Sascha Bollag, one of the members of the delegation to Gaza through Israel, wrote this account of the experience. Check it out!
Day 1 – 6
After a short legal briefing on ramifications of being arrested as a foreigner in Israel (“almost 100% likelihood of deportation, strong likelihood that restrictions will be placed on returning to Israel), we had a wonderful meeting with Haneen Zoubi, who is the first woman in Israel to be elected an MK from an Arab party, the Tajub Party. Ms. Zoubi is a fascinating, and powerful, woman.
Right from the get-go she helped reinforce why we, at least the majority of us who are US citizens, are here, by noting, “most of our problems come from the US government.” While this may be a bit of a stretch, there is no doubt that the US plays a central role in supporting and continuing the conflict. Over the next hour or so Ms. Zoubi shared her unique perspective with us, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone was moved by her experience. She stressed that those Palestinians living in Israel, numbering 1.2 million (18% of the population), have accepted citizenship, but will not give up their historical rights. “If Israel will be a state for all, we want to participate.” She also elaborated on the absurdity of Israel promoting itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” as it is far from a democratic state. Rather it is a state based on religion that talks about “Zionist citizenship” and demands that citizens must adopt the Zionist dream – that of a Jewish state. But Ms. Zoubi noted that people have a right to aspire to the Zionist dream,”but not at my expense.”
Ms. Zoubi also discussed the settlements, a hot topic at the moment. Since 1948 Israel has confiscated 93% of the land that was Palestine, leaving just 3% for the Palestinians. Even since the Oslo Accords of 1993, Israel has been massively expanding the settlements – in fact, there are no THREE times as many settlements as there were in 1995. East Jerusalem, the majority Palestinian part of the Holy City, has been consumed by settlements, to the point that it is now, “a small neighborhood among settlements.” Ms. Zoubi made the important point that even if the checkpoints are dismantled, the question remains about what to do with the 600,000-plus settlers in the Occupied Territories. As she pointed out, Israel is making the facts on the ground make a two-state solution impractical.
Finally, Ms. Zoubi touched on the internal conflict among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, between Hamas and Fatah. She was quite critical of the Palestinian Authority’s (controlled by Fatah) complicity in the attack on Gaza and its stonewalling of Hamas. But she said she finds hope in some of the most absurd things that are being proposed in the Israeli Knesset, such as loyalty laws that would demand that all Israelis, including Israeli Palestinians, pledge loyalty to the Israeli, Jewish, Zionist state, a law that would prohibit commemorating the Nakba (the tragedy of 1948, when the Occupation began), and a law that would prohibit even questioning the idea of a “Jewish democratic state” (as she keenly pointed out, this could land many Israeli, Jewish academics, judges and officials in jail). In her opinion, the fact that such extreme laws are being proposed, and Israeli politics is moving so far to the right, are signs that they are in crisis. In a more light-hearted moment, when we asked Ms. Zoubi how it is being in the Knesset with those proposing such laws, such as the extreme right-wing leader Avidgor Lieberman, she said simply, “I don’t sit in the cafeteria.”
After this we moved into a clowning workshop, which was quite an event. Along with our delegation clowns, the famous Patch Adams and Fungus A. Mungus, a number of Israeli clowns have been participating in our events and helped to lead the workshop. Fungus brought clown noses for everyone, which have come in very handy so far. Lunch was at the fantastic New Vegan Bar in Tel Aviv, a great space run by a bunch of Israeli activists, with delicious food.
Saturday evening was our first real action in Israel. As part of a global day of action against the Occupation and calling for an end to the siege in Gaza, there was a demonstration in Tel Aviv. As we approached the square where the demonstration was to begin, there was a heavy police presence, but it was not intimidating. It’s hard to say how many participants there were, but a safe bet would be somewhere around 600-800. It was very encouraging to see Israelis protesting on this issue, and it was also wonderful to see Patch in action for the first time. There’s really no way to describe Patch’s character – you’ll just have to see the pictures for yourself. The clown contingent was definitely one of the most colorful and entertaining parts of the demonstration, and of course CodePink made our presence known with our shirts and a number of great signs and banners.
Finally, we headed for the border. Upon arriving at the wonderful ADUMAMA farm that is hosting us while we attempt to enter Gaza, we met up with our compatriots who had come from Egypt, including Medea Benjamin and Colonel Ann Wright. They had a much more arduous trip than us, having been held at the border for around eight hours. It was great to see them, and before turning in for the night, we received a report back from the delegation that had entered Gaza through Egypt, including the full details on the letter that Hamas had giving CodePink to deliver to President Obama.
Day 2 – 7
Today was the big day, the day that we would try to enter Gaza. After a lovely breakfast on the farm, we got on the bus and headed for the Erez crossing. The Erez crossing consists of a small parking lot, a huge terminal (which is virtually empty these days), and a small border post. It was great to see quite a bit of press there, as well as the truck that was carrying the playground for Gazan children! While Patch led most of the delegation (and attracted loads of media attention) to the border post, others unloaded and constructed the playground.
The border guards did ask for our passports, so for a brief moment, getting in seemed like a possibility. Quickly we created a festive atmosphere, with an Israeli samba band and the clowns leading the way. We also had kites, which added to the fun. However, there was a somber moment when we spoke with a Gazan woman who is forced to come to Erez at least every three months, if not more frequently, to renew her permission to stay in East Jerusalem, where her husband and children live. Sometimes she only receives the permission for a week, and has to return a week later. She has not been allowed back into Gaza to see her family for 12 years, for if she did, she would not be able to get back to East Jerusalem and her family there. This woman’s story really struck a chord with a lot of the delegates, and served to show exactly why we were there.
Patch was again fantastic, playing with children and making police and soldiers smile, and after it became clear we would not be getting in, he started a poker game with everyone’s passports. After a couple of hours, and a stray kite, the police got tired of us and kicked us out. While it was disappointing not to be let in, it was fully expected, and it was a great action that drew attention to the issue. Check out an article about it here (and check out the guy on the right J) – http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3727445,00.html
This afternoon a few of the members of our delegation headed to Tel Aviv to talk with the US embassy about our situation (which unfortunately was closed). We will also be pressing the Israeli foreign ministry to let us in, and we did receive a number from the border guards for the IDF to attempt to gain permission to enter.
Back at the farm we had a wonderful lunch, followed by a tour of the farm. It is a fascinating place, focusing on permaculture, and with very interesting buildings built out of the soil. Then the conference began, and there were several very interesting workshops. Ruchama Marton, a founder of the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights, and her colleague Tammy discussed the health care situation in Gaza. One of the most disturbing things we learned today is that the Israeli government is making it so that nearly every one who applies for a permit to exit Gaza for medical treatment undergoes interrogation. This puts people in extremely difficult situations, as acquiescing to such interrogations can be seen as collaboration in the eyes of Hamas, so many people choose simply not to seek medical treatment outside of Gaza, even though health care facilities there are “miserable,” with ongoing shortages of medical equipment, medication, and trained personnel. They also clarified something that has been widely noted in the international press – Hamas’s decision to stop issuing referrals to Israeli hospitals. It turns out that Israeli hospitals are the most expensive in the region, so it made simple economic sense to do so.
We also heard from Tania Hari of GISHA, the Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, whose main premise is that “when you control something you have responsibility for it.” GISHA was instrumental in getting the Fulbright scholarships for several Gazan students reinstated after they had been revoked because Israel refused to allow the students to leave Gaza. Concurrently there was a session on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and one by a woman (unfortunately I cannot recall her name at the moment) from the Free Gaza movement, which I attended. The Free Gaza Movement is the group that brings boats to Gaza in an attempt to open up access by sea to Gaza. She discussed the tragic situation in Gaza, particularly how difficult it is for Gazan fishermen, which was very interesting to me since I work on fishing issues. Although Gazans are supposed to be able to use the waters out to 20 miles, if they go beyond six miles they are shot at and harassed. This is a serious problem, as 40,000 Gazans depend on fishing for their livelihoods (and similar problems occur with agriculture, with farmers being shot at). She stressed the importance of taking about the Occupation as a whole. While it is crucial to end the siege on Gaza, Gaza is part of Palestine, and what is taking place in East Jerusalem (such as settlement building and a wall being built in the middle of it) is also a siege, and, ominously, she noted that if we don’t stop the Occupation, in the future the situation in the West Bank will be similar to that in Gaza. Along these lines, she emphasized the need for a political solution to the problem, not simply a humanitarian one. On other important point she made was that all Israelis know what is going on in the Occupied Territories, because all Israelis must serve in the army. This is a very important fact to remember.
After another wonderful meal, part of the group decided to go to Sderot, the town that has been the target of many of the rocket attacks from Gaza, to attend a film festival and perhaps speak with some of the residents. Those of us who stayed behind received a real treat in the form of Patch Adams telling us a bit of his life story, reciting a fantastic T.S. Elliot poem, and showing us a documentary of a trip that the city of Rome funded to bring a bunch of clowns to Afghanistan shortly after the war began in 2002. Patch is truly an amazing and inspiring man, on the road for 300 days a year for the last 26 years working peace and justice.
Day 3 – 8 June 2009
It was back to the border today for our second attempt to get into Gaza. After another delicious breakfast, we boarded the bus and headed to the Erez crossing once again. Early this morning, as many have probably heard, according to the Israeli media, some militants attacked the Karni crossing in Gaza and four were killed, so we were expecting the security forces to be on high alert. However, it was almost even more relaxed than the day before (but we also did not approach the fence and border post until just before leaving).
Today we were highlighting the absurdity of the restrictions on what goods can enter Gaza. It is far easier to list what is allowed in, as only something like 35 items are allowed in. Among the contraband is matches, light bulbs, sugar, coffee, tea, paper, pencils, chocolate, balloons, concrete (and all building supplies) and so much more. At the sign for the border crossing, we set up a fence that represented the border and set up a bucket line that passed the prohibited goods under the fence and into Gaza. We had this bucket line going for some time, all the while chanting, “What do we want? Tea!…Let the tea in!,” etc., etc. After the bucket line had been running for a while, we marched up to the fence, where we chanted about letting in these items, and once it became clear that they would not be allowed in, we decided to move it, but we left tea bags, balloons and a few other items on and at the fence.
From there we decided to head to the Kerem Shalom crossing, which is a crossing that is just used for goods, not people, and is about 45 minutes away from the Erez crossing. We especially expected that tensions would be high here and we would quickly be run out, but again, we were allowed to do our thing. It was a really beautiful action here as well, as we got right to the gate where the trucks enter and leave and made the same big spectacle there. We also reconstructed the playground there, which was great fun. A video cameraman from Reuters showed up, so we also recreated the bucket line there. Patch had great fun with a couple of the men working the border crossing, making them laugh throughout the whole time, and he also got a ride in one of their vehicles.
Here is an AP article with a mention and pictures of today’s action (take note that it is a blatant lie that we did not request permission to enter Gaza, we most definitely did, as described above):
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