Trip To Gaza

   Nader and I tried to get into Gaza on Nov. 25,26 and 27.  We met in Amman and then we flew to Cairo and then from there overland across Egypt and the Sinai desert to Arish and Rafah.  It was a very long, costly and trying journey but it would have been nothing had we been able to enter.     Needless to say we are very disappointed. Our last conversation with Dr. Suhaila Tarazi at the hospital in Gaza was heart wrenching.  The situation is grave and we are helpless. I promised that I would keep you updated, so here  is  the account of the trip so far. At the time of posting this there is stil a chance that I may enter Gaza to deliver the equipment with a boat sailing fron Jaffa to Gaza.  Cross you fingers and read this: Sunday, November 23, 2008

Amman, Jordan

The muezzin in the mosque calling for early morning prayer is determined to get me out of bed. I don’t mind it actually, this is my first night in Amman and I can’t sleep very well anyway.  Besides, I love hearing the call for prayer, it is part of the sounds of the Middle East and growing up in Jerusalem one hears this all the time.

I crossed the Sheikh Hussein Bridge from Israel to Jordan yesterday, it was for me the third time. Nader met me and with and we took a taxi together to Amman.  When we arrived at his house it was afternoon and we were scheduled for a dinner meeting at 8:30 with several key members of Jordan’s Rotary clubs. We had to time for lunch, shower and rest.

We arrived at Howara Restaurant in Amman at 8 PM, 30 minutes early. This is an exclusive, reservations-only restaurant.  We were to meet everyone there and the table was set for 8 people.  The first to come was Mustafa Nasereddin. He is a prominent Rotarian, originally from Hebron and as passionate as any Rotarian I have ever met.  After him Samir Seikali came, he is the Past District Governor of District 2450, which is geographically the largest Rotary District in the world, encompassing nine countries in 3 continents; Samir is originally from Haifa.

It did not take long for the conversation to warm up; Samir and Moustafa were very engaging and soon the others came as well.  These were Muhsen Mufleh PP RC Amman West, George Dallal  originally from Yaffa, President RC Amman, Petra and Mr. Barghouti originally from Ramallah. It comes as no surprised that many of the main players here were Palestinians ex pats.

If we needed an omen that this trip was going to be a good one, meeting these fine people in this very fine environment over the best food in the Middle East was it.  Nader and I felt encouraged.  We touched on ways to continue this initiative in hopes that Rotary will become an active force in promoting humanitarian help as well as foster human relations in Palestine/Israel.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hey ALL me beloveds,

 We’re in Cairo now; it is about 7 PM here 9 AM in SD.  We arrived by flight from Amman. Nader and I were sitting at Amman airport all went well, security was fine we made it on time, got a ride and Nader and were commenting on how flipping well it was all going. Then I get my boiling hot cuppu-blooddy-cino all over myself…my pants and everything full of it (right on the groin of course).  

 These Jordanians really know service – this young guy comes up to me as I scramble to move the laptop and what is left of my dignity out of the coffee and he looks at me quietly and asks: Are you OK? Then he asks what kind of coffee I had and gets me another, free of course while another cleans up the mess.  Good thing I got dark grey suit on so it doesn’t really show.  Anyway I had to laugh, I was fine after that, much more relaxed.

 Then we got on the flight, brand-spankin-new plane, Alia Jordanian airlines, 1 hour and 10 minute flight over desert and more desert and then we arrive in this mega oasis, CAIRO. The nicest Rotarian in the world, our dear friend Ayoub from Egypt met us like we were all old friends and takes us through this bustling city in a tiny car to our hotel. We drove for about an hour; it is like a tiny bug maneuvering through giant dinosaurs.  We got to the hotel, the Hilton Cairo WTC.  We got 2 huge suites for the price of a regular motel room in the US, one of which we gave up. This is a huge suite. I gave N the master bedroom, he is pretty sick with a flue and now I am in the office.  I opened the window to see the Nile and the lights of the city, the smells the noises, I feel like I am in a 50’s movie Casablanca or something. Very colonial this place is.

 Now N is sleeping and in an hour they are coming to pick us up for diner.  I am very happy here.  Not sure yet what the plan is tomorrow I will find out when we meet everyone tonight.  

 We spent an evening with  District Governor (DG)Zakaria Elshafi and Ayoub and the assistant DG Tawfik, we had dinner at the Cairo City Club, a private club that could have been in London Paris or New York.  We had great conversation and parted late at night.  I awoke to prepare for breakfast and then Dr. Nahidh (N’s son in law who is a pediatric heart surgeon who works at Loma Linda hospital and is originally from Gaza) came and joined us. He and Rania were in Cairo but they had to return Wednesday and Nahidh could not join us on this trip to his homeland, Gaza that he is forbidden to enter.

We drove with ADG Tawfik to pick up the equipment, it was one of those usual 10 minute turned 2 hour drives in Cairo, the most heavily congested place on earth.  The equipment was not ready so we ended up ordering it again and waiting with Nahidh’s family, who were very gracious. We finally left at 5 PM instead of 1 PM, which aint bad for Egypt.  We really enjoyed the company of Nahidh’s family who were grateful because they too have family in Gaza

We arrived in El Arish in Northern Sinai a round 11 PM and got a room at the Swiss Inn. I had some coffee, Nader devoured a huge meal and we both enjoyed a marvelously beautiful and talented Egyptian singer by the name of Shireen on a local TV channel.

Wednesday morning. I am sitting outside my room at the Swiss In in El Arish watching the waves of this magnificent and empty corner of the Mediterranean. Not a soul in sight and the horizon is clear as can be. I was awakened by the Muezzin again around 4:30 but went back to sleep until now. Its 6:30.  At 7 they serve brkfast and at 8 the driver and guide that Tawfik provided us, two very nice and very dedicated young Egyptian gentlemen will come to pick us up.  This is it! We are an hour away from the city of Rafah, the gateway to Gaza.  Last night Suheila Tarazi, out contact in Gaza said it would take a miracle for us to get it.  I have never believed in miracles so fervently in my life.  As I thought about it this morning I decided it would take a miracle for them to keep us out.  We have come a really long way. From SD, through Europe to Israel and Jordan; Then to Cairo and overland crossing the newly built bridge over the Suez Canal connecting Africa with Asia.  Stopping at Egyptian checkpoints along the way for short minutes that seem like very long hours.  Now we are here. It is the day.  I told N we should be prepared to dress with suit and tie. 

Before we left Cairo, we waited for the car with our shipment of ENT equipment at Nahidh’s uncle house in Medinat AL Nasser, a wealthy neighborhood of Cairo.  N went to sleep as n Nahidh and I sat and talked. Then lunch was served. It was close to 5 pm already. We had planned to leaver at 1, so by Cairo standards were doing fine as far as staying on schedule.  Besides the meal was worth the wait.

Then farewells, Nader had his daughter, son in law and of course his adorable 18-month-old granddaughter Me’i. 

 November 2008

Amman, Jordan

I was standing on the balcony on the 18th floor when it began as a simple chant. Then, within minutes it turned into a chorus as the muezzin in hundreds of Cairo mosques called the faithful to Friday prayer.  Gradually the chants subsided and the Friday sermons began over the loud speakers, going from one to two to a multitude of loud voices that sounded to me like some cosmic mideastern yelling match.

After 20 minutes I had to go back into the hotel room and into the relative silence it offered.  I was in one of Cairo’s many Hilton hotels trying to make sense of the past week’s events.  Everything went so perfectly well that we were certain we could not fail. Even the coffee I spilled all over my new suit at Jordan’s Amman airport seemed to be a good omen.  But when we approached the gate that separates the Egyptian city of Rafah with the Palestinian Gaza strip it was impenetrable and we could not enter Gaza. There, I said it, after all this hard work and expectations and all the fears we had to overcome, we were not able to enter Gaza.  It felt as though we were fighting a three-headed monster with nothing but a goddam toothpick.

But it was precisely because this monster is so big that we thought we would be able to sneak by.  Nader and I were determined to enter Gaza at the point where we thought we would encounter the least resistance: the godforsaken city of Rafah where the Sinai Peninsula touches Palestine. But the border crossing at this desolate spot, inhabited by farmers who are dirt poor and Egyptian intelligence agents with snake eyes and faces of beat-up bulldogs anxious to rip apart their next victim was unmoved by our efforts, by our cause or by the fact that 100 feet away 800,000 children are locked up without food, water, electricity or medicine.

From the 19 year old Egyptian soldiers in their sloppy black woolen uniforms, berets that make them look pitiful and AK 47s that are too big for them to handle, to the more slick weasel like agents of the “muhabarrat”, or intelligence agents slithering around and glancing at us with their yellow eyes trying, to pick up a hint of information they can then move up the chain of command in return for some morsel of favoritism for being good little agents, no one was moved.

What we learned the hard way was that this three-headed monster is not only big, it is effective.  With Israeli brains, American money and Egyptian cheap labor it is able to keep 1.5 million innocent civilians (as though there are any other kind of civilians) locked up in a giant concentration camp.  One really has to congratulate Israel for creating such a harmonious union that is effective, demonic and at the same time manages to function just under the radar of the world’s conscience. Of course, in a world with such a small conscience it is not that hard.

Bluntly, undiplomatically and unapologetically put, here are two important points:

  1. Israel’s policy towards Gaza has stained 5000 years of Jewish history with a stain that we as Jewish people will never be able to erase.
  2. Even though our mission was a noble one and everything was going right, we were screwed when we thought we were making love.

These are two very difficult things to swallow and even the grand wedding we were able to attend upon our return to Cairo could not take our minds off of the tragedy, not our own failure which is minimal but that of the people of Gaza. It was the wedding of Cairo’s hottest singer, the young and brilliant Hamada Helal and it so happened that the bride was the daughter of the sister of the uncle of Nader’s son-in-law Nahidh.  So how could we possibly not attend?  Well we did and every big name of Arabic music scene was there to sing.  Dinner was served at 3:30 the following morning.  By 4:30 AM Nader and I passed out in our hotel room beds only to be woken up by the 6:30 call to Morning Prayer.  That was the end of a 72 hour cycle that was, plainly put, un-f_ _ _ _ _g believable!

Now I am waiting confirmation that tomorrow morning the ship will indeed sail from Jaffa to Gaza, like some ancient mariner.  Stay tuned.

 

The following pics are in chronological order.

 

Me, Club Pres. George Dallal, Past DG Samir Seikaly and Nader in Amman, Jordan
Me, Club Pres. George Dallal, Past DG Samir Seikaly and Nader in Amman, Jordan
rotary-cairo
Me, DG Zakaria Elshafi, Nader, Ayoub, Rania and Tawfik at the Cairo City club.
dsc_1455
Between two continents, crossing the Suez Canal.

 

A poor and desolate city.
Rafah, Egypt a poor and desolate city.
The photo they did not want us to take. Riot police waiting by Rafah gate.
The photo they did not want us to take. Riot police waiting by Rafah gate.
Beyond that gate, barely 100 feet is Gaza
Nader and I facing the closed gates to Gaza at the Rafah crossing, Egypt.Beyond that gate, barely 100 feet is Gaza
Nader on the phone with security officials.
Nader on the phone with security officials.
Rafah Crossing
Me returning empty handed.
dsc_1492
Before parting, Nader and I thought it fitting that we stop at Mt. Nebo, the site where Moses was held from entering the promised land.

LESSONS FROM OBAMA’S VICTORY By Miko Peled

 

Besides restoring my faith in humanity, Barak Obama’s victory made me think of one thing: The first Palestinian Prime Minister in a post Zionist, secular, democratic state in Palestine/Israel.   This may sound strange coming from an Israeli living in America, but just as Obama is good for black and white Americans, a Palestinian prime minister in a secular democracy will be good for Israelis as well as Palestinians. If it can happen in the US it can happen in the holy land. On January 20, an African American by the name of Barak Hussein Obama will be sworn in as President of the United States. This is a milestone if ever there was one, and there are many lessons to be learned from it. At the same time, this does not mean that we should expect that an Obama administration will offer anything new as far as US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.

 

One lesson we need to take from Barak Obama’s victory is this: With razor sharp focus on a single issue, driven home here in America and in our shared homeland, we can achieve equal rights between Israelis and Palestinians in all of Palestine/Israel.  The message has to be: End the apartheid.  The term occupation has become irrelevant because it has come to imply a temporary situation and the Zionist rule of Palestine is clearly not temporary. The message and the effort need no longer focus on a tiny, helpless Palestinian state living peacefully alongside an all-powerful Israel that is armed to its teeth; that possibility has been obliterated for good anyway.  The message and the effort should be focused on ending apartheid and a call for equal rights.

 

It would be naïve to assume that an Obama administration will turn away from years of US blind support for Israel.  Sure, it would be ideal for President Obama to ask former President Jimmy Carter to be his special envoy to Israel/Palestine, but that is not likely to happen. In all likelihood there will be a return to the policies of the Clinton years, policies that may have had good intentions but lead to more of the same. The reason these policies failed and will fail again is that they do not recognize the problem for what it really is, namely the existence of an apartheid regime over Israel/Palestine.

 

If the last 40 years have taught us anything it is that as long as the basic premise for a solution remains partition and is not divorced from the Zionist notion of a big Jewish state next to a small Palestinian state, there can be no resolution. At this point there is no reason to expect change in American policy on the basic premise, not even from President Barak Obama.  However, if the point is driven home with enough zeal, an Obama administration and the American public being sensitive to racial, ethnic and religious discrimination will eventually be forced to re examine support for a country that practices discrimination.

 

The issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel is one that needs to be re examined if we strive to move toward democracy and reconciliation.  It is one of the claims Israel used to discredit the leadership of the late Yasser Arafat and uses now to discredit Hammas and interestingly, the US uses this same claim to discredit Iran.  But a close examination will show that on this issue there is little for which Hammas can be blamed.

 

Expecting Palestinians to accept the rights of an exclusively Jewish state is, plain and simple, stupid. The Jewish state has an insatiable appetite for Palestinian land, it imprisons and forces millions of Palestinians to live in exile and poverty, making the demand for acceptance by Palestinians clearly outrageous.   For nearly thirty years Arafat and his successors have bent over backwards to show that they accept the existence of an exclusively Jewish state, even as that very state continued to oppress and imprison Palestinian people and disposes them of their land. Palestinian leaders have done everything they possibly could to appease one Zionist government after another in order to gain some headway, but alas they received little in return for their efforts.

 

Hammas leaders refuse to recognize and accept the existence of the State of Israel, but can one really blame them? Israel has to date refused to define its own borders and its own character (A Jewish State? A Democracy? An ethnocracy? A theocracy?) But however Israel may choose to see itself, it is without a doubt a bi national state that practices discrimination along ethnic and religious lines.  Furthermore, the Jewish state does not recognize Palestinian national rights and aspirations, and it acts with great determination to undermine the basic human and civil rights of Palestinians.

 

In many ways, the comparison between blacks in America and Palestinians is Israel/Palestine is an appropriate one.  The struggle of African Americans to achieve equality under the law and then their struggle to see that the equality is in fact being enacted is inspiring and can be copied; the non violent nature of their struggle, the moral high ground maintained by African American leaders, their spiritualism and their activism are all good models to emulate. 

 

Palestinians in their homeland and abroad have always been educated, hard working and ethically and morally outstanding citizens.  The fine qualities of Palestinians as a community and as a nation have been masked by a campaign that intentionally focuses on a militant minority that has embraced violence and is by no means typical or representative of the Palestinians as a whole.

 

The notion that has been created is that we, Israelis and Palestinians are opposing nations, one just and righteous and the other mean and misguided, fighting for the same land.  God cannot possibly be on both sides so we must choose sides for him and thus we all fall deeper and deeper into a bottomless chasm.

 

We need to take God out of the discourse and accept that we are all His chosen people, and therefore apartheid and human rights abuses cannot be tolerated. These are issues that are very near and dear to people in America, particularly now that Barak Obama was elected and so this is the time to change the discourse.

 

Instead of fighting to end the occupation, we must focus on bringing an end to apartheid.  We all need to believe it is possible and to educate young Palestinians and Israelis that they must not despair but believe in their ability to bring change. In the words of Barak Obama himself, we need to encourage them to have an audacity to hope and to believe that they can indeed make a difference.  This will allow Israelis and Palestinians to achieve equality and establish a society that embraces dignity and mutual respect.

The amusing term ‘coexistence’

By Hisham Nafa’
From Haaretz
Many people have expressed surprise at the recent violence in Acre. Particularly amusing was the mantra that rolled off the tongues of government officials, their eyes wide open: “How could such a thing happen in a city of coexistence?”  

There are two possible explanations for the bizarre logic behind this sentence: stupidity, or a cynicism that insults the public’s intelligence. It is of course difficult to attribute stupidity to the seasoned public servants with wit enough to climb to positions of power, close to the goodies. They also know how to numb the minds of the sheep while arousing their base instincts. Since the fear instinct in these parts is overly combustible, its manifestations appear immediately: arrogance and hatred toward all Arabs. And when all of these combine to form a near-chemical compound, it will be difficult to put out the fires they ignite simply by spraying them with slogans. 

In Acre, as in the rest of the Greater Land of Israel, there is no coexistence. In Acre, there is pain and bitterness, built up over decades. It began not on Yom Kippur of this year, but rather since the ships filled with refugees left the city’s shores; since the residents were placed in the handcuffs of military rule; since tens of thousands of their countrymen became victims of a violent, colonialist occupation; since a conscious, intentional policy of national suppression and racial hostility was instituted against them; and since they, living in their homes facing the city’s beaches and on their land, began to be described as a demographic threat. 

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There are more details to this ugly picture: Acre has poor Jewish neighborhoods, where the ruling establishment sees to it that the building rage of the inhabitants is not turned against it. It is not a conspiracy in the classic sense, the kind found in fiction, but rather the product of all of the governmental interests. Because a thinking public is a public that is dangerous to its rulers. So where does this rage get channeled? To the usual suspect, the Arabs. Here is where racism takes on a very popular expression. The Jewish victims of the regime become a weapon against the ultimate victims of the same regime. There you have it: an explosive vicious circle. 

For years, Acre’s local government officials have been babbling, in the spirit of the times, about the need to Judaize the city. Groups of settlers and of young religious people, who have undergone right-wing nationalization, were brought to the city. And Acre’s Arabs ask themselves what this Judaization means, if not their actual and symbolic removal; have we been disinherited once again? 

In recent years, religious tendencies have grown among significant “non-white” segments of Israeli society. It turns out that the “opiate of the masses” effect has not skipped over the People of Israel. And in a state where hostility regarding matters of identity has spread to every part – social rifts, in sociological lingo – even Yom Kippur has become an opportunity to exercise hatred, in utter contradiction to its religious meaning. Instead of requests for divine forgiveness, there is an increase in violent rituals against anything that moves. Maybe some people need a Yom Kippur II, to ask forgiveness for their actions during Yom Kippur I. 

Acre, of course, is not alone. There is the “coexistence” model of Jaffa. In that city, greedy real-estate developers and pseudo-artists have infiltrated the Old City and live in walled fortresses, because it’s so much fun to live in such an exotic area. With regard to the adjacent areas of poverty, suffering and oppression, however, their eyes – and especially their conscience – have remained sealed. And there are those who are enchanted by the idea of implementing this model in the Old City of Acre, too. The Arab residents and their representatives speak of an accelerated assault in recent years of real estate acquisitions. They are convinced, justifiably, that it is a creeping takeover that will end with in their exclusion and even expulsion from their living space. It is not for nothing that the concept of Nakba appears in their reactions. 

So there is nothing surprising in what happened in Acre. I suggest to all the potentially surprised individuals to get ready for more “surprises” in other locales. Unless, of course, a a practical, sincere, strategic decision is taken to change Israeli policy concerning the “Arab question” – both at home and beyond.

In the meantime, the Arabs of Acre, like all Arab citizens of Israel, have no magic formula for coping. What is available to them is the lesson learned in the shadow of the Israeli regime: It’s called sumud [“steadfastness” in Arabic], holding on to the homeland and waging a stubborn struggle for full civil and national equality. 

Hisham Nafa’ is an author and a journalist.

Pardon me, But I’m Jewish

 

The racist discourse in America is alarming and often people don’t even notice when it takes place.  When the lady at the town hall meeting asked John McCain if Barak Obama was an Arab he replied: “No, no he is a decent family man.”  Where is the contradiction here?  Does Arab mean he is not a decent family man?  Well, pardon me but I am Jewish and I am over sensitive and easily offended by these things.

To the claim that Obama is an Arab, the appropriate response is: “So what.” To the question is Barak Obama a Moslem the reply ought to be: “I don’t know but who cares.”  contrary to what many people say, the holocaust was not the worst thing that happened to Jewish people, and it  is not the recurrence of the holocaust that we need to fear the most. The holocaust was the inevitable outcome of centuries of European Christian indoctrination that Jewish people are less than human. What took place in the holocaust was the natural outcome of centuries where Christians taught hate.  It is the recurrence of that trend we need to prevent so that another holocaust will never take place.

 America is poised for a tremendous opportunity this November. It is far greater than landing a man on the moon, or building this or that space gadget or discovering this or that microbe.  It is to show America that to be American you don’t have to be called Jim or George or Bob; that you don’t have to look like those white old guys who have their portraits all over the place.  No, you can be an African, or an Arab or an Asian and still be an American because the truth is that it has been this way for more than two centuries. 

But this is a formidable task.  Making the next eight years the best in America’s history will require strength and courage that are yet to be asked of Americans on Election Day.  On Election Day most of us like to go stick to our old comforts and loyalties, to find the person who looks and speaks like us or in a way that makes us feel comfortable.  We want “our guy” or the guy from “our team” to win.  We are all human and that is how humans act.  This is ok under normal circumstances

But this year the opportunity is so great that we must look beyond our usual loyalties and comforts.  This year we need to look at what America can really be like in eight years and that is a hard thing to do.  We are drawn into despair by news of an economic crisis, by fears of impending attacks by terrorists and by the possibility that our earth is on the brink of a major natural disaster. It is only natural then, that we all cling to what we know to be true that we cling to what we believe to be right and that we cover our eyes and our ears to anything that might rattle our comfort.

America has done things that no other country has done, and this includes acts of magnanimity as well as acts of great stupidity and cruelty.  This is the nature of great nations – that they have the capacity to do great things and they have the power to make colossal mistakes.   This election year presents this nation with an opportunity to show its greatness, to show its magnanimity and to show its true strength.

No one needs proof of America’s military or economic might.  Just take one look at the talented men and women who make up the armed services.  People who like me live in Coronado see these men and women daily.  I have the privilege of working with many families who have loved ones in the navy: The are the best and the brightest and they are the most dedicated people and parents one can hope to meet.  We also know that America has brilliant minds in the fields of economy and science and quite possibly every other field known to man.

Every powerful nation has good leaders and bad leaders.  Every powerful nation in the history of the world has shown greatness and has stooped down to pettiness; every powerful nation has had its time of glory and its times of shame.  The last eight years have brought this country to an unprecedented low.  It is up to us this year to determine what the next eight years be like for America.

No one knows how long it will take to build the destruction that America caused to Iraq, or how long it would take for the Iraqis to forgive America for its intervention.  From my knowledge of the people of the Middle East I would venture to say that for the most part they are magnanimous and forgiving.  Iraqis will undoubtedly rebuild their country, but the sooner America leaves the better things will be for Iraq and for the Middle East as a whole.  

The questions that Americans need to ask is how do we make sure we are not drugged and mislead into another war as we with Iraq. If the surge did or did not work is immaterial because there would have not been a need for a surge had America not destroyed the order that was there to begin with.  And the issue is not what the generals recommend that the government should or should not do, it is for the government to tell the generals what they should be doing and when.  

There are many issues the next President will need to tackle, more so than most Presidents and we would do well to make sure that the next President is the guy with the audacity to hope.  It is time for America to look beyond the color to look beyond the fear; to trust that its ok to have a first family that does not look like any first family before it.

So I say once again, pardon me, but I am Jewish. I see no contradiction between being an Arab and being a decent family man. This is one issue about which America needs to be very clear.

War Crimes

Holding the top brass of the Israeli security apparatus, i.e. army, border patrol,  shabak etc., responsible for the crimes committed against the Palestinian people is crucial to the struggle to end the apartheid regime that they enforce.  Several countries have already made it difficult for these criminals to enter their borders and the more countries that do so the better.  

In a country where the army is worshiped like a god and where the word security brings everyone to their knees, holding those at the top of the pyramid responsible and closed in so they cannot travel will, in my opinion be a real shock to the system.  Israelis believe that their army is a “moral” army and that their officers are “good” officers who will never harm innocent people. They are, after all products of the Zionist education system that teaches to value human life and justice above all else. Well, it is time that Israelis who serve the apartheid be it through the secret service shabak -ike organizations or the military, realize that there is a price to be paid.  

Israelis love to travel, everywhere you go around the world you see Israelis.  Once they retire, the top military brass go into business or academics or politics and travel as VIPs around the world.  They need to realize this is unique privilege will not be available to them and that people around the world won’t accept them, invite them or allow them to enter their countries and institutions.  In the following article Khalid Amayreh discusses this issue in regard to Spain.

Spain, don’t succumb to Israeli pressure  By Khalid Amayreh in Occupied Jerusalem

5 September, 2008

 The Israeli government has been quietly pressing (and pressuring) Spain to reconsider issuing warrants for the arrest of high-ranking Israeli army officers accused of committing war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.

 Earlier this year, a lawsuit was filed at the National court of Spain with the aim of issuing an arrest warrant against seven Israeli military officials.  The seven included  former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former Defense Minister Benyamin Benalizer, former Shin Beth Chief Avi Dichter, former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, former Air Force Commander Dan Halutz, Operation Branch Commander Giora Eiland and Southern Command Chief Doron Almog.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), which filed the lawsuit,  urged the Spanish Judicial authorities to issue an international arrest warrant against the seven in connection with their role in the bombing of an apartment building in Gaza on 22 July, 2002,  in which a Hamas chief was killed along with his family and 15 other civilians, including 11 children.  

The National Court of Spain has accepted the case for further examination, the first step towards launching a formal prosecution.  If the case is successful, those charged would be arrested upon entering Spanish territory and stripped  of the diplomatic immunity some of them currently enjoy.  According to Israeli media sources, Tzipi Livni, now acting Foreign Minister who is also slated to become Prime Minister,  has asked Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel  Angel Moratinos to use his influence to deactivate legal considerations that would  enable the Spanish Justice system to “hound”  visiting Israeli officials accused of committing war crimes.  

Well, Spain is well-advised to refuse to succumb to Israeli pressure in this regard.  The reasons for that are many:  First, this is not a political issue; it is first and foremost a legal and moral issue involving the premeditated murder of innocent people. We are talking about hundreds, even thousands, of innocent men, women and children killed knowingly and deliberately by the Israeli army  which acted on direct instructions and orders from the likes of Ya’alon,  Halutz and Benalizer. Comprehensive records containing full details of these crimes are readily available as they have been  meticulously documented by human rights groups operating in Palestine.

The helpless, unwept victims owe it to the conscience of humanity to make the accused stand trial for their crimes. If they are found not guilty, they will be set free; but if they are found guilty, they should be made to pay for their crimes.  Hence, Spain must uphold the moral authority of its justice system and see to it that alleged Israeli war criminals setting foot on Spanish soil are treated no better and no worse than any other criminals.  Criminals are criminals regardless of their ethnic background or religious affiliation. And it shouldn’t matter if the suspects are citizens of a powerful or a powerless state.  Second,  there is a large mass of evidence that would indict these alleged war criminals.

 Ariel Sharon is undoubtedly a certified war criminal. He lived all his life as a war criminal. He was a war criminal as a soldier, as Platoon commander, as a Defense Minister and as a Prime Minister.  Sharon  had ordered the mass murder of hundreds of Egyptian Prisoners of War. However, his role in the genocidal massacres of Sabra and Shatilla near Beirut in September, 1982, accorded him the status of a  war criminal par excellance. But he doesn’t have to stand trial now, if only because he, now in a vegetative stage for the third consecutive year,  is being punished sufficiently  by God.

 As to Benalizer, this man too is a war criminal for ordering murderous operations that caused the death of numerous innocent people including children. In 2001, Benalizer boasted about killing so many Palestinians without drawing negative reactions from the world community.  “The world is now preoccupied with the events in America (9/11). This means that we can behave as we see fit with the Palestinians,” he said gleefully.  In addition, Benalizer okayed the bombing of an apartment building at Hay-al-Daraj in downtown Gaza more than six years ago. Then an Israeli warplane dropped a 2000 ib. bomb on the house of Sheikh Salah Shehadeh, a commander of Hamas military wing. The bombing killed fifteen civilians, along with Shehadeh, the majority of them young children.  Israeli officials involved in that monstrous  crime  also included Ya’alon, then chief of staff of the Israeli army, who knew that Shehadeh’s wife and daughters were close to him during the bombing.”

 This is the same Ya’alon who several months later called Israel’s Palestinian victims “ a cancer,” saying that “now I will be content with chemotherapy” and implying that “if the chemotherapy didn’t work,” then He would have to adopt the Hitlerian therapy.

 As to Halutz, the Israeli air-force commander in 2002, he too boasted about the Hay-al-Daraj carnage. A reporter asked him what he felt when he dropped the bomb,  Halutz retorted that he felt a small movement under his seat when the bomb fell. In a separate interview, he said he had no compunctions or guilty feelings knowing that innocent children were killed.

 “I sleep well at night, I have a clear conscience.” In their hearts, Israeli officials and Israelis in general realize that most of  their actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and also in Lebanon can be classified as war crimes.

Some Israeli spokespersons try to prevaricate and create confusion by claiming that Israeli soldiers kill innocent Palestinians knowingly but not deliberately. Well, what is the difference between killing knowingly and killing deliberately. Even the Nazis didn’t have the Chutzpah to make such a claim.Besides, when the number of innocent victims is so vast, as in Gaza, even intent becomes irrelevant.  

It is for these reasons that the Spanish authorities  must not allow the integrity of the Spanish justice system to be compromised  by diplomatic pressure exerted by  Israel’s supremacist  leaders who harbor the racist belief that what applies to the rest of humanity doesn’t apply to Jews.  To be sure, no one is suggesting that Spain play the role of  world judge or world policeman.

However, Spain is a sovereign state and has the right to bar suspected war criminals from entering its territory.  This is the least civilized countries can do to  discourage and prevent the recurrence of more war crimes and crimes against humanity.

fighting for peace

Karate class in Ramallah
Karate class in Ramallah

I am a professional martial artist, I teach karate for a living.  So what does that have to do with peace?  A lot!  I was able to visit two karate schools in the PA, one in Anata and one in Ramallah.  They were both excellent schools with a very high level of instruction.   Now martial arts is something I do know a lot about and I know a good school when I see one.  It means a good, dedicated and demanding teacher and it means loyal and serious students.

While I was visiting these schools I had spoken to the students. I told them that karate is all about self defense, it is all about overcoming our fears and it is all about reaching for the highest goals possible.  For Palestinians living under Israeli military oppression this is crucial. First of all it is a way to instill inner strength in children so that they know they are able to resist  without having to resort to violence.  That by practicing martial arts they are developing an inner strength that is far greater than all the weapons the Israeli army can ever accumulate.

“Think about it”, I said to one child that was practicing” a soldier who carries so many weapons must be full of fear.   Particularly since the Israeli soldiers carry these weapons to fight an unarmed civilian population – can you think of a more cowardly thing to do? You who have no weapons but are fighting the fight that is just and therefore you are by far stronger, even though it does not seem that way.”

Of the thousands of people I know that practice martial arts and are black belts few have ever resorted to violence.  That is the sign that have truly mastered their martial arts.  When you are skilled in fighting but never resort to violence you are showing the greatest skill of all.  Now win the context of resistance this is an important point. It takes a lot of courage to resist a violent and brutal army and practicing martial arts develops courage.  You have to know in your hear of hearts that you are stronger, and karate teaches you to believe in your self. Without a firm belief in yourself it would be impossible to resist in an intelligent way.  Palestinian children need to know that they do have a chance at a god life, that they do deserve to live in freedom that this land we share is their land just as much as it the Israelis; they need to know that no one has the right to keep them from living a full life, from travelling, studying.  They need to be taught that it i snot only right but imperative to defy Israel and the laws that govern Palestinian life.

By the same token Israeli children need to know that they must defy their own government and they must travel and engage in relation building with the people with whom they share the land.  The Israeli army wants to keep us apart and we must fight them and insist on joining hands and creating a better country where Israelis are freed from the restrictions of their oppressive government a government that makes every Israeli an accomplice in its crimes.

On one of my visits to the school in Anata I brought my two boys. These are some pics from my visits to karate schools in Ramallah and Anata.

My boys at Anata TKD school. Check out the flags
My boys at Anata TKD school. Check out the flags
Karate class in Anata
Karate class in Anata

Bil’in Conference

The Bil’in struggle against the wall and against the confiscation of land from Palestinians to build Israeli settlements is a good model for future struggle against Israeli apartheid.  It is a struggle that includes Israeli and Palestinian people side by side and it has on its banner the clear message of a non violent struggle.

The Bil’in conferences, of which I was able to attend one, the 2007 conference, is a good concept that is clearly catching on and getting attention.  It will hopefully be more of an anti apartheid/pro democracy event in the future. As more people realize that that has to be the objective of the struggle: A secular democracy in our shared homeland, equal rights for all Palestinians and Israelis,a constitution drafted by both sides.

Bil'in Conference
Bil'in Conference 2007