Tag Archives: Palestinian

The heart of the matter lies in the eyes

Photo/Kristin Szremski

By Kristin Szremski

Under the façade of normalcy, it’s the eyes that reveal the heavy burden Palestinians carry with them day in and day out. You see it in children’s eyes. In adults, even eyes framed by laugh lines can’t hide the vestiges of grief, sadness or the weariness that are the result of living under Israel’s senseless and depraved occupation of Palestinian soil, from which the very roots of their Palestinian souls are derived.

I noticed this acutely one unusually hot October day waiting in line at the Tantur checkpoint in Bethlehem.  Actually, waiting in line doesn’t describe the degrading experience that amounts to begging permission from a heartless oppressor to move about freely in one’s own country.

On Friday morning – the day of obligatory mosque attendance for men – Tantur was teeming with people wanting to go to Jerusalem to attend prayer at Al Aqsa, the third holiest site for Muslims.  On this Friday, the majority of the men were over 50 because Israel prohibits entry to the mosque to men younger than that.

Jerusalem is a mere six miles from Bethlehem but for so many Palestinians the city and Al Aqsa are as far removed from their reality as is flying to the moon.

In their families, these older men mostly likely are revered and respected for their years of experience and wisdom. But in the checkpoint’s “holding pen,” Israeli policy reduced them to the status of a nameless and dehumanized ‘other.’

Palestinians must walk through this barred passageway as they make their way through the Tantur checkpoint. Photo/Kristin Szremski

Instead of addressing them with the honorifics they so deserved, young, snot-nosed soldiers barked at them to press their travel permits up to a
bullet-proof glass window, behind which sat another young, inexperienced soldier, who then ordered these elders to place their hands in electronic biometric scanners. Finally, the armed kids gave the patriarchs permission to continue through a turnstile and then through a lengthy, narrow passageway that resembled an elongated dog kennel made of cement and iron bars.

The process would be repeated again in Jerusalem.

While waiting in line, the elders, dressed in traditional thobes and kufiyah, waited patiently. They spoke among themselves; some even joked. But their eyes never smiled. Even the young men I saw that day who approached the Apartheid Wall, razor wire, security cameras, heavily armed soldiers – all part of the checkpoint apparatus – with a sense of patient resignation  couldn’t belie the pain in their eyes, no matter how jaunty their gait.

A woman, a bit disheveled with her headscarf slightly askew, wandered listlessly about until her gaze settled on mine and she sidled over to cut in line. She smiled up at me shyly and it was then I noticed. Her eyes held nothing at all.

Photo/Los Angeles Times

But the eyes that haunt me the most belong to a man from Khalil, one of the most oppressed areas in the West Bank.

Israel’s security apparatus has all but choked all Palestinian life from this once vibrant ancient city many know by the name of Hebron.  The military has blocked – in some cases even sealed off – all entries into the old market area except one, and has ordered the shuttering of numerous shops. The merchants who remain sell their wares on tables on the cobbled street in front of their stores, now padlocked by military order. Palestinians are not allowed to cross Martyr Street to reach merchants on the other side, nor are they allowed to go beyond a certain intersection with Martyr Street. Armed soldiers stand guard to make sure they don’t.

Commerce in that area has nearly come to a halt.

Towers like these are seen at all checkpoints and at various points along the Apartheid Wall. Photo/Kristin Szremski

I initially wasn’t allowed to cross Martyr Street, either, despite my American citizenship, because I wear a headscarf. I am Muslim. That was the only reason the soldier from the “only democratic state in the Middle East” needed to keep me off the street.

Khalil residents have erected nets above the old market shopping area to catch the garbage illegal Jewish settlers throw down onto them. Photo/Kristin Szremski

All of this to keep the street clear for Jews, who are living illegally in apartments above the market and in settlements down Martyr Street. The Jewish settlers routinely throw their garbage, feces and urine onto the Palestinians, who have erected nets above the streets to catch the bulk of the refuse.

An Israeli soldier stands at the end of Martyr Street to prohibit Palestinians from walking beyond that point. Photo/Kristin Szremski

During our tour of Khalil, I was approached by a man peddling cheap beaded bracelets. I was out of money except a few dollars worth of American coins. I dumped it all into my hand and offered it to him, but he refused. Coins would get him nowhere, he said.

I felt helpless and all I could offer him was a weak apology.

“Sorry?” he asked, staring directly into my eyes. “What am I going to do with ‘sorry?’ How am I going to feed my family?”

He was angry, but his eyes spoke a different language.

His eyes were wracked with anguish. They will forever haunt my memory.

And there is nothing I can do except to come home and tell his story, and the story of countless others. I can continue to try to make people aware of Israel’s illegal and unjust policies toward the Palestinians. I can work to try to change U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Because it is my tax money, in part, that is responsible for that man’s anguish and for his children’s hunger.

The U.S. gives Israel $3 billion per year in unconditional military aid. The amount is actually billions of dollars higher when loan guarantees, other grants, and free or reduced-cost military weaponry and
machinery are taken into account. The U.S. continually vetoes measures against Israeli policy in the United Nations Security Council. Our money and our weight as the world’s only superpower allows Israel to violate international law and to deny Palestinians of their basic human rights with impunity.

We must pressure Congress to hold Israel accountable. We must pressure Congress to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian soil. We must pressure Congress to pave the way for the refugees to return home after 62 years of exile. Until this happens, we, as Americans, have no right to claim we stand for liberty and justice.  We have no right to that claim at all.


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Israel joins OECD; Is it really a donor country?

To the consternation of global NGOs and human rights groups, Israel has been invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This, despite Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and its abysmal record on refugees seeking asylum and other human rights issues.

The OECD does many things, including “helping to stabilize its members’ economies to serving as a focal point for assisting in the economic development of poorer countries,” according to Mark Leon Goldberg of the UN Dispatch website. One specifice requirement the OECD has of member countries is that they contribute at least 0.7 percent of their gross national income for development projects in poorer countries.

This is even laughable when you look at the poverty that exists for most Palestinian citizens of Israel – especially those residing in East Jerusalem. Al Jazeera reports that 75 percent of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian children live in poverty. Furthermore, only 10 percent of the city’s roughly 300,000 poor Palestinians have access to social services.

And Israel’s neglect of 20 percent of its population doesn’t stop there. Last year, the Israeli Ministry of Education admitted to a gross disparity in state funding for its segregated school systems. Israel paid more than $1,100 this academic year per Jewish student but only $190 per Palestinian student, who are educated in a segregated system that suffered from a shortage of more than 1,000 classrooms this year, according to “Making the Grade: The State of Education in Palsetine.”

Not surprisingly, a look at member countries’ expenditures relative to their income shows Israel at the bottom of the pack, according to the UN Dispatch.

~ Kristin Szremski 5/11.2010

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As non-violent resistance grows, heroes are being made

Haaretz’ Bradley Burston writes a passionate column honoring the brave men and women, children and elders, who, against all odds and in the face of continued Israeli violence, stand shoulder to shoulder armed with nothing more than the proud Palestinian flag.

God bless the Palestinian who, armed with nothing more than courage, plants a flag.

From planting the flags in the no-man’s buffer zones in Gaza to the unarmed demonstrators taking to the streets every week in the West Bank to protest the inhumanity of the Apartheid Wall and to the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement initiated in Palestine, non-violent resistance is growing. And it’s becoming stronger, mighty in its silence.

God bless this new armed struggle. In acts of great bravery, there is great hope. In acts of non-violent resistance, there is unlimited might.

In June, on behalf of American Muslims for Palestine, I will be participating in the Allied Media Conference, in a session to teach youth how to use alternative media to bring the Palestinian narrative to the masses.  Introducing Americans to Palestinians, putting a human face on the most generous of peoples, is but one avenue to fight Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Because once Americans know the true score I know they will no  longer permit their tax dollars to be used to oppress and kill an entire nation  of people. Not even the powerful Israeli lobby in this country will be able to withstand the grassroots groundswell that is beginning for foment.

At the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, I will be presenting alongside someone from the Ann Arbor Palestinian Film Festival, God-willing. The media conference will be taking place right before the U.S. Social Forum, which will attract nearly 20,000 social activists from all walks of life and all causes. Both the media conference and the social forum have strong Palestinian tracks this year. In addition, AMP will be hosting representatives from Students for Justice in Palestine from campuses all across the country in attempts to help them create a national organization. There is strength in unification.

And we’re just a small corner of the world. Similar events and efforts are taking place around the globe. There is an energy and vitality to the coming together of diverse groups  representing Muslims, Jews, Christians, Unitarians, Anarchists, gays and lesbians, and many others concerned with social justice. Anti-Apartheid Palestine is the new South Africa.

The rallying cry started in Palestine with the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, to the Palestinian  Students Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, to the West Bank protesters against the Wall and the Gazans risking their lives to plant flags in the face of Israeli violence.

And that brings me back to Bradley Burston’s column in Haaretz. Such impassioned support should not go unnoticed or unheralded. He most certainly will receive harsh criticism for his words. I laud him for making the grand gesture to support Palestinian non-violent resistance. We, outside of Palestine, must do our part to support and strengthen the efforts of our oppressed and besieged brothers and sisters.

God bless the villager, the schoolchild, the mother, the hero, armed with nothing more than a flag. Stand fast. No rocks. You will change every soldier you face. You will change history. You will be the end of this occupation. You will give all of us, life.

The movement is growing. The clock is ticking. Plant a flag in your part of the world and call for an end to the occupation.

~ Kristin Szremski 05/09/2010

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AMP Nakba events begin May 15

Nakba commemoration events begin May 15 in California. Speakers to include former British Parliamentarian George Galloway; Dr. Hatem Bazian, chairman of American Muslims for Palestine, Sheikh Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna Institute; Alison Weir of If Americans Knew. For more info, go to www.ampalestine.org.

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Defying appeal from Gaza students, Atwood set to accept Israeli prize

Defying appeal from Gaza students, Atwood set to accept Israeli prize
BY Kristin Szremski, director of media and communications for American Muslims for Palestine

On Sunday, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood will accept the Dan David Prize at Tel Aviv University and her portion of the $1 million payout that goes with it. Meanwhile, a mere 40 miles away, students in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip will stilll be struggling to find the ways and means to continue their educations.

Atwood will be accepting her prize despite a worldwide call — initiated by the Palestinian Students Campaign for a Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel (PSACBI)— for her to turn down the award. The Canadian author, whose work often reflects issues of colonization, feminism, structures of political power and oppression, will be sharing the literary prize with Indian writer Amitav Ghosh, whose novels question the brutalities of colonial rule and post-colonial dispossession. Ghosh was also asked to turn down the prize, which he has declined to do.

Being an artist of conscience has been one of Atwood’s hallmark characteristics throughout her career. She supported the South African anti-Apartheid movement and, according to filmmaker John Greyson, was the first public figure to speak out in support of gay rights after police arrested 300 men in Toronto in 1981. The late Palestinian scholar Edward Said named her as an “oppositional intellectual.” That’s why her acceptance of the Dan David Prize is fraught with ironies, not least of which is the requirement that she donate 10 percent of the prize money back to support graduate students at Tel Aviv University, while Gaza’s students — just a short drive away — are enclosed in an open-air prison, unable to complete their studies.

“We have no fuel supply in Gaza for student transportation,” Ayah Abubasheer of PSCABI wrote in an email on 21 April. “There are no basic supplies or stationery for students in Gaza. Basic materials such as pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and so on are not available. And, books? There are no books, research resources or any of the like in Gaza. Israel bombed the Islamic University’s labs and student residences during the [winter 2008-09 attacks on Gaza].”

PSCABI is the student arm of the Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel. Both groups belong to the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, started in Palestine in 2005. The group is comprised of students representing all Palestinian universities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and has alliances with Palestinian student groups at Israeli universities, Abubasheer said. This coalition of activists wrote an open letter to Atwood on 4 April, asking her to turn down the prize. The letter went “viral” and was soon posted on websites and blogs across the Internet. It also spawned other letters and action alerts, all with the aim of persuading Atwood to stand in solidarity with Gaza’s students.

Atwood admitted via email she was aware of the open letter, but said she did not receive it personally. She did not respond to the students in Gaza, but she did reply to Antoine Raffoul, a Palestinian architect living in London who is the founder of the organization 1948: Lest We Forget.

Cultural boycotts equal censorship, Atwood said. In addition, the Dan David Prize is a cultural event, funded by an individual, she said. “To boycott a discussion of literature such as the one proposed would be to take the view that literature is always and only some kind of tool of the nation that produces it — a view I strongly reject.”

Atwood also said via email that she is the international vice president of the literary organization PEN, which advocates for writers who are persecuted or imprisoned because of their work. As such, she is not allowed to participate in cultural boycotts, she said.

Dan David and Tel Aviv University

Dan David, 80, was born and raised in communist Romania. He joined the Zionist youth movement and helped organize aliyah or Zionist emigration to Israel, according to a 13 November 2007 article published by the Israeli dailyHaaretz. David, who made his fortune in instant photo booths, used $100 million of his own money to found the Dan David Foundation, which administers the Dan David Prize. He also sits on the Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University (TAU), which is at the center of Israel’s military-industrial complex.

Today, some 64 research projects in defense or national security are being funded by Israeli and US defense agencies on the TAU campus. “TAU is playing a major role in enhancing Israel’s security capabilities and military edge,” reads the introduction to an article entitled “Lifting the Veil of Secrecy” in the Tel Aviv University Review, Winter 2008/09 issue.

“‘People are just not aware of how important university research is in general, and how much TAU contributes to Israel’s security in particular,’ says TAU President Zvi Galil in the article.

One project currently underway explores how to turn birds into weapons because they are relatively “unobtrusive,” especially when compared to the much larger unmanned drones, according to the article.

Antoine Raffoul said that the Dan David Prize cannot be divorced from Israel. “Its institutions, whether cultural, educational, industrial, scientific, judicial, agricultural or military, are part and parcel of the political institution of the state … working hand in hand to enforce the policies of an illegal occupation of Palestinian land,” he said.

TAU was built upon the remains of a Palestinian village depopulated and destroyed by Zionist forces in 1948. “By accepting the prize at Tel Aviv University, you will be indirectly giving a slight and inadvertent nod to Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide. This university has refused to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on which it was built. That village is called Sheikh Muwanis, and it no longer exists as a result of Israel’s confiscation. Its people have been expelled,” the Gaza students wrote in their open letter.

Upholding the rights and voices of the persecuted

During an acceptance speech for the American PEN Literary Service Award in New York City in April, Atwood said oppressors share a commonality. “They wish to silence the human voice, or all human voices that do not sing their songs. They wish to indulge their sense of power, which is best done by grinding underfoot those who cannot retaliate.”

Gaza’s students are disappointed with Atwood’s decision to accept the Dan David Prize, Abubasheer said. “We are deeply wounded by her decision. Students here have been asking about the sincerity of her novels and wonder whether she will reconsider her decision to stand on the wrong side of history”

In the end, for Atwood, at least, it comes down to whether or not a cultural boycott is equivalent to censorship. But as filmmaker Cathy Gulkin said in an article posted on the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s website on 6 May, the two issues are distinct. Gulkin said that censorship is wielded by a force with the power to prevent a work from being presented, while a boycott asks artists to withdraw their work voluntarily. She participated in a boycott of the Tel Aviv International Film Festival last winter.

“Palestinian civil society has no power or will to silence or censor. They can only appeal to people of conscience … to support them in their struggle to achieve their human rights,” Gulkin wrote in her call to boycott last winter.

The Palestinian students and Raffoul point to a number of artists and authors, including Naomi Klein, Carlos Santana, Bono, Snoop Dog and Sting, who have heeded Palestinian civil society’s call for the boycott of Israel.

Raffoul even pointed to actor Marlon Brando, who rejected his Academy Award in 1973 to protest the US government’s treatment of Native Americans or the Beatles rejecting knighthoods in England.

“I sympathize with the very bad conditions the people of Gaza are living through due to the blockade, the military actions, and the Egyptian and Israeli walls,” Atwood wrote in her email to Raffoul.

“We are not asking for sympathy!” Abubasheer said. “We want solidarity. … You are either with justice or with injustice. There is no neutral zone.”

Abubasheer added: “Thus, we all have an individual moral responsibility to boycott. Boycott is inclusive and it brings people together, fighting for peace through justice and accountability, from the youngest to the oldest, from the four quarters of the world, anyone can boycott. After the wiping out of entire families in broad daylight, what else do some public intellectuals need to see in order to make a bold move?”

Raffoul contends that today no one — especially important cultural figures such as Atwood — can exist in a vacuum. “You can’t hide behind the cloak of literature,” he said. “We don’t live in a shell anymore. You cannot claim to be a humanitarian in any state and then … fly into a zone called Israel [that is] killing people and dehumanizing innocent people.”

Atwood said she plans to “observe” what she sees in Palestine and then write about it. She suggested this reporter hold off on writing this article until then.

But Abubasheer would not be comforted by this promise. Quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu, she said: “If you choose to be neutral in situations of injustice, then you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

She added: “The position taken by Ms. Atwood … is clear in the light of this statement.”
This article was first published on Electronic Intifada.

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JPost: Army may release all Deir Yassin docs

State: Publication could harm Israel’s foreign relations


Are the events that took place in Deir Yassin so sensitive that 62 years later, the state still refuses to release all of the documents and photos stored in the IDF archive to the public?
That is the question facing Supreme Court Deputy President Eliezer Rivlin and Justices Edna Arbel and Neal Hendel in the wake of a petition heard earlier this week.

The petition was filed by Haaretz, its reporter Gidi Weitz, and Neta Shoshani, a student at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem.

The battle of Deir Yassin, a village on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, was one of the most controversial of the War of Independence. It took place in April 1948, one month before the State of Israel was declared. There have been charges that units of the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Group) undergrounds massacred dozens of Palestinian civilians in the village and forced the survivors to flee. …

… The state told the court that publication of these documents could harm Israel’s foreign relations…Attorney Paz Mozer, representing the petitioners, argued that not only had the state extended the ban only after Shoshani had asked to see the documents, the public had a right to obtain more information about the battle, whose details have been in dispute all these years.

I can say firmly that the details of the Deir Yassin massacre have never been in dispute to those who lived through it and survived. Now, even after 62 years, the people I interviewed on this topic remember everything in crystal clear detail, as if it happened yesterday.  You will be able to read their testimonies next week when the second edition of the booklet, “The Nakba: Preserving our Narrative” is published.

~ Kristin Szremski, 5/5/2010

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Walled Horizons Part 2

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more about "walled horizons Part 2", posted with vodpod

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