Boat from Gaza attempts to break Israeli blockade

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First Published at We Are Not Numbers

Abdul Menim Aabed, 27, is among a crowd of Gazan Palestinians who are anxious—despite the obvious danger—to be among the first to try to sail out of Gaza tomorrow on Al-Hurriyah (Liberty). The boat is being organized by the Great Return March National Organizing Committee and will carry 35 Gazans who hope to receive medical treatment or to study abroad.

“I can’t walk right anymore and I can’t get the treatment I need here in Gaza,” says the wheelchair-bound Aabed, who was shot in both legs at the border protest May 4. “I’m desperate.”

The plan for the requisitioned fishing boat is to attempt its departure on May 29, the eighth anniversary of the Israeli attack on the Turkish boat Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that tried to break through the blockade. When Israeli troops halted the flotilla in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, nine activists were killed. The international outrage that followed forced the Israeli government to ease the blockade somewhat by allowing more goods into Gaza, but it has remained in place.

Protest organizers have warned potential passengers it is likely the Al-Hurriyah will be attacked by the Israeli navy and they could be arrested as well. Still, Aabed and others are lining up to register for this first attempted voyage or for others that will follow.

Kamal Tarazi

Another hopeful passenger is Kamal Elias Tarazi, a Palestinian from Bethlehem who traveled through Egypt to Gaza to visit family members in 2012 and has been stuck there ever since, despite repeated attempts to leave.

“My health is bad and I want to go home,” he says. “I’ve tried to leave through [Egypt’s] Rafah crossing dozens of times, but they refuse to let me out.”

Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing for the duration of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, temporarily easing the border blockade of Gaza enforced by Israel for the past 12 years. But more than 20,000 residents hoping to travel are on the waiting list, a backlog created by long periods of closure, and Egyptian border officials are clearing about 400 travelers attempting to leave a day, about a third of the usual volume in past years.

For those with money, there’s also the option of what Gaza residents sarcastically call “Egyptian coordination.” This refers to payments, reportedly up to $3,000 per traveler, to Palestinian middlemen who claim to have connections on the Egyptian side. Few Gazans have that kind of money, however, and sometimes these middlemen simply pocket the fee without producing any results.

Permits are even more difficult to obtain to travel out of Gaza via the Israeli Erez exit. In April, for example, only about half of all requests by to leave for urgent health care were approved.

Holding a poster thanking Turkey and other countries for being willing to accept Palestinians, Tarazi didn’t seem scared about attempting to travel by boats since he has “tried all other means to get out. I don’t care if these boats are hit by the Israeli army. I have to try everything to get treatment and go back home to Bethlehem.”

Tarazi’s message to the world is the same as that of all of Gazans interviewed: to help break the Israeli siege.

“We have thousands of injured people here in Gaza and they must get treatment outside Gaza,” he says.

Yousef Abu Arish, director general for the Gaza Ministry of Health, said at a news conference that the health care system in the Strip is unable to deal with the large number of wounded (more than 13,000 to date) from the Great Return March.

“We’re working in inhumane conditions in terms of the extent of the injuries and the number of wounded being brought in at the same time to the shock room and the operating rooms. As skilled as the staff is and as much as they want to help the victims, in the end they’ll collapse under the burden,” Mahmoud Matar, MD, a specialist in orthopedics at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City told the Haaretz newspaper.

Adnan al-Barash, MD, added that surgeons are seeing complex injuries, including bullet-exit wounds 15 centimeters wide. “There’s no question the Israeli army is using bullets and other very dangerous weapons that leave very complex injuries requiring prolonged treatment, which the health care system in Gaza is unable to provide,” he said.

Mavi Marmara, attacked in 2010
The Mavi Marmara

The attempt to address this crisis by sailing a boat out of Gaza comes one week after the launch of a three-ship flotilla attempting to break the Israeli blockade from the outside. The group includes a fishing boat owned by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition named Al-Awda (Arabic for return), which left the Norwegian port of Bergen April 30, and two ships sponsored by Sweden’s Ship to Gaza movement called the Heria (another English spelling for the Arabic word for freedom, or liberty) and Mairead—after Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate and BDS activist Mairead Maguire, who was on board the 2010 flotilla in which the Mavi Marmara participated. Although the Free Gaza Movement successfully sailed five times into Gaza, all flotillas since 2008 have been forcibly stopped by the Israeli navy.

Israeli aircraft targeted and destroyed a boat May 23 in the Gaza City harbor that had been due to sail to meet this latest flotilla should it actually succeed.

“Gaza has become a big prison isolated from the world. The Palestinians of Gaza are banned from the exercising the simplest of human rights due to the Israeli siege,” said Salah Abdul Atti, a member of coordination committee for the Great Return March, when the attempt to sail out was announced. No further details on the boat or the first round of selected passengers were released, to try to protect them from Israeli reprisal.

During the press conference, students, injured people, children and others held posters saying, ‘’We dream to have a seaport’’ and “We are waiting for your ships and delegations to break the Israeli siege on Gaza.’’ One group held pictures of the nine passengers who were killed during the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara.

Ismail Ridwan, a leader with the Hamas government, noted, “Our case [against Israel] is political, and humanitarian cases should not be linked to political debate because health care and education are basic human rights.”

One 60-year-old woman who refused to give her name attended, even though she is too sick to travel by boat. Nevertheless, she said she came to the seaport to “support and encourage those who will participate so we can break the siege that is suffocating us.”

Mohammed Arafat

28-05-2018

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Gaza Protests: New Gaza Dream

 

 

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First published at Mekomit in Hebrew 

When you walk in Gaza streets during the day, you find them full of young men standing on the pavements against the walls, looking at each other or chatting about their boring days. When you walk in the lightless nights, you see and hear nothing but the dogs and their barking, or you hear cries of little kids or little fights between couples. That’s the daily routine of the enclave.

The people of the Strip have everything. They have Facebook and twitter accounts. They exchange pictures on Instagram. They love and they fall in love. Yet, they have neither freedom nor peace.

To catch a dream of theirs, they were hoping that the Palestinian reconciliation would be achieved, but the political division between Fatah and Hamas worsened their lives, which was already worse by the Israeli siege.

To try to make a change in their lives, residents of Gaza started to go to protest on Israeli borders, demanding Israeli government and the international community to urgently end the siege imposed on the Strip in 2016 by Israeli occupation.

Peaceful and unarmed, they go every Friday to Israeli borders, where they installed tents and camps, in which they made several activities to show the world what it means to be a Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip.

These camps became home for thousands of unemployed youths, who stay there during the day and the night, doing nothing but protesting their hard economic conditions.

Despite being unorganized, the marches almost succeeded in conveying people’s messages to the world. Protesters kept protesting until May 14th and 15th, the dates that coincide the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakbah.

Unexpectedly, more than 60 Palestinians were shot killed and at least 2000 injured by Israeli snipers during these protests, which incited the international community and organizations reactions.

In response to Monday’s killings, a UNHRC resolution adopted by 29 votes called for the Council to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and particularly the occupied Gaza Strip.

After the deadly killings on Monday, protests were expected to stop completely. Yet, Palestinian factions in Gaza declared that protests will not stop.

While on borders among protesters, Yehya Sinwar, Gaza Hamas leader, said that protests will continue.

“Return Camps will continue every Friday until achieving our goals. Our next main demonstration will be on June 5th.”

To know the reactions of Gaza people, and what they expect to happen after the protests, I went to the crowded streets on central Gaza to interview some citizens.

Manal Mohammed, Gaza student, said that she is with the protests, but she is against violence and blood.

“I like to see people protesting peacefully on borders since they have rights to ask for, and of course having their rights can’t happen unless people speak up.”

Asked what those rights are, Manal answered, “First of all, we want to end the siege so we can have our freedom. Then we want to lower the rate of the unemployment since I am a student, and I am scared to graduate because I am sure I will not get a job.”

Due to the hard economic conditions hit Gaza since the beginning of Gaza siege, unemployment rate is between 60% and 80%. This high rate raised because of the salary cuts as well that affected the lives of the Palestinian Authority Employees in the Gaza Strip.

Mahmoud Abdulal, Gaza-based PA employee, said that he is with the peaceful protests, “since these protests are a right for every suffering human.”

“In addition to oppose Trump’s move of the US embassy, we want these protests to also put pressure on President Abbas to pay our salaries since we are living in the worst times, especially we are in Ramadan, and we want daily expenses for your kids.”

Despite the fact that the Palestinian President declared that he would pay the salaries, PA employees of Gaza didn’t get their payments since three months now.

Ahmed Abu-Jabal, a father of seven, has a different story from others. He said that until now protests achieved nothing, and dozens killed and thousands injured.

“I am with the protests for sure, but I want these protests to achieve our dreams as fast as possible before we lost the rest of the Palestinian young men.”

Like most of Gazans, Ahmed is jobless, and he can’t get what his family asks him for, especially during Ramadan.

“My youngest son asked me for a shirt today, and I can’t get it to him. What shall I do? Shall I kill myself? If our leaders want us to protest, we should know that these protests should let us feed our kids.”

Unemployed people of the Strip are the most affected people. Some of them tried to commit suicide, and other committed suicide and died. Three days ago, Fathi Harb, 21, died after he set fire in himself.

By the end of 2016 and 2017, suicides were happening so often that the phenomenon had started to become public knowledge. Figures quoted by local journalists stated the number of suicides in 2016 and 2017 was at least three times the number in 2015.

I went to Shifa Hospital and met with an injured guy, 28, whose name is Mutaz Riyadh. He was injured during borders protests along with his friends. When asked why he went there, he said that it’s all because of Trump’s move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

“I went to borders to protest the move. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine, and I am ready to lose my whole body for Jerusalem.”

In addition to US embassy relocation, Mutaz said that he dreams to marry, and that he wants to put pressure on his dad so he can get him married.

Seemingly, the disheartened people of the Strip use the protests to achieve their dreams and hopes. Some want to claim their homelands, which is now Israel, while others want to tell the world that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. Some want the siege to be ended, while others want to get jobs. Some go to protests because they have nothing to get busy with, while others go to protests because they have nothing to lose.

 

Mohammed Arafat

28-05-2018

 

 

 

Lights of Hope Come to Gaza’s al-Shati Refugee Camp

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First publish at Rebuilding Alliance

Recently, a friend guided me to a refugee camp in western Gaza by the beach, called the al-Shati Camp. The camp, whose residents include 84,000 Palestinian refugees forced by the Israelis to leave their homes in 1949, is the oldest and largest camp in the Strip.

The narrow streets were crowded with joyful kids playing traditional games, such as marbles and jump rope. Their laughter filled the air.

We entered a narrow alley, where sewage flowed from homes on both sides. Watching kids play in this unhealthy environment filled me with pangs of anxiety.

Then I heard a shout from the man I had come to visit, Jaber Musa, 67. He sat at the entrance of house, side by side with a younger man who looked like him. Standing up to welcome me, Musa and the other man, who I came to know was his younger brother, shook my hands and invited me to enter their house.

Inside, the house looked old and dusty. Some kids played with a cat in the hallway. Jaber’s brother asked them to play somewhere else because they were so noisy. We sat in the living room, where we were served cups of unsweetened Arabic coffee.

“This is not my home! I used to have the biggest and most beautiful home in this area,” Jaber was quick to tell me. “This is my brother’s home. Mine was right behind us.”

He went on to explain: His family was forced to leave Gaza’s Bayt Jirja village following what Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe, or the creation of Israel). Israeli settlers moved in and they were pushed out. The experience transformed Musa into an activist for the Palestinian cause.

As a consequence, Jaber was arrested by Israeli forces and sentenced to eight years in prison.

“During my stay in the jail, they tortured me by hitting me repeatedly with heavy shoes made of rubber,” he recalled with a shudder. “They hit me on the back of the head, which made me lose most of my sight.”

Entrance to Jaber Musa’s home, which he rebuilt when he was released from jail after serving an eight year sentence for his work as a Palestinian activist.
Entrance to Jaber Musa’s home, which he rebuilt when he was released from jail after serving an eight year sentence for his work as a Palestinian activist.

Due to damage to one of his retinas, he lost 90 percent of his vision. But the worst was yet to come. When Jaber finally was released and returned to his camp, his home had been demolished one day after his arrest. Nevertheless, he rebuilt his home, married and had eight children—four sons and four daughters.

“My life was stable until 2003, when the U.S. army invaded Iraq and killed its president, Saddam Hussain. That moment was a turning point,” he sighed.

Saddam Hussain was head of the Arab Liberation Front (ALF), a minor Palestinian political party in which Musa was active. Under Hussein, Iraq had been the main financial supporter for the ALF, and when he was killed, Musa stopped receiving his salary. He was forced to his spacious home and rent a much smaller, cramped one instead. Today, he barely scrapes by on a small pension from the Palestinian Authority, an ALF partner.

“[Later,] my wife was diagnosed with colon cancer; I tried to send her to Ramallah to get the treatment she needed, but she could not get an exit permit from the Israeli authorities,” he said, adding that his wife, Fuaz, refused to complete the application process because the border personnel tried to interrogate her. Often, Israelis try to scare Palestinians into agreeing to spy on their neighbors during interrogations.

Fuaz Musa remains alive, thankfully, although unstable.

Abruptly, Jaber announced that he wanted to change the subject to a happier topic: the assistance he received recently, thanks to American NGO Rebuilding Alliance. He lifted up a small solar light.

“The value of this light is priceless to me! It’s like a gift from God, since my vision is worse when the electricity is off and it’s dark,” he explained. “And unlike candles, they aren’t dangerous.”

Due to a severe shortage of fuel and the inability of Gaza’s sole power plant to operate at full capacity, the Strip’s 2 million inhabitants currently live with only three hours or so of electricity per day. In 2016, a house burned down and three children were killed when a lit candle was knocked over.

Jaber said that in addition to saving lives, the lights carried around like Ramadan lanterns by children, putting smiles on their faces. Ramadan is a major Muslim holiday.

“I know the organization that sent in the lights is American,” he said, when asked if he knew where the “Lights of Hope” came from. “I love American people since so many have always stood with Palestine. What [U.S. President] Trump is doing does not necessarily represent the intensions of the American people. We thank Americans and we thank the organization that donated the lights.”

Asked about his message to the world, Jaber said more people everywhere need to know what’s going on in Gaza. “We encourage people to try to understand our suffering and to urge the responsible ones to seek a solution.”

 

Mohammed Arafat

19-05-2018

Mr. President

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Mr. President,
against our wills,
to Jerusalem, your embassy were relocated.
Yet, there, our souls are located!
If it’s officially not our capital,
it’s in our hearts with nerves built.
 
Mr. President,
against your decision,
patriots protested.
In horrendous images,
sixty were killed in few hours,
while others watched in amusement!
they just watched in amusement!
 
Mr. President,
thinking it would help us,
we went to the U.N,
to vow to investigate the killings.
U.N. called for inquiry.
you decried it, Mr. President!
 
Mr. President,
who can wipe the tears,
of the mothers, sisters, and daughters?
Who can stop the cries,
of the fathers, brothers and sons?
Who can silence the pain,
of the sand, of the land, of the stone?
Who can stop the suffering,
of Jerusalem?
 
Mr. President,
I am perplexed!
For the century deal we were dying.
Nothing happened, but with pain we dealt.
For your peace decisions we waited,
but ambulances voices we heard,
 
Mr. President,
We demand for our rights,
before it’s too late.
Our lives filled with mayhem,
Our lives need freedom and peace.
 
Mohammed Arafat
19-05-2018
 
 
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What happened today on Gaza borders with Israel was expected from the people of the enclave, who have been stuck and chained inside the 45km-sized strip, called the Gaza Strip. On the borders, where clouds of black smoke covered the horizon, and were anger filled protesters’ hearts, 55 of protesters have been shot killed by Israeli snipers and more than 2200 were injured during today’s mass demonstrations.
I believe most of the people of the world don’t know why the Gaza people go to borders to protests. From protesters’ points of views, they go to protest because they have demands.
 
Gaza citizens don’t go to borders just to die as a lot of media pages and newspaper say. They love life more than anyone else! Their lives are priceless!
 
The people of the Strip go to protest, are disheartened and powerless. They go to protest knocking the doors of freedom and peace because they are sure freedom won’t come to them until they go for it. They go to protest leaving the hard memories of three unforgettable wars behind to ask for their stolen rights, which, sadly, turned into unachievable dreams. They go to protest knowing they have none to support them but themselves. They go to protest because they know they are oppressed by the closest ones before the ones who are far. They go to protest while they know that these demonstrations are against their wills, but they need something new to happen, to lift this decade-long siege. They go to protest because they have the guts full to go to borders and because protesting is a human right. They go to protest because their anger bubbled up from deep inside. They go to protest because they can get over everything they own but not their dignity and humanity. They go to protest because the scars the siege made are too deep to heal. They go to protest because they have exceptional love for life and freedom. They go to protest because they want both Hamas and Fatah stop fighting and elbowing one another. They go to protests because their kids cried cries of agony and horror until their throats were raw. They go to protest because utter despair and sorrow engulfed their hearts. They go to protest because with every passing day of the siege, they sink deeper into anger, fear and depression. They go to protest because they almost lost the last hopes for survival. Yet, they go to protest to protest, but they, at the end, get killed! The people of Gaza go to protest because they demand freedom, freedom, freedom…
 
Mohammed Arafat
15-05-2018