Saturday, 28 March 2009

Call for an international movement to open the Rafah border

The following call was posted today on the VIVA PALESTINE site. To sign the international petition or join the call, visit the site:

Don't let Gaza die. After the massacre of the people of Gaza by the Israeli army that started on December, 27th 2008, the world was moved at the plight of Palestinians. But Gaza remains closed almost hermetically, humanitarian convoys accumulate at the border and only a small part is allowed to enter. Similarly, citizens of various countries, including many Palestinians are stranded in Egypt.

We, citizens of the world, oppose this illegal and deadly blockade, tolerated, not to say encouraged by most governments of the world, especially those of USA, Israel, Europe and many of the Arab countries. Once again, it seems that only civil society is able to mobilize to demand the application of the basic rights of people that are echoed in international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December, 10th 1948).*

Therefore, we call any individual or group (association, organisation, party, etc.) to participate, within its means, to establish a permanent sit-in at the border in Rafah, to put pressure on the Egyptian, US, European and Israeli governments, and also on the international community, until the definitive opening of the border between Gaza and Egypt, allowing the free movement of goods and people. TO FREE GAZA, TO BREAK THE SIEGE, FOR FREE MOVEMENT OF ALL AT RAFAH , NOW ! * Article 13. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. * (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. Enquires and endorsements please contact:

Posted by Frances Laing

Friday, 27 March 2009

Pictures from Beit Hanoun

There is a very clever young man in the project in Beit Hanoun who draws political cartoons, and this is one of them. The hanged man has Gaza written on his sleeve, while the two hands reaching out have if memory serves me right, US and UN written on them. I asked the young man whether he really felt that the US was trying to reach out to Gaza, and he was horrified. No, he said, these hands are applauding the death of Gaza. Oh yes, I said, I see that now.
A Bulldozer and a tank menace a Mosque. These Bulldozers are Caterpillars made in the UK.
Another Bulldozer in the company of tanks, and indeed leading the tank going across country.
Another Tank, and a weeping Tree. I have personal testimony that trees were demolished by Bulldozers even outside of the line of advance. But, in any case, they should not be used in the front line, since they are sold to Israel with UK licences that specify they must not be used for external aggression or internal oppression. Lord Malloch Brown confirmed this in Parliament on Wednesday 25th March. It is an EU wide stipulation, and part of the agreement with Israel that earns it special treatment by the EU. Israel has clearly broken this agreement.
A new crime, and something I have personally witnessed many times in the West Bank. A Blindfolded Prisoner on their knees. Often they are left in this position, in the sun, for hours, and then simply released because they haven't actually done anything wrong. There is something deeply sick and racist about the Israeli Occupation Forces.
The Dove of Peace rows across the dry sands of disinterest. In case there are any clever dicks out there, the disinterest is from Israel. If we want to extend metaphors, and I don't expect the artist necessarily meant to, then the cactus, for Palestinians, is the sign of perseverance on the land, the badge of patience , while the Palestinian lands over which the dove so valiantly rows are only desert because Israel has stolen all the water

Beit Hanoun is in the North of Gaza, as Close to the Fence with Israel as can be, although a few isolated farm workers live even closer. Extensively destroyed during the war, I have posted an image of the mosque that was hit in two separate F16 strikes. No wonder the children feel small in a giant world of killing machines.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Pictures as Evidence of War Crimes

A Simple Child's Picture, what could it possibly tell us about the war? These pictures were all drawn by a younger age group than previous posts: about grade 6 (11 Years old), and come from Islamic relief, who work in the most stressed areas of Gaza.
In this image we see a large battle being fought by tanks and planes in a very densely populated area, with Tall Flats. This area can be identified near Zeitoun. The picture is accurately drawn, and shows a helicopter dropping white phosphorus over the tall flats. It also shows a bulldozer demolishing trees, important because these Bulldozers are D9s made by Caterpillar in the UK.
In this very detailed drawing, the Tank Commander's goggles can be seen, as can the ringlets of hair hanging down from under his helmet: his is an Orthodox Jew. Other well observed details are the water tank on the top of the block of flats, and the bright sun. The event took place in bright sunlight - many of the pictures have a bright sun in them, an odd detail if you think about it. The daylight means that the tank commander cannot be mistaken when he shoots the man in camouflage: a soldier, but he has also shot the woman in the stomach. Overhead, a helicopter drops white phosphorus.
Here the tanks are shown flattening trees, but the tank has here also shot a woman's head off. A boy has fallen off his bike. The tall flats have moved almost off the picture, and the Mosque is centre stage
This is the same scene, with the Mosque in the background, the boy fallen off his bike with blood making it clear that he has been injured, and a woman having her head blown off by a tank. Other people are in pieces too.
In this very complicated drawing the bright sun is drawn with a frown. A tank attacks some buildings in which a masked fighter is hiding, and other resistance troops can be seen centre front. A UN truck, right brings aid, some of it labelled UNICEF. At the top right a boat is shelling the area, while helicopters also fire rockets or missiles. One is aimed at a Mosque in which people can be seen huddled together. In the left foreground people have been lined up against a wall. They have their heads covered with bags or hoods and they have their hands in the air, but at least one of them has been shot while another lies dead on the floor. I spoke to several people who told me that the Israelis took people out of their houses and shot them in cold blood.
The same battle for the tall flats, with the Mosque damaged and a collapsed building with people trapped under it still being bombed. Once again bodies are being shown with severed limbs, and a new atrocity, an ambulance is targeted by gun fire from a helicopter, while in the background another explodes.
Reduced to essentials: A helicopter bombs a block of flats with a missile and with white phosphorus, dead lie on the ground with body parts severed, and another helicopter targets an ambulance with a missile.
The internal consistency of these pictures should be enough to convince us that they are telling the truth, and more like this must prove beyond doubt that Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted civilians, and used white phosphorus on civilian targets deliberately. Is it any wonder that Israel will not allow these pictures out, especially now that the International Criminal Court has allowed Children's paintings as evidence of war crimes? Even more important is that the 12 year old children who painted these images witnessed them first hand. They must have been terrified, and the images will stay with them for a long time. All very well having an intellectual discussion about it, but to see all those dismembered bodies, and then to have the world turn its back on you, and not have a word to say against Israel even when it stops anyone from sharing the horror with you so your only solace is others similarly affected and just as spitting angry. Does Israel really believe that its actions will turn people away from armed resistance? A Donkey can see that the population is becoming more radicalised. But worse than this, is the damage the unrequited anger is doing to those children who do not want to vent it through arms and will turn the resentment inward, and even though the United Nations Schools department has appointed 172 School socio-psychological Counsellors since the war, the UNRWA Head of Education, Mahmoud Himdiat says that it is far from enough, and the effects will not even begin to show until the shock has worn off in several months time.

Palestine as this artist wishes it was, or else as it was, below. Even the trees are smiling!

Gaza War Crimes Ilustrated

The UN, The USA and The Arabs Enjoy Watching Israel Dissect Palestine
Please Tell Me Why
Under Scrutiny
We Wait the Sun of Freedom
Memories of a Child
Resistance: Qasam

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Children of Gaza Asking for Help

Children of Gaza Asking for Help, while the World is only Watching
Flames of Anxiety and Fear
Peace on the Left, Friendship on the Right, but I Bear the Burden of a Broken heart
Palestine to me Forever: (Note Skulls)
The Ark of Palestine: Al Aqsa Mosque in a heart, and the fist of resistance in the centre
This picture shows the red, black, green and yellow flags of four Palestinian Factions, and the Yellow and Green Factions seem to be inflicting a beating on the Blue Israelis. Only the Israelis have dead on the ground, the greens have 2 patients on stretchers, and the yellows have advanced.
No to the Separating Wall

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Under Pressure in Gaza

Still trying to collect my thoughts. My Art Project going so well, although so small, We moved to a more ambitious scheme - decorate the van!
The Van is causing a sensation. So many kids gathered round it that my minder - he really wouldn't like that phrase, preferring friend- is taking it away for an hour while I write this. It is MEANT to cause a sensation, of course, but in Europe.
The Van - The Pea! Taken away by the Ministry under Galloway's orders, and given back when they saw the extent of the Art Project, now decorated by the uninhibited attentions of the Ahmed Showki sixth form. Of course my idea for the decoration was a couple of slogans and a well composed picture or two, but I put my faith in Ahmed Showki and was repaid with some very clever graffiti as well as such bon mots as "Death to Israel" and "The Hand of Israel is Stained with Blood". (So Exit via Israel unlikely!)

The final result is a tour de force, but it only means anything if it is seen in Europe, so how to get out is a really big issue.
I made a speech to all the groups that I saw, but the 2 state school groups were geared up the best. I said that most British People were tolerant and generous, well meaning and fair minded, but that they knew nothing of Palestine. It is the job of the Children, I said, to show, by the pictures that they draw, their fears and their hopes, their tears and their ambitions, that they are just as much people as we are, and they deserve our help. I did say something about their courage under fire, and it was distressing for me to go to a 'festival' to commemorate the deaths of fellow pupils, harrowing to see it on video.

The teenagers responded magnificently, both in their paper drawings and paintings, but also in the decoration of the van. It must be the centre piece of any exhibition, surely.
But how to get it home?
So I took it to the friendly Egyptian Border, and they told me that George Galloway would not let me take it out! He had signed up the entire convoy to the agreement that any vehicle entering could not leave. Please note that I made it plain at all times that I did not subscribe to this arrangement, I reserved my position not only with my team leader, but the administration of the convoy, and not only with them, but with the Egyptian Customs, too.
I rang up contacts in Gaza before entering to discuss whether to come in or not, and from their indications that the rules were arbitrary and not final, I made the decision to do what I, personally, had come those 6013 miles to do, which was to take a van into, and out of, Gaza, loaded in both directions.
To me, the aid that we took - even the vehicles, which are all right hand drive, and so bus passengers have to get out into the road, for instance - is a tiny drop into a bucket with no bottom. Gaza needs aid only to support the Israeli occupation, for without it they would starve, and the world would turn, at last, against the Zionist bastards. But for true freedom, Gaza - Palestine - needs to trade. It needs its borders open, and it needs to export.
My vision was just to export something, and Art came to my mind because it is not food, which it would be immoral to export. But as I began to develop the idea with schools and community groups, It got more important than merely exports, it became Medical.

More and more, people told me about the inward turning anger of the the young. Even the elderly people distributing aid told me that they did voluntary work at least partly because it re-focussed their impotent rage on something constructive. If only people would listen; if only people could understand; why does nobody care about us; why does nobody speak up for us?
Picture after picture shows Israel bombing Gaza, or killing Palestinians, while the World sleeps, or even applauds. US, and even British, flags on the cuffs of those clapping hands make me ashamed, and they should make the Government feel frightened. Child after child has told me that they will die for their country, and they will never give in (or is it give up? they asked) whichever it is we won't do it, and joking aside, many would relish the thought of revenge.
Breeding a Nation of Terrorists? If you've been here you will despise me for even raising the subject. I reckon that now that Hamas has closed down the Mafia Families completely, Gaza is the safest place on Earth, but only if the Israelis stopped firing. I mean it. Apart from a little aggressive begging, I have never felt in any danger, and even rather under educated Soldiers with a strong religious viewpoint who find my view point distasteful keep a sense of humour alive in discussions that I am occasionally forced into. Palestinian Generosity is legendary, and it would be easy to live here for a year and never pay for a meal, if you were so inclined, and the only complaint might be that the strength of the embrace is sometimes suffocating.
So the wartime spirit and the certainty of belonging makes for a ringing society of tolerance and warmth with a widely accepted agreement on dress, morals and behaviour.
But, inside is all that simmering resentment, as I've said.
So then I began to realise that just exhibiting these pictures, just letting the children know that someone out there cares about them and their anxieties; someone outside this hothouse of seething vengeance and hatred; someone who represents the privileged and active world outside; someone who might actually BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING; just knowing that is enough to give the kids a warm glow, and settle them down to a sleep with at least one nightmare less: someone might actually like them. Just that.

So I spoke to the Head of Community Mental Health in Gaza - can you imagine doing that job? He - Dr Ayed Suraj - turns out to be a joint British/Palestinian citizen. Yes he said, The journey, and the end product of sharing the paintings, was a way to boost the Psychological Health of the Community. He welcomed it and wrote me a letter to say so. So did the Minister of Education,

and the Youth Organisation Sharek and The Family Development Association, and a private School and there would have been others if there was time, but there wasn't because the border was open and it wasn't going to stay open after today, so I scrabbled around to find a cash point to pay my Hotel Bill, got the van decorated by the Ahmed Showki School for highly talented and polished Young Girls, who entertained me to a performance of Darwish's Poem 'Arab' that they had translated into French, whilst we waited for the rest of them to graffiti the Van,
and I set off for the Border. I actually got as far as no-man's land. One wheel might have actually been in Egypt, but probably not.
'It's not possible for you to take your van, so turn it round and take it back'
The soldiers on the Palestinian side gave me some food, and a couple of them watched a video of an interview I did with some bombed out folk, and then more tea, coffee, bed, tea, coffee, lunch, tea, coffee, and time to go to Egypt again.
About five hours of interviews, photo-copies of letters, them refusing to talk to the Embassy in Cairo, calling in my Customs contacts and tearing them off a strip for discussing anything with me, and finally phoning head office in Cairo, the answer came back: "You may have been entitled to make this journey for medical reasons, but because you came with George Galloway, you are bound by the agreement that he made, even if you do not consider yourself a party to it. Because George Galloway made a deal with the Egyptian Government, you cannot take your van. It is forbidden."
And that's the trouble with deals that you make on other people's behalf. The law of unintended consequences. Any deal has 2 sides, and although you think you have opened up the arena, it turns out that you have closed part of it down. How Brave many thought that Sadat was, flying into Tel Aviv to make peace with the Israelis, but who would have thought that that deal would result in the Egyptians being obliged by the Israelis to limit the use of the Rafah crossing to a few arbitrary days a year, and to collaborate in the blockade? To prevent the passage of trade, even food, and even if the Palestinians are starving; that is the agreement, and we call it a siege, and we intend to break that agreement, made in the name of the Palestinians, but not in their interests.
Or the Oslo accords, that great breakthrough in the Peace process, that binds Hamas to arrangements that it had no voice in, although of course it was part of the Palestinian political system, and the agreements were made in everyone's name. This agreement is used to give legitimacy to the Israeli and US boycott on Hamas: they will not respect those agreements, which are not in the interests of the Palestinians. And we hope they break those agreements, too.
My Art project, conceived months ago and discussed with Gaza contacts before the convoy was ever thought of, jeopardised by an agreement that I had no part in, that I railed against, but could not be heard. Just someone who wants to keep his van, I can hear them think. Perhaps I shouldn't have travelled with the convoy? The last time I did something like this, we started on our own, a convoy of one, although we did join up with the 'Caravanne', an international convoy from Brussels to Jerusalem, in Damascus. Like the convoy, the scheduled departure of the Caravanne was a spur to action. We told both them and the Israelis that we were intending to leave again, unlike the rest of them, and got no argument from the 'Caravanne', though we did get plenty from the Israelis. And we succeeded in twinning with Jericho on that trip, and bringing back a tonne of Olive Oil.
And why not travel with the convoy? Just because I had my own purpose, should I travel alone, when by joining forces, a better impact could be made. Or could George's administration team have done what I asked, and notified their negotiating partner that there was a single dissenter in the convoy? A van with another purpose. Or should I have left it on the Egyptian side, and come home with less paintings in an unprepossessing van?
Three people have now offered to buy the van from me, but I have refused.
In any case, George went further than just signing agreements preventing me from taking it out, he donated it to the Palestinian Government. Its lucky that they've broken the agreement with George, even if it was in their interests not to, and given it back to me, and I couldn't be more grateful to them for it. Like the others, it's a silly agreement and it needs to be broken.
So like, I said, I'm confused.
When the Egyptians told me that I was free to pass, on foot, I refused to go, and went back to Gaza. They told me the border would close immediately after some Hamas dignitaries entering from the Cairo discussions on reconciliation with Fatah had cleared the terminal, and it would not re-open for a period perhaps of a month, but I still refused to leave the van. I cannot get it out of my head that the exhibit would do much better with the van as its centre piece, and that if Galloway told the Egyptians that he favoured the release of the van, it might be allowed to go.The journey is within the rules of the International agreements. It is a Medical trip, after all.
What about it George?