FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Refusing to Acquiesce in Gaza

by JOSHUA BROLLIER

Gaza City.

The past few days have been harrowing, yet still deeply inspiring in Gaza as people in the strip must carry on with their lives after the Israeli army’s deadly 8 day offensive operation “Pillar of Cloud” which killed at least 160 Palestinians and left over 1000 wounded, many of them severely.  To “carry on” in Gaza does not mean returning to predictable routines or a reasonable set of expectations of calmness in what amounts to everyday life in most parts of the world.  This is exceptionally true for Palestinian fishermen who return to the daily struggle with the Israeli Navy to fish in waters that are rightfully theirs.

There has been no ceasefire for these men who bravely attempt to exercise not only their legal rights, but perhaps more urgently, the human right to fulfil the most basic of needs, such as feeding their families and paying rent.  Since November 26th, 2012, 15 fishermen have been arrested and 6 boats destroyed. As participants in an emergency delegation to Gaza, we have had the opportunity to speak to several of the fishermen arrested, members of their families, and a Palestinian activist, Maher Alaa, who was documenting the situation while aboard one of the adjacent boats, which also received heavy gunfire.  We spoke with concerned relatives in the afternoon after the attacks, but we did not get the full story until Maher returned in the evening.

Israeli gunboat off coast of Gaza.

The scene Maher described was chaotic, but not uncommon.  Only one boat sailed the full length of six nautical miles, the distance supposedly conceded by Israel as a term of the ceasefire, before it was attacked. Israeli Navy and helicopters assaulted the others boats, most far inwards of six miles, with live fire periodically from the early morning until evening.  (It’s also essential to keep in mind that Gazans were guaranteed 20 nautical miles for fishing in the Olso Accords.) The boat of Jamal Baker (20) was completely destroyed. Others had engines destroyed from bullets. Five men from the al-Hessi family were ordered to take off their clothes and jump into the water, which is a common humiliation tactic deployed by the Israeli Navy. They were then forcefully arrested at gunpoint and their boat impounded for the second time in one year. The al-Hessi’s boat alone was the main source of income for the twenty-five person crew and the families depending on them.

Another brave Gazan fisherman, Mohammed Morad Baker (40), was fired upon and ordered to strip his clothes and leave his boat.  According to Maher, he looked directly at the Israeli gunboat captain and responded loudly “You can put a bullet in my head before I will jump into the water.” He then draped his body over the engine to protect it.  This brave act apparently caught the Israeli soldiers off guard as he was then able to navigate another course and avoid being detained.

In the aftermath of an eight day war and what Dr. Khalil Abu-Foul of the Palestine Red Crescent describes as a “chronic, acute and protracted state of emergency” in Gaza, the heroic acts of fishermen like Mohamed Baker are often left out of the broader mainstream media’s discussion of military and diplomatic victory or defeat.

It has often been said that “existence is resistance” in Palestine. From what I have seen here, Gazans are doing far more than just existing.   They are standing up with dignity and ingenuity to a slow and inhuman process of destabilization and colonization that many feel is intended to gradually force Gaza to become uninhabitable for Palestinians. Mohamed Baker and the other fishermen’s refusal to acquiesce to the destruction of their livelihoods is a victory over the cowardly conscience of Israeli soldiers who make sport of shooting at unarmed men, most of whom are very poor and supporting families with over ten children.

It’s also heartening to witness that after such a traumatic eight days where many people did not leave their houses for fear of their lives, Gaza’s streets are alive.  Just across from our apartment at Al-Bakri Tower, families are filling a wedding hall.  Dozens of youth pile into the back of trucks, enthusiastically beating on drums. Adults and children alike laugh and hold hands as they perform Debke, a traditional wedding dance.  Though Khalil Shahin, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, has spent long nights taking only as little as two hours of sleep while documenting and double checking the casualties and injuries from the conflict to avoid duplication, he still smiles brightly as he tells of reviving plans for his daughter’s upcoming wedding, which had been postponed due to the fighting.

In the afternoons, children pour out of the schools, many of which were used to shelter thousands during the recent bombings. They kick cans and soccer balls while approaching our delegation with openness, curiosity and playfulness. The shock they have just endured will likely remain with them in some ways for the rest of their life, but the strong sense of community and family is evident. I cannot help but wonder how children and families from the United States would cope given such conditions, especially with the breakdown of the communal structure and obsessive focus on individualism in our culture.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful things i have seen throughout our short time here is that, despite the very legitimate anger, mourning and failure of the political process to provide scarcely any justice to Palestinians, the Gazans I have met know better than to waste their lives on hate.  The suffering they have seen all around them is too great to wish upon others.  Just today we sat with Dr. Anton Shuhaibar, a Palestinian physician and also one of Gaza’s 3000 Christians, who described at length his hope for a solution that includes psychological healing for all parties involved, especially the youth, so that both Israel and Palestine’s children can live as neighbours.  His sentiment was not without critique of long needed political changes that would have to be implemented for this vision to be a possibility. However, the intention I sensed from his words reminded me of what Mamie Till uttered so profoundly in response to the brutal and racist lynching of her son in Mississippi in the fall of 1955: “I have not a minute to hate. I’ll pursue justice for the rest of my life.”

Palestinian farmer in Johr Al-Deek.

Gaza’s farmers continue to pursue justice on the issue of land rights. Yesterday, November 29th at approximately 9:30 AM, members of our delegation accompanied other international solidarity activists and Palestinians from the Ministry of Agriculture to the farm of Ahmad Hassan Badawi  who lives and farms along the border with Israel in an area called Johr Al-Deek.  Mr. Badawi has remained on his land despite multiple incursions and direct attacks from the Israeli Occupation Forces, including attacks during the recent Israeli offensive which killed many of his sheep and chickens.

Much of Ahmad’s farmland has now been rendered useless by Israel’s arbitrarily declared buffer zone, which has confiscated around twenty -per cent of Gaza’s arable land.   After the November 21st ceasefire, negotiations were supposedly in place that Hassan would now be able to farm within 300 meters of the fence. The allowed distance has often changed and has nothing to do with international law or an understandable pattern.  After we heard from Hassan and other farmers about their situation, we approached the barb wire fence, which also separates residents of Johr al-Deek from their former water source. In a manner of minutes, multiple shots were fired in our direction by Israeli soldiers.  Moments later, tear gas canisters were launched within a few feet of where we were standing.  This treatment was mild compared to many other instances, including the killing of a young Palestinian named Anwar Abdul Hadi Musallam Qudaih (20) in Khan Yunis on November 23rd and the injury of 14 others.

One does not need to travel far in any direction to witness the destruction wreaked by the Israeli offensive.  Yesterday in Tal al-Hawa we met with Ahmed Suleman Ateya.  His entire house and a small olive grove were destroyed when Israel targeted an empty house across the street ostensibly used by militants.  His was not the only other house flattened nearby by Israel’s “precision guided” missile strikes.  A former farmer, Ahmed is sixty-six years old and has no money to rebuild and no permanent place to house his family who are staying with relatives in Al-Tufah while he searches for scrap metal from the rubble of his home to sell for a few shekels. As we talked with Ahmed, an Islamic relief agency arrived to provide him with a heavy blanket for the winter and a few other items.  Mr. Ateya received them gratefully and with a dignity which escapes those who have not suffered such loss.

Ahmad Hassan Badawi amid ruins in Gaza City.

The wounds from operation “Pillar of Cloud” are obvious and the stories we have heard are tragic, but a spirit of resilience and determination is equally visible in the eyes of the families we have visited.  Last night, Gazans were in the streets celebrating  the UN General Assembly’s decision to upgrade Palestine’s status to a non-member observer state. The United States was one of only nine UN countries, including Israel and Canada, to vote against the resolution.  Even so, Palestinians continue to extend hospitality to the members of our delegation as relentlessly as the fishermen who refuse to be pushed from their waters. It is my hope that residents of the United States will learn such strength based in friendship and resistance to inhumane policies, demanding that our government recognize the aspirations and political rights of Palestinians that have been ignored now for decades.

Joshua Brollier (joshua@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org).  


Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
Alice Donovan
Cyberwarfare: Challenge of Tomorrow
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
April 28, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz Díaz
Puerto Rico: a Junta By Any Other Name
Alfredo Lopez
Where the Bern is Fizzling: Why Sanders Can’t Win the Support of People of Color
Peter Linebaugh
The Commons and the Centennial of the Easter Rising
Dan Arel
What Next? Can the #Movement4Bernie Accomplish Anything?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail