Washington, District of Columbia, USA
March 08
I am a social activist (not afraid to call myself LIBERAL in capital letters) who is passionate about peace and loves to read, travel to developing countries, listen to/see provocative lectures and plays -- and drink mojitos!


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JUNE 6, 2009 2:27AM

Everyday life in Gaza (reflections while being detained)

Rate: 22 Flag

When I wrote this last night, I had just completed my seventh hour of detention at the Taba border crossing, from Egypt into Israel. (We left Gaza on Thursday, and are on our way to join other peace activists in Israel to put pressure on the Erez crossing into the Strip.) They don’t like the fact that I have two Palestinian Authority (Gaza) stamps in my passport. And it didn’t help that one member of my group had some incriminating material in his backpack. But apparently what really finished me off was the fact that I volunteered for the International Solidarity Movement in October (at least that is what the speculation is). So…I’m being told that 1) I cannot visit the West Bank and 2) I can only enter for two days. (If I want to stay longer, I have to pay $5,000 as a “bank guarantee” – and she refuses to explain what that means!) And just to illustrate how ridiculous it got – at 10 after 1 in the morning – the BITCH that was interviewing me demanded to know my religion and then insisted that Unitarian Universalism isn’t “legitimate.” I guess the concept of accepting all beliefs is foreign to them….

at taba 
At least the border crossing facilities had Internet...Here, Medea (left) and Ann use Skype to talk to our compatriots in Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile…I have been without consistent Internet access, so have not been able to blog. But that is life in Gaza. Internet access drops in and out.... and electricity is in perpetual need of "maintenance" -- cutting off for hours at a time, forcing families to rely on rudimentary back-ups like kerosene lamps. For them, these constant disruptions are normal, even routine.  And then there are the families like the Al Samouni clan, whom I had the privilege to visit this week. Their situation is beyond the pale even by Gazan standards.  This large, tightly knit clan of 38 families (with about 400 members) lived in the Al Zaytoun neighborhood in north Gaza City – or at least did until the Israelis attacked in January, just two days after the siege officially began. I visited the handful of families still living on their ancestral land and had the privilege of hearing from them firsthand just what happened: When F-16s strafed their community out of the blue that morning, one of the missiles struck the third floor of the home of Tallal Hilmi Al Samouni. Luckily, the family nonetheless managed to extinguish the fire that broke out. Earlier, the 16-member family—including the grandfather, grandmother, their children and their families—had evacuated into the first floor in fear of the bombs. As the situation deteriorated and the shelling intensified, three additional Al Samouni families sought refuge in Tallal’s home:  Ibrahim Al Samouni (12 members), Rashad Al Samouni (11 members) and Nafiz Al Samouni (10 members). Altogether, 49 members of the Al Samouni clan gathered at Tallal’s house.

Later that day, the Israeli army knocked on the door of Tallal’s home and asked the congregated family members to move to the home of Wael Al Samouni (11 members). The army also asked the men to lift their shirts on their way out (a dehumanizing gesture across many cultures), then surrounded Wael’s home and left the 60 members there without water for 24 hours. As for electricity, it had been cut off entirely in the strip since Israel’s bombardment began on Dec. 27. The next day, the family heard shooting nearby, followed by calm. Some thought that the army had withdrawn from the neighborhood, and so one of the men left to bring water from a tank in front of the house. To his surprise, the Israeli occupying forces and their tanks were still surrounding the house, and he went back inside. Five minutes later, the tanks shot a missile into the house and injured seven people. Only three minutes later, the Israelis aimed another missile close by, which killed several more Al Samouni family members—predominantly children and women.

Terrified, about 22 of the survivors, many of whom were injured, left the house raising white banners and carrying four bodies of the dead. The Israelis began shooting around them, but they continued to walk, and tried to call the ambulance to pick them up. But the Israelis told them that they had banned emergency services from reaching the area. Back at the house, where the dead bodies of Palestinians lay, there were 13 family members who were still alive. Eight of them were children, some of them injured, who had been locked in for three days with the bodies of their dead parents and family members, with no access to food or water. The Red Cross was only allowed entry three days later to evacuate the dead and injured, the majority of whom were so critical that they had to be taken to Belgium, Egypt and Saudi Arabia for treatment. Overall, 26 members of Al Samouni family were killed, including 10 children and 7 women.

In addition to destroying their homes, the Israeli troops left behind racist grafitti on their walls.

And today? More than five months later? Despite the widespread publicity they received, the Al Samounis have fallen through the cracks. They are not refugees from 1948, so they don’t get assistance from the UN Relief & Works Agency. To date, they have received the equivalent of only $50 per family. So, that’s my commitment – to return to Gaza with  work crew, to help them clean up, rebuild and replant. 

al samouni homes 
The Al Samouni families who have been tenacious enough to remain on their land are living in mere shacks.

Yet, despite these unbelievable hardships, the Gazans’ hospitality to strangers is humbling to a spoiled Westerner like myself. My problems -- as significant as they seem in the context of our world -- are so very, very small compared to the everyday reality in Gaza for the past 40+ years.  And you know what? If I encounter one more person when I return to the States who responds to my description of the devastation and institutionalized poverty here with a comment that pins the blame on Hamas, I no longer think I will be able to keep my cool. According to B'Tselem’s research, from June 2004 to the end of Operation Cast Lead on 17 Jan., just 20 Israeli civilians had been killed by rockets and mortar fire from Palestinians. Contrast that with the 1,400+ Palestinians who were killed during the 22-day Israeli siege alone. But beyond that, the citizens of the Israeli border towns of Sderot and Ashkelon do not live in a 24/7 prison; they have the freedom to go abroad to attend school or visit family, for friends and family to enter the country to visit them, and to support themselves and their community by doing business through exports, imports and other kinds of exchanges within the global economy. These are all basics of thriving over and above mere survival that are denied to the Palestinians of Gaza. To be honest, I'm surprised there aren't more Gazans who have resorted to rockets, despite their clearly rather innocuous track record. Don't get me wrong...I don't condone violence, no matter what the source. But any American who thinks they would not hate, and would not want to resist with every fiber of their being and with every tool at their disposal this kind of constant, daily, indiscriminate oppression should be forced to come here and live with a Gazan family for a week. And if they do, they would quickly learn that -- miracle of miracles -- most of the 1.5 million people here just want to be live in peace. In fact, one young man here who has become a very close, special friend reminds me not to even joke about responding with violence to the injustices here ... that it's too serious and "real" in everyday life here to not carefully consider every signal you send. On the other hand, insisting that all rocket fire stop as a condition of Israeli concessions -- or even as a sign of “commitment” – is like asking any country stop all crime. Or, for that matter, for Israel to stop all settler violence. Why aren’t we just as focused on demanding Israel to do that?

If we need a reminder of the complicity of the American government -- and business -- in the atrocities against the Palestinians, consider this clearly American "label" on this F-16 missile that slammed into one of the Al Samouni homes.

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palestine, israel, gaza

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Powerful writing, Booknut. Thank you for being a witness on behalf of the voiceless, the disempowered. Thank you for the courage you display in living according to your passions and your conscience. We are grateful for your significant work in the world, both as an emissary of peace and a messenger of truth.

I am so excited about your trip and so upset that I didn't get to go. I did see everyone on NBC4 news when Obama was entering the University. I am feeling hopeful that before the end of this year there will a two state agreement. This does mean all is well but it will give the Palestinian the opportunity to govern themselves and build homes, install electric, water and sewer systems. I hope I will be able to go back and work on some project. The last I thought when I was leaving was to return and work on playgrounds, soccer field and community center in each of villiages I had visited. Blessing to all of you. Great work!!!!
Hi Pam

What you suggested about people who talks about violence that they should come and live in Gaza and experience what Gazans go through on a daily basis is so correct. The Media was suppose to bring us that reality but unfortunately as we all know the Media is very controlled in the US, but thanks to you and to others like you with open mind and big hearts you are doing the work of a free and unbiased media. One step at a time but I am sure you can, we can spread the word. Thanks for everything.
fantastic article! thank you for your courage in making this trip, and in bearing witness to what you have seen. May God help those families in Gaza that are trying to survive the Israeli onslaught of mass murder, and theft of their homes and land.
I only wish that I could have been there with you. You are truly courageous for doing what you're doing, and there should be hundreds of thousands of people being there and on the West Bank helping the Palestinians, who are truly some of the most discriminated against people in the world. Thank you for your posting, and keep up the good work. The whole world needs to know what you're doing.
I am glad that you are there and sharing this. I don't often bitch about the cover, but why this wouldn't receive an EP is beyond me. This needs ALL the attention it can get!
Wonderful work. Bless you and your compatriots.
Reddit, duggit and rated it.
DeliaB refered me to your story.

It's truly a powerful, sad, and amazing tale of politics, religion, violence and death.

I do hope it receives Cover and an EP.

I wish you well!!
Hey, it's just another day in paradise for the new nazis of the middle east - they're practiced at this sort of stuff - been doing it since '48.

(rated for truth accuracy, courage, and the courage to expose the scumbags who are deluded enough to think THEY are the chosen ones.)

Anyone who finds this of interest is missing an incredible post by Bill Michtom, Genocide, the standup if they haven't already read it:
Wow! This is incredible writing! Rated and I'll try to digg.
thank you for writing and for going over there.
i got to to go the west bank a year ago with the christian peacemakers. i fell in love with the palestinians and want to go back, or, even better, to figure out a way to be able to use what i'm learning in my phd work (i'm in educational technology) to help the palestinian people. the story of the palestinians needs to make it into the mainstream american media. this nakaba needs to stop!
What you are doing is amazing and that you can blog about it in as close to real time as allowable/possible, is also to be applauded. I am very curious to know however, why the graffiti you photographed was all written in English and not Hebrew.......?
There was lots of Hebrew grafitti too. But I think they wrote some of it in English because they wanted to be understood. By the Palestinians as well as anyone who came after. What arrogance.
So appalling and stupid, deeply stupid. What possible benefit could the Israeli people get from this? Admittedly, my understanding of the Middle East situation is superficial, but I don't understand why Israel doesn't just get the hell out of Gaza. Is there so much support for this war that someone's political career would be ruined for attempting this?
Please be careful. Noble, yes, but careful.
I rated this but frankly I'm really torn on the issue. Maybe I just ignorant. It would be so much simplier if I could come down on one side or the other. That really doesn't matter here as much as your selfless humanitarian efforts. At least I can join in the chorus of "please be safe."
John, I don't you necessarily have to choose sides per se. Once you see the devastation of Gaza, it becomes abundantly clear that NOTHING justifies this treatment. Aso for who is most responsible for the tragedy of Gaza (includng before the most recent attack), there is plent of blame to go around. My only caveat: There is a huge power inbalance here, and international law is clear: An occupied people have a right to resist.
Another great post! The Al Samouni grassroots reconstruction effort is a fantastic idea and you can count on me to help!
And why our government has been supporting the Israeli's for so long is just COMPLETE BULLSHIT! This enrages me so much more than just seeing it on TV in the news... knowing more details.

You are very noble for being there to help out. Great article.