “The Great Book Robbery” uncovered how during the process of establishing the state of Israel, librarians from Israel’s National Library accompanied the Israeli army into Palestinian homes after their residents were driven out and systematically took all the books that were left in these houses. The books included priceless volumes of Palestinian Arab and Muslim literature, including poetry, works of history, art and fiction. Thousands of these books were destroyed but some were added to the library’s collection and remain till this day in the Israeli National Library, designated, abandoned property – of course totally disregarding the fact that this property does belong to a people who were forced to leave and never permitted to return to their homes or to be reunited with any of their assets, including their books.

Another example of the politicization of culture in the Palestinian Israeli context is how British and then Israeli authorities often targeted not only Palestinian political leaders, but also artists and intellectuals, imprisoning them, banishing them into exile, and even assassinating them. Amongst the artists and intellectuals assassinated by Israel were writer Ghassan Kanafani (Abukhalil 2012) and poet and intellectual Wael Zuaiter (Jacir 2007). Also of great significance to this discussion is how during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israeli forces looted and confiscated the accumulated national archives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which included valuable and rare collections of films and other Palestinian cultural artifacts (IMEU 2012).

Israel’s attack on Palestinian culture continues today and takes many different shapes and forms. Palestinian artists in the occupied and besieged West Bank and Gaza suffer the same fate as all other Palestinians living under occupation. They are discriminated against, their movement is restricted, and their most basic human rights are denied. Israel does not distinguish between culture and politics. In 2005, when Former deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, launched the ‘Brand Israel’ campaign he admitted  “We are seeing culture as a hasbara toolof the first rank,and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture” (Ben-Ami 2005). This was abundantly clear in the aftermath of Israel’s three-week bombardment of Gaza during the winter of 2008-2009. As the world witnessed in shock the incredible devastation and human suffering of an imprisoned 1.5 million people mostly refugees and half under the age of 18, Israel brushed off all criticism, blaming the outrage over its actions on bad public relations. Its solution to improve its image as revealed in a New York Times article (Bronner 2009) was not to address its record of violations, but to grant an extra $2 million from the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s budget to improve its image through “cultural and information diplomacy”. Arye Mekel, the ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs, was quoted in the article saying, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater
companies, exhibits…This way you show Israel’s prettier
face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war” (Bronner 2009).

Mekel’s quote is a perfect illustration of how, if you dig beneath the surface, you’ll find that many Israeli state sponsored events that may seem to be simply cultural and for pure entertainment purposes are in fact driving political agendas and whitewashing crimes similar to those committed in Gaza.  In fact, Israel goes so far in its manipulation of cultural events that it has made it a condition for artists who receive state funding to sign a contract stipulating they commit to “ promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel” (Laor 2008).  In other words, Israeli artists who are sponsored by the Israeli state are required to support the policies of the state in public and to remain silent on Israel’s discrimination and atrocities against the Palestinians. This was confirmed when Israeli pop music artist Idan Raichel admitted in an interview published on Australia-il.com (2008) the nature of the relationship between the state and its sponsored artists: “We certainly see ourselves as ambassadors of Israel in the world, cultural ambassadors, hasbara ambassadors, also in regards to the political conflict”.

Can cultural events bring people together?

Having established that culture in the Israeli Palestinian context is not apolitical and cannot be seen in isolation of the political environment, I’d like to move on to address the second argument made by opponents of the cultural boycotts who favor performing in Israel as a way to ‘bring people together’ and to promote ‘co-existence’ through joint Palestinian Israeli cultural projects.

First of all, let’s look at the benefit of the joint cultural projects. Will these joint projects pursue an agenda for justice and equality or will they bring two unequal sides together – an occupied and an occupier – and promote an illusion of symmetry? Projects that don’t aim to end Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people only promote the normalization of the status quo. That is why increasingly more and more Palestinian artists are turning away from these joint ventures, often refusing to accept badly needed funds and the promise of fame and success, because they recognize that the price for participation – normalizing oppression – is too high to accept.

Secondly, the idea that a concert in Israel can bring Palestinians and Israelis together is absurd when one considers that millions of Palestinians who live under Israel’s military control are prevented by Israel’s apartheid policies from attending. To clarify, when concerts are held in Israel, Palestinians in the West Bank do not enjoy the same access to them as Jewish settlers living on land confiscated from Palestinians in the West Bank. In fact, even when cultural events take place inside the Occupied Territories, for example in Ramallah, Palestinians in other enclaves and Bantustans within the occupied territories or those who live in Gaza, or Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenships – are often not allowed to attend due to the hundreds of Israeli checkpoints in the Occupied Territories and tricky permit systems, all designed to fragment and control Palestinian society.

Israel’s system of apartheid and segregation touches every aspect of Palestinian life and excludes Palestinians from many opportunities that are afforded the Jewish people. This issue of exclusion was at the center of the controversy at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, as international and local artists expressed dismay at The Globe for inviting Israel’s national theatre Habima to participate in the ‘Globe to Globe’ festival. A protest letter which appeared in The Guardian (29 March 2012) and was signed by an impressive number of celebrities, including first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Mark Rylance, Trevor Griffiths, Sonja Linden, and Emma Thompson, pointed to the fact that “…by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practiced by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company”.

International artists have an ethical responsibility to address this issue of exclusion and discrimination, which is central to the reality of the conflict. The real questions artists need to ask themselves are: Do we want to promote a culture where we feel comfortable performing before an audience that is selected by way of racial privilege? Do we want to engage with Israeli artists who have committed by way of signing a legal contract to whitewash Israel’s system of discrimination and oppression? How can we accept the claim that concerts or cultural events can ‘bring people together’ when these events often work to promote and to support an existing system of discrimination designed to keep the people apart?

Protecting artistic freedom of expression

Israel has argued that the cultural boycott infringes on artistic freedom. While it is true that Israeli artists are free to express and share their art with the world, Palestinian artists face tremendous challenges with stifling travel restrictions, arbitrary detention, political repression and various roadblocks that get in the way of them holding rehearsals, exhibiting their work or even performing the simplest tasks, which becomes quite impossible under occupation.

Today, Palestinian artists and theatre makers are caught in an intricate and multi layered system of oppression. Take for example the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and the tremendous challenges they face. A Human Rights Watch report this year (27 July 2012) accused Israel and its perceived security arm the Palestinian Authority of  “trampling on the rights of Freedom Theater’s staff,” adding that  “[a] theater should be able to offer critical and provocative work without fearing that its staff will be arrested and abused.”

The HRW statement referred to Israel’s ongoing system of arbitrary arrests and detention and called for an investigation into allegations of mistreatment, raising the concern that since the murder of its director and co-founder, Juliano Mer-Khamis, in April 2011, the Israeli occupation forces have “repeatedly raided the theater and beaten and arbitrarily arrested employees”.

Israel’s occupation and system of discrimination infringes daily on the Palestinian artists’ freedom of expression.  So the question here is should Israeli state sponsored artists’ freedom of expression override that of the Palestinians? There is Hypocrisy to the Israeli claim that it does. In 1984Enuga S. Reddy, then director of the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, responded to similar criticism about the cultural boycott of South Africa; the following is an excerpt of his press briefing published on the PACBI website:

“It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms … to the African majority … should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime.”

Profiting from the occupation

But profiting from apartheid and serving its propaganda purposes is precisely what artists do when they cross what the Palestinian solidarity movement now calls the world’s largest picket line’ (Billet 2012).  Take for example Madonna’s Israel Peace Concert during which Madonna told her fans in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan stadium, “It’s easy to say I want peace in the world, but it’s another thing to do it”. Her recipe for peace was simple; she told her fans that “[i]f we rise above our egos and our titles and the names of our countries and names of our religions, if we can rise above all that, and treat everyone around us, every human being with dignity and respect, we will have peace” (Steinberg and Bronstein, 2012). But the reality is that Madonna’s peace speech was lost on the Palestinians, who were denied access to her ‘peace concert’ and who remain locked up behind Israel’s high walls and barbed wires.

More significant is the fact that Madonna’s so called ‘peace concert’, which gave lip service to peace, in fact was successful in promoting tourism in Israel, bringing in 4,000 tourists with some fans paying up to NIS 5,000 for VIP tickets and accommodation packages (Domke and Halutz 2012).  So in reality, the concert was great for Israel, its economy, its image and its institutions but did not do much for the cause of working toward creating a real environment for a peace with justice.

Singling out Israel

Some argue that boycotts single out Israel unfairly and that artists – as Elton John said  – should not “cherry pick” their conscious (Daily Mail 19 June 2010). Some Israeli artists feel that there is a sense of prejudice, as was expressed by Habima’s artistic Director Ilan Ronen:

We come to the Globe along with 37 countries and languages. And this is the only theatre, and the only language, that should be boycotted? Everything is OK in those other countries – no problem at all? Artists should not boycott other artists… I think, as an artist, that this is wrong. We should have a dialogue with everybody. We should discuss and disagree. (Tonkin 2012)

But Palestinians have every right to single Israel out for occupying and oppressing them, and to call for the help and the solidarity of the international community in a non-violent, peaceful form of resistance that is anchored in human rights and progressive liberal values. Ronen’s assertion that Israeli artists are unfairly singled out is also misleading. Unlike South African academic and cultural boycott, which was actually a “blanket” boycott, BDS does not target individualIsraeli academics, writers or artists. Israeli artists are welcome to cooperate with Palestinian artists as long as the projects they are working on together do not whitewash Israel’s occupation, ignore the inequality and discrimination against Palestinians or work to promote Israel’s softer side, while the state continues its gross violations of the human rights of the Palestinians. Israeli artists who receive Israeli state funding are in fact under contractual duties, as illustrated earlier, to do just that.   

Boycotts raise awareness

As this debate continues, it is important to note that even when artists choose not to abide by the boycott call, the controversy that surrounds their performances or their participation in Israeli sponsored events at times within itself serves to educate and raise awareness around the issues and creates opportunities for discussions and for constructive dialogue about what is going on in Israel/Palestine.

This was apparent here in Melbourne when the Boycott fever caught on with the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2010.  At the time, the makers of the film Son of Babylon, having realized that the Melbourne Film Festival was sponsored by Israel, tried to boycott the event. The film’s director Mohamed Al-Daradji and producers Isabelle Stead and Atia Al-Daradji demanded the film, a Palestinian co-production, not to be shown in protest against Israel’s “illegal crimes against humanity” (Quinn 2010).  The festival director Richard Moore declined the request and the film was shown as scheduled. However, this incident created waves of media coverage as most major news outlets and tens of bloggers around the world weighed in their opinion.  The controversy opened the gates to debate and discussions around Israeli actions and the ethics of the boycott movement. This was a refreshing change given that before the Boycott calls, Israel was only in the spotlight when a major event took place; often a suicide bombing, rocket attacks wars or massive bombardments.

Conclusion

Palestinian Civil Society’s call for a cultural boycott of Israel is a legitimate non-violent form of resistance that aims to put international pressure on the state of Israel in order to end its occupation and discrimination policies against the Palestinian people.  Neither Palestinians nor Israelis believe that culture is apolitical. Israel’s assault on Palestinian culture is well documented and its targeting of Palestinian cultural figures has been denounced by various human rights groups. Israel uses culture as a branding tool to promote its softer side and to whitewash its violations of the Palestinian people’s basic human rights. Palestinians also view their art and their culture through the prism of their struggle for freedom justice and equality. From erasure to resistance, Palestinian culture today is an expression of the Palestinian people’s story with all its dimensions, including the political. For Palestinians art is a form of resistance; theatre is political mutiny, dance is rebellion, and singing is liberation.

Works Cited

Abukhalil, As’ad. “Ghassan Kanafani: In Our Memory.” Alakhbar English. Web. 12 July 2012.

“An interview with Idan Raichel.” Australia.il.com. Web. Hebrew. 2008.

Ashrawi, Hanan. “Recognizing Nakba, reaching peace.” Haaretz. Web. 15 May 2012.

Ben-Ami, Yuval. “About Face.” Haaretz. Web. 20 Sept. 2005.

Billet, Alexander . “Madonna sings for apartheid; yet campaign to boycott Israel grows stronger.” Electronic Intifada ChicagoWeb. 12 June 2012.

Bronner, Ethan. “After Gaza, Israel Grapples with Crisis of Isolation.” New York Times. Web. 18 March 2009.

“Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”  Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [PCACBI].  Statements. Web. 6 July 2004.

“Cultural Boycott: Statement by Enuga S. Reddy, Director of U.N. Centre Against Apartheid at a Press Briefing (1984).” Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel [PACBI]. Web. 11 January 1984.

Domke, Ronit and Avshalom Halutz. “Madonna draws 4,000 tourists to Israel for MDNA concert premier.”  Haaretz. Web. 29 May 2012.

“Elton John performs in Israel after string of other artists cancel appearances.” Daily Mail Online. Web. 19 June 2010.

“Fact Sheet:  Palestinian Culture: 64 Years Under Israeli Assault.” The Institute for Middle East Understanding [IMEU]. Web. 2 August 2012.

Hessel, Stephane. “Gaza Flotilla: Global Citizens Must Respond Where Governments Failed”. Huffington Post. The Blog. Web. 15 June 2010.

“Israel/Palestinian Authority: Theatre Group Hit From Both Sides”. Human Rights Watch. News. Web. 27 July 2012.

Jacir, Emily. “Material for a Film: Retracing Wael Zuatier.” Electronic Intifada. Web. 16 Jul. 2007.

Laor, Yitzhak . “Putting out a contract on art.” Haaretz. Web. 25 July 2008.

“Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS.”  BDS Movement.  Statements. Web. 9 Jul. 2005.

Quinn, Karl. “Festival threatened over Israel link.” The Age. Web. 4 August 2010.

Steinberg, Jessica and Dani Bronstein.  “Madonna kept Tel Aviv crowd waiting ‘until she got her Gummi Bears’.” The Times of Israel. Web. 4 June 2012.

“The Great Book Robbery.” AlJazeera. Web. 24 May 2012.

Tonkin, Boyd. “Artists should not boycott other artists.” The Independent. Web. 28 May 2012.

 

Biography

Samah Sabawi is a writer, political analyst, commentator, author and playwright. She is co-author of the book Journey to Peace in Palestine and writer and producer of the plays Cries from the Land and Three Wishes. Sabawi is currently in the process of working on her third play Tales of a City by the Sea – a love story set against the backdrop of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in 2008-2009.
Sabawi is a policy advisor to the Palestinian policy network AlShabaka and former public advocate for Australians for Palestine. Her past work experience include holding the position of Executive Director and Media Spokesperson for the National Council on Canada Arab Relations (NCCAR) and working as Subject Matter Expert (SME) on various countries in the Middle East’s cultural and political landscape for the Canadian Foreign Service Institute’s Center for Intercultural Learning.

The war in Gaza: photographing the conflict

The Guardian

Associated Press photographer Bernat Armangué tells the story behind some of his images that have featured on front pages around the world in the last week

Palestinians flee their homes after an Israeli forces strike on nearby a sports field

Palestinians flee their homes after an Israeli forces strike on a nearby sports field

During this last Israeli offensive inside the Gaza Strip we were working 18 hours every day, non stop. We usually started at 5am taking pictures of the Israeli air strikes and rockets launched by Palestinian militants. At first light we would cover the direct consequences of these air strikes: destroyed buildings, bodies in the hospital morgues and funerals. In situations like this, there is no fixed agenda; reality changes every minute. It is the experience you have as a photographer and a certain level of improvisation that leads you to tell the story as well as you can and as fast as possible. Our working day finished late at night and then we would attempt to do normal things: eat, take a shower and try to sleep in between the air strikes.

You don’t decide what to photograph, you decide where not to photograph, which is always based on a hypothetical average of risk. There were certain areas that were constantly affected by bombs, which I avoided. My main priority was to show the life of the people in Gaza; I followed them in their houses, on the streets, to the morgues.

The way the people of Gaza face their reality is very different to my life. I guess I tried to transmit some of this through the pictures. In my job, I work with a team of journalists, photojournalists and TV crews. Everyone tells the same story in a different format. But specifically on the street I work with my colleague Majeed Hadman, known as a “fixer”. He helps me in everything; he’s half of my vision and my hearing and most importantly: he’s my friend.

Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza City by Bernat Armangue

Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza CityThis air strike (pictured above) was at around 6 in the morning. It’s just in front of our office building, which is why I had this close view. But due to the proximity of the explosion, it was complicated to shoot: we strongly felt the air-expansion caused by the blast, the extremely loud sound and obviously your heart accelerates a little.

A Palestinian man kisses the hand of a dead relative in the morgue of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City

A Palestinian man kisses the hand of a dead relative in the morgue of Shifa hospitalThis was the last picture I took that day. I spent most of the day taking photographs of Palestinian rescue workers recovering people under the rubble of homes – some of them alive, some of them dead. That day 11 members of the al-Dallu family were killed when an Israeli missile struck the two-storey home of the family in a residential area of Gaza City. Some bodies were recovered and brought to the morgue, so I went there to take some pictures. While I was there, another family came to check if it was true that one of their relatives had been killed. They cried, held his body and one of them kissed his hand while saying goodbye. It was a rare tender moment there.

A Palestinian woman is helped after being injured during an Israeli forces strike

A Palestinian woman is helped after being injured during an Israeli forces strike next to her houseIt was early in the morning and we heard an explosion nearby. We arrived at the scene (pictured above) and saw a woman injured by shrapnel. She was being helped to safety.

Palestinian mourners cry during the funeral of Salem Paul Sweliem during his funeral in Gaza City

Palestinian mourners cry during the funeral of Salem Paul SweliemMost of the population in Gaza are Muslim, but there is also a Christian community. A member of the family pictured above died of shrapnel wounds after an air strike. The photograph shows the family members leaving their house to attend the funeral mass.

A Palestinian man rides past a destroyed area after an Israeli airstrike

A Palestinian man rides past a destroyed area after an Israeli airstrikeThis building (pictured above) was destroyed during the night. It was aHamas government complex known as Abu Khadra. It is less than 100m from our office, so we literally jumped from our beds during the air strike due to the loud noise and the shaking of our building. I arrived at the scene at first light and started to take pictures. Donkeys are used a lot as transport in Gaza, and I guess this man was probably on his way to work.

Osama Abdel Aal is rescued after his family house collapsed during an Israeli strike in Tufah, Gaza

Osama Abdel Aal is rescued after his family house collapsed during an Israeli forces strike in the Tufah neighbourhoodThis picture shows Osama Abdel Aal moments after being rescued. His family house collapsed during an Israeli forces strike in the Tufah neighbourhood. The first thing he did was point and tell the rescue team that there were other family members buried beneath the rubble.

This article appeared in The Guardian Photography Blog

CNN: Soccer stars protest Gaza bombing

December 2, 2012 — Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Palestine Stadium in Gaza City was bombed by the Israeli airforce last month during a conflict with the territory's ruling Hamas party.Palestine Stadium in Gaza City was bombed by the Israeli airforce last month during a conflict with the territory’s ruling Hamas party.

 

(CNN) — A group of soccer stars have called for Israel to be stripped of hosting rights for a top European age-grade tournament next year following last month’s bomb attacks on Gaza.

More than 60 players including Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba signed a petition which was posted on the website of former English Premier League and Spanish La Liga striker Fredi Kanoute.

“We, as European football players, express our solidarity with the people of Gaza who are living under siege and denied basic human dignity and freedom,” the statement said.

“The latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza, resulting in the death of over a hundred civilians, was yet another stain on the world’s conscience.”

American soccer star playing for Palestine

It cited reports of a bomb attack by Israeli forces on a football stadium in Gaza on November 10, which killed four teenage players, and said that two players from the club Al Amari had been detained in Israel “without charge or trial” since February.

“It is unacceptable that children are killed while they play football. Israel hosting the UEFA Under-21 European Championship, in these circumstances, will be seen as a reward for actions that are contrary to sporting values,” the statement said.

“Despite the recent ceasefire, Palestinians are still forced to endure a desperate existence under occupation, they must be protected by the international community. All people have the right to a life of dignity, freedom and security. We hope that a just settlement will finally emerge.”

Tel Aviv will host the European Under-21 Championship next June, when eight nations will compete in Israel.

European football’s governing body UEFA has already rejected calls to move the tournament from pro-Palestine groups including the disputed territory’s football association.

Refugee United: Palestinians debut at Homeless World Cup

“UEFA is an apolitical organization and (Israel) earned the right to host this competition through a fair, democratic vote,” UEFA president Michel Platini said in June.

“I am sure that it will be a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together.”

World football’s governing body FIFA also says it does not interfere in countries’ political affairs, but said it would help rebuild the stadium in Gaza — as it did in 2006 following a similar attack.

“We see it our mandate to rebuild football infrastructure which has been destroyed,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said last week.

“Football brings people together and we will support any reconstruction necessary when football infrastructure is destroyed through disasters.”

Palestine: A national soccer team without a nation

Valcke’s statement was criticized by Israeli media, which reported that the stadium was used by Hamas militants to fire rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Palestine’s bid for recognition was boosted last week when the U.N. general assembly voted to upgrade its status to that of a non-member observer state — a move which was opposed by Israel and the U.S.

“We came to the United Nations not to confront the U.S. and not to isolate Israel or to discriminate Israel. We came to preserve the two-state solution,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN’s Piers Morgan.

Read original article here.

Operation Pillar of Death: Naming Gaza’s Dead – a film by Harry Fear for GazaReport.com

Samah Sabawi: Gaza and the responsibility of the international community on 3CR Radio

Why Israel will lose the war on Gaza

By Samah Sabawi

Israel’s current assault on Gaza will not bring Israel peace nor will it force the Palestinians to surrender.  Three years ago, Israel launched a brutal attack on the city it occupies and besieges killing more then 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and injuring thousands more while destroying most of Gaza’s infrastructure and turning vast landscapes where houses once stood into rubble. What happened in the years since then is a testimony of the Palestinian people’s real weapon – tenacity, a weapon no one in Israel can understand nor truly match.  A weapon Palestinians possess that will see them through until they gain their freedom.

When foreigners visit the Occupied Territories they are often struck by just how resourceful Palestinians are, how positive they remain and how ineffective Israel’s policy of subjugating them is. Yes, Gaza is an impoverished, besieged, overcrowded and occupied strip of land, but a closer look helps shed some light on exactly what it is that Israel is up against. 

This past year, despite the crippling siege on Gaza, some amazing things happened.   Gazans stood on the cutting-edge of urban agriculture:  they were learning through a UN funded project to produce fish and vegetables on their tiny rooftops.  The skill of learning to farm without soil in confined spaces is necessary in a place like Gaza where 1.6 million residents are cramped into 360 square kilometers of land and where much of the agricultural land is off limits because Israel maintains a 300-metre deep zone along the length of the border fence denying Palestinians access to their prime agricultural land.

Gaza opened its first ever paintball park bringing equipment and protective clothing through the tunnels that link Gaza with Egypt.  The game referee Rami Eid told Reuters this was important so “the youth of Gaza can play games that are played around the world”.  

Gaza also hosted this year for the first time an actual circus along with clowns and acrobats.  The circus that travelled through Egypt’s Rafah border brought happiness to many children who had never had such an experience.  Gaza also hosted its first ‘PalFest’, an international Palestinian literature festival along with poets and musicians coming from all over the world.

If that’s not enough to impress, Gaza opened its first restaurant for the deaf.  The stylish Atfaluna restaurant near Gaza port was hailed as one of a few facilities for the disabled in a besieged impoverished city where waiters and cooks use sign language. The restaurant was realissed with help from the Drosos Foundation of Switzerland in order to generate income for the deaf in Gaza, where the unemployment rate is over 25 percent.

This year, as always, the youth in Gaza were finding ways to express their creativity and their skills.  From amazing daredevil Parkour, learning how to surf, to rap songs and art exhibits, they were finding their confidence and were healing from the aftermath of the trauma of Israel’s last destruction of their city.

This year, Gazans lead the way to inspire people around the world as they literally turned rubble into art.  Gazan women driven by the determination to self-empowerment mixed with environmental awareness turned garbage and rubble into pieces of art that can be sold, this project was made possible with funding from the non-government organization ‘Supporters of Palestinian Environment’.

Despite the restriction on building supplies, Gazans used the tunnels to bring in cement and iron and have rebuilt many of the structures that were destroyed.  A highlight for many was the walkway ‘corniche’ by the sea side which many proudly posted photos of on their facebook profiles.

Within the walls of their big prison and in spite of the siege and the frequent Israeli bombardment, the people of Gaza managed to find the space to create, to dream, to build and to hope.  This is the essential stuff that resistance is made of.  This is why Israel’s recent attack will not defeat the Palestinians and will only hurt Israel in the end, exposing it for the tyrannical state that it is.  

Israel has launched a war to break the Palestinian spirit, to destroy all they’ve rebuilt, to uproot all that they’ve replanted.  This is a war on the Palestinian people’s tenacity to resist despair. Israel will lose this war because it fails to understand what it is up against.  A state that only knows how to destroy will never understand the art of turning rubble into masterpieces.  

Reliving Gaza 2009: Searching for Words!

In January 2009 when Israel bombarded Gaza for three weeks, they called their assault ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Amnesty International had a better way to describe it; they called it ’22 Days of Death and Destruction’.  Today, we are reliving that nightmare once again, and once again I find myself searching for words…

Searching for words

Gaza…I search desperately
For words… for definitions
To tell the story of ammunitions
Exploding in a child’s body
I try to shout my indignation
But I am lost in vocabulary
Drowned in phrases as old as me
And I am as old as the Occupation
I need new words

How hard it is to find
Definitions that can restore
Humanity to a small strip of land
Along the Mediterranean shore
Siege, starvation collective misery
Familiar words in my head they linger
Bombs fall from the sky every day
Powerless words I can’t use any longer
I need new words

“Palestine is occupied….”
These are now hollow words…
“Palestinians are oppressed…”
These are now daily words…
“Palestinians are dispossessed”
These are now…tired words
“Palestinians….have a right to exist”
Words often spoken…worn out words
I need new words

Gaza…my home city
My earliest memory of Jasmine flowers and  meramiah tea
My first taste of sour lemon dipped in salt
My first climb on an almond tree
Gaza, my destiny
My father’s heart sky and sea
My mother’s first love
My sister’s first breath
My pride and dignity

Gaza is under fire
Obliterated by hate
Strangled by a demonic desire
To erase my history
Gaza is in pieces
And I…the writer…
I’m speechless
What language can possibly save me?
What words?

Samah Sabawi January 2009

Press Release: A new Gaza Massacre!

Press Release: A new Gaza Massacre!

14.November.2012

Besieged Gaza, Occupied Palestine–The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel, University Teachers’ Association and The One Democratic State Group condemn in the strongest possible terms the criminal Israeli attack against innocent Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. More than 7 people have been killed within the last 6 hours, including 7-year-old child Ranan Arafat. Charred bodies of injured children are pouring in to Al Shifa hospital and the other depleted hospitals around the Gaza Strip. This heinous crime also comes one week after the re-election of Barak Obama for a second term. Tel Aviv claims to have been given the green light to annihilate as many Palestinians in Gaza as possible.

Gaza has been enduring Israeli policies of extermination and vandalism since 2006. We reiterate our condemnation of the international conspiracy of silence and Arab impotence in the face of these continuous Israeli crimes. We note that not a single action against Israel has been taken by any Arab country. Will the Arab Spring stand aside and watch while we are being butchered? Empty rhetoric will no longer be accepted. Words of condemnation have to be translated into action!

We also reiterate our call on all civil society organizations and political parties to boycott Israeli embassies and compel their governments to sever their diplomatic ties with Apartheid Israel.  This time, Apartheid Israel must not get away with its crimes against the innocent civilians of Gaza.  All students and academics should stand in solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues and peers. We ask, what more does the international community need to see to be convinced to act than the dozens of dead corpses of children in Gaza? It is left to civil society and people of conscience to stop the ongoing massacre in Gaza.

Inaction has led us to this point.

 ACT NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

One Democratic State Group

Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel

University Teachers’ Association

One Democratic State Group
odsg.org/co

“Gaza” from the soon to be released album “Sounds That Can’t Be Made”.

Gaza

When I was young it all seemed like a game
Living here brought no sense of shame
But now I’m older I’ve come to understand
Once we had houses
Once we had land
They rained down bullets on us as our homes collapsed
We lay beneath the rubble terrified

Hoping.. Dare we dream?
We gave up waiting
For us, to dream is still a dream

When I woke up, the house was broken stones
We suddenly had nothing
And nothing’s changed

We live, eight people, in this overcrowded heat
Factory-farmed animals living in our own sweat
Living like this is all my baby brother ever knew
The world does nothing. What can we do?

We will kick the ball
We will skip the rope
We will play outside. Be careful
We will paint and draw. We will say our prayers

Outside the pitiless sun bleaches the broken streets
The darkness drops in the evening like an iron door
The men play cards under torchlight
The women stay inside
Hell can erupt in a moment day or night

You ask for trouble if you stray too close to the wall
My father died ..feeding the birds
Mum goes in front of me to check for soldiers

For every hot-head stone ten come back
For every hot-head stone a hundred come back
For every rocket fired the drones come back

For thirteen years the roads have all been closed
We’re isolated. We’re denied medical supplies
Fuel and work are scarce. They build houses on our farms
The old men weep. The young men take up arms.

We’re packed like chickens in this town of block cement
I get headache from the diesel. When it rains, the sewers too
I had no idea what martyrdom meant
Until my older brother.. my older brother
I’m sorry. I can’t continue.

You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind, it is said
When people know they have no future
Can we blame them if we cannot tame them?
And when their hopes and dreams are broken
And they feel they might as well be dead
As they go, will we forgive them
If they take us with them?

Stay close
Stay home
Stay calm
Have faith

With the love of our family we can rise above anything
Someday surely someone must help us
With the love of our family we can rise above anything
Someday surely someone must help us
Even now we will go to school
Even now we will dream to dream
Someday surely someone must help us

Nothing’s ever simple – that’s for sure
There are grieving mothers on both sides of the wire
And everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at it – whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just aint right
It just aint right
It just aint right

We all want peace and freedom that’s for sure
But peace won’t come from standing on our necks
Everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at this – whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just aint right
It just aint right
It just aint right

It’s like a nightmare rose up slouching towards Bethlehem
Like a nightmare rose up from this small strip of land
Slouching towards Bethlehem

It’s like a nightmare rose up from this small strip of land
Slouching towards Bethlehem

Stay close
Stay home
Have faith

I can’t know what twist of history did this to me
It’s like a nightmare

With the love of our family
We can rise above anything
Some day surely someone must help us…

http://marillion.com/music/lyric.htm?id=824

Amazing! Daredevil Gaza Youths Run Free With Parkour

November 08, 2012

Agence France-Presse

Mohammed Jakhbir leans back, braces himself, and then leaps off the roof of a Khan Yunis hospital building, flipping backwards before landing on the next roof over.  He whoops with delight at performing the dangerous feat, his favorite of the moves he practices with his team — the first parkour group in the Gaza Strip.
Parkour, also known as free running, is an extreme sport that involves getting around or over urban obstacles as quickly as possible, using a combination of running, jumping, and gymnastic moves including rolls and vaults.


Practitioners leap from roof to roof, run up the side of buildings until they flip backwards, vault over park benches, or cartwheel along walls.

In Gaza, it’s still a novelty, and as Jakhbir and four members of his 12-man crew demonstrate their skills in the grounds of the southern city’s Nasser hospital, a crowd of patients and doctors look on, some filming with their cell phones.
“He’s like Spiderman!” says one onlooker as 23-year-old Jakhbir runs up a wall, seemingly defying gravity as he scales the facade.

As the crowd grows, the team decides to move to a quieter spot. Their practice sessions are occasionally interrupted when onlookers call the police to complain, and they prefer to avoid having to make a run for it.

“When we first started practicing, we could do it anywhere. But gradually we found people would complain and the police would come. It became a game, we’d practice until they arrived and then run awa

y,” Jakhbir said with a laugh.

He’s been practicing parkour for seven years, ever since his friend Abdullah showed him a documentary called “Jump London.” It instantly appealed to them.

“We would watch clips and try to imitate the moves that we saw. Gradually we started to make our own clips,” he says.

“Now sometimes people even request that we make clips to show them certain moves. It’s been a long journey for us, seven years, but now we have a real team.”
Jihad Abu Sultan, 24, joined the team four years ago after seeing some of Jakhbir’s clips on YouTube.

He had a background in both kickboxing and kung-fu, but saw something different in parkour.

“It uses physical strength more than any other sport … I was so impressed by it, especially the jumping involved,” he says.

One of Abu Sultan’s specialities is a move in which he flips his body in a full circle with one hand resting on a wall for him to pivot around.
He’s also an accomplished tumbler, throwing himself along the ground in a series of handsprings, rolls and twists.

“Parkour teaches us to overcome obstacles,” he says. “It makes me feel free, it makes me feel my body is strong, that I can overcome anything.”

But practicing parkour in Gaza hasn’t been easy.

At times they’ve had to shift practice locations because the areas have been targeted by Israeli air strikes. And both Abu Sultan and Jakhbir have battled disapproval from their families.

“At first, my parents forbade it,” admits Abu Sultan.
“They tried to stop me, especially after I was injured, but they couldn’t. It’s in my blood.”

Jakhbir’s parents told him to stop practicing parkour and find a job. He graduated with a degree in multimedia from Gaza’s Islamic University, but has been largely unemployed ever since.

“They told me there was no future to it,” he says with frustration.

“They need to understand that sport is something very important. Athletes can raise Palestine’s name throughout the world.”

Jakhbir and other Gaza Parkour members did just that earlier this year, when an Italian group called Unione Italiana Sport Per Tutti invited them to Italy.

“They were able to make our biggest dream come true, which was to get past the biggest obstacle of all — the Israeli checkpoint — and travel abroad,” Jakhbir says.
The trip took them to Rome and four other Italian cities, where they met with other enthusiasts, showing off their skills and learning a few new ones.
“We talked to people about our lives in Gaza, that we’re living under a siege, and in a continually tense situation. We face financial, social and political obstacles,” Jakhbir recalls.

They’ve spray painted “Gaza Parkour forever” on some of the walls, but they acknowledge an uncertain future.

Jakhbir and Abu Sultan say they’d like to continue parkour professionally, and are hoping to eventually win either local or international support that would allow them to commit to the sport full-time.

“Parkour teaches us we can overcome our problems even if we fail once or twice,” says Jakhbir. “We have to try and we can achieve our goals in life.”

This article appeared in Jakarta Globe