(CHICAGO 01/10/2010) – The best way to honor the victims and survivors of Operation Cast Lead is to become active in the cause for Palestine. That was the main message at events in Milwaukee and Chicago commemorating the passage of two years since the Israeli onslaught against the Palestinians of Gaza that killed more than 1,400 people and wounded 5,300.
“Two Years Later: Besieged Gaza Still Standing Tall,” is the theme of a series of nationwide events hosted by the American Muslims for Palestine, which kicked off during Christmas weekend at the MAS/ICNA convention in Chicago. Throughout the weekend, several hundred guests filled the halls at the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, the Islamic Community Center of Illinois in Chicago and Al Aqsa School in Bridgeview to listen to presentations by Laila El-Haddad, author of “Gaza Mom,” her new book based upon her blog of the same name. She was joined by attorney and activist Othman Atta in Milwaukee and Bridgeview.
El-Haddad, who is from Gaza but now lives in Maryland, presented a Power Point filled with unique videos and compelling pictures from her recent visit to Gaza. While documenting the still-deteriorating conditions in the Strip, which Israel has held under siege for four years, El-Haddad also focused on signs of rebirth and the indestructible spirit displayed by the Palestinians living there.
“People there really resent it for Gaza to be called a place with no food. There’s a siege on freedoms, not a siege on food,” El-Haddad said.
El-Haddad was in Gaza for several months last summer conducting research for her next book. She interviewed dozens of people and mood was the same everywhere, she said. “People are sick of the siege. They just want to live normal lives,” she said.
Yet, the spirit of the Palestinians of Gaza is not broken, which is proven especially by the creative ways in which they are adapting to the facts on the ground.
From fish and oyster farms and dairy farms to the manufacturing of ovens from clay and grinding gravel from debris left over from Israel’s demolition of thousands of homes, factories, schools, mosques and municipal buildings, the residents of Gaza are showing true entrepreneurship and fortitude in dealing with the inhumane situation in which they are living, El-Haddad said.
These measures are necessary because despite Israeli occupation authorities’ promises last June to ease the blockade, the clamp down in many cases has only become worse, according to the United Nations and various NGOs. Most building supplies and many foodstuffs are still prohibited, and except for a few truckloads of strawberries, exports from Gaza still are not allowed.
“The stated policy of the siege is to keep Gaza on the brink of economic collapse,” the journalist and mother of two told the crowd. “But the Palestinians of Gaza are adapting. They have no choice. They just want to live a normal life, like everyone else.”
“Palestinians are steadfast. They will prevail.”
Those were the word with which Atta opened his portion of the presentation. Even so, it is incumbent upon people of faith and conscience to become active in the cause and to work to try to change U.S. foreign policy, he said. Commemorating the victims of Israel’s three-week assault that took place from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009, is honorable, but with that commemoration must come action, he said.
“Are we here to just mourn dead people, or are we here to learn what we can do?” Atta asked.
Atta encouraged the audience to educate themselves and to become active in any number of ways, from interacting with the media to contacting elected officials. He encouraged those in attendance to avail themselves of the free information and booklets provided by AMP and to join AMP’s mailing list so they’ll be informed of action alerts, events and other activities.
Joyce Guinn, of Germantown, Wis., attended Milwaukee’s event. She is one person who takes Atta’s words to heart. She’s been active in the cause since 2005, when her curiosity lead her to take her first trip to Palestine.
Information about the Middle East conflict provided by mainstream media “didn’t seem to make sense,” Guinn said, so she traveled there to see the situation for herself. She’s made that trip three times now and has plans to return this winter.
“I’ve never met nicer people than the Palestinians,” she said. “Seeing the situation once was enough to convince me. I’m extremely into the Palestinian issue.”
Other featured speakers during the weekend included Sheikh Jammal Said, director of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview; Imam Zaid Hamdan, of ICCI; and journalist Deanna Othman.
Future AMP Gaza commemoration events will be held in Minnesota, California, New York and Virginia.
AMP also is facilitating book signing events for El-Haddad through February in various states, including California, Washington and Oregon.
The American Muslims for Palestine is a national, grassroots organization, whose mission is to educate the American public about issues related to Palestine and its rich, cultural heritage. For more information, visit www.ampalestine.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888.404.4AMP.