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Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
January 12th, 2009

To Understand and To Act

Reflections and resources concerning the War in Gaza

 
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gaza-composite

There has been constant discussion in our news media about the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the tiny strip of land on the Mediterranean known as the Gaza Strip. In an earnest effort to both understand better and take action, Marc Adams, a contributing editor at Busted Halo, began an online conversation with a group of former Jesuit volunteers, friends and family. His initial questions regarding how to deal with the crisis have generated a rich dialogue about what we, here in the US, can and should do about the situation in Gaza.

Much of the email correspondence centered on how to understand the facts on the ground — including our media’s portrayal of the state of affairs versus the reality — and what people can do to help foster peace in the region.

What follows is a small sampling of that continuing discussion. I have added some reflections based on the seven years I lived and worked in the region — including Gaza — as well as my continuing efforts as an activist for peace and human rights, which have brought me back to the area several times since then, to work with a variety of grassroots groups. Below that are resources and links to other voices on the war, and suggestions for practical ways in which people can get involved and help to make a difference.

In Marc Adams original email he wrote:

“As what seems to always be the case, Israel has responded to deadly rocket attacks against its people with (what seems to me) brutal overpowering by its military against many innocent civilians in Gaza. Can someone please explain to me why there can’t be a cease-fire? Does anyone have any good ideas of what I or we can do as citizens of the US to help end this dire situation? It’s so frustrating to hear President Bush give unwavering support of Israel and to see President-Elect Obama remain silent. In my view, BOTH sides (Israel and Hamas) are at fault and the sooner everyone can admit to that, the sooner we can move forward. So what do we do? Hold a big demonstration? Write a congressperson? Donate money to a good cause?”

Here are some of the numerous replies:

“Absolutely no one (and I of course speak so metaphorically and in the kindest way possible) cares Marc. No one…. There is no petroleum product, trendy trend, or money to be made in peace in Gaza.” Tim

“I respectfully disagree… The fact that Marc cares and is able to email 100 other people in his circle who he believes also might be concerned is enough of a start for me.” Bill

“When you study Gandhi and King, you see that there was a commitment to their campaigns that we have forgotten is necessary. Coming out for a demonstration and making sure that you can be home for dinner and follow to route that the police pre-approved is not going to get it done. It takes greater sacrifice. You need to be out there on the streets day after day, week after week, until you affect change.” Eric

“Wouldn’t true proportionality require Israel to respond by firing 600+ missiles randomly and indiscriminately into to Gaza?” Hans

“We absolutely have a humanitarian crisis. But that we had in Gaza long before Israel made its full-scaled attack. Even when we make the situation better for the Gazans under siege, we still haven’t lifted the siege, which in itself is a humanitarian crisis.” Sonny

“I need to say this: it would not, not, NOT be proportional for Israel to fire 600+ rockets into Gaza.” Jill

Like me, Jill was one of the correspondents who have been to Palestine and Israel. She had been to Israel and the West Bank twice: in 2004, as a student with a biblical studies program, and in 2006 as a member of the Michigan Peace Team. I agree with her sense that we in the US don’t get the full story of Gaza in our mainstream press and suggest our main challenge, today, is getting to the truth of the matter.

She continues:

“It is a David and Goliath situation. Firing rockets out of Gaza (most of which land in the desert) is a scare tactic, to be sure, and I’m not saying its the right thing to do, but I understand it as an act of absolute desperation… the Gaza strip is essentially an open air prison… to get out of Gaza requires going through a checkpoint, either into Israel or Egypt. These checkpoints are frequently closed, and if you are lucky enough that they are open, a Palestinian probably won’t be given permission to pass through anyhow. When the checkpoints are closed, this means that no food, fuel or medical supplies can get in.   People in Gaza are very poor.   Most rely on UN aid, and this has been spotty in terms of getting in due to blockades.

“Yes, the people of Israel have a right to live without fear of random rockets landing in their deserts and towns, and the people of Gaza have rights to basic human needs—first and foremost, their dignity, which means access to food, water—necessities of life.”

I am an artist and social justice activist with seven years experience working in Palestine and Israel. As a Religious Studies major in college, I spent a semester of my junior year studying in Jerusalem with the University of Notre Dame. After graduation, I returned to the area and spent six years (1990-1996) living in both the West Bank and Gaza.   My first position was as a long-term delegate with the non-profit organization Middle East Witness. I was placed in Gaza City, where I taught English at the Red Crescent Society and helped lead US delegations around the Gaza Strip. After my time with MEW, I worked with the Educational Network in Ramallah and later raised money to implement two art teacher-training programs in schools in the West Bank and Gaza.

My opinion about the situation has always been a relatively simple one. In order to create a lasting and just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians the occupation must end. Every act of violence from either side stems from this original injustice. And because the occupation would not last without US support, we as US citizens have a responsibility. We should realize our mainstream press distorts the issue, and educate ourselves using alternative media sources. Then, we need to tell our representatives in Congress, write letters to our papers and do whatever other creative acts we feel inspired to do, to let it be known that, as citizens of the US and as world citizens, we believe Israel and the United States should abide by international law and end the occupation.

No one is condoning the missiles Hamas has fired, but we need real context and clarity. The main obstacle to resolving the conflict is not that Palestinians are firing rockets; it is that Israel (with US support) is refusing to abide by international law and the desires of the international community.

Recently, I’ve come across op-eds by notable figures that make similar points. Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia, and author of the forthcoming “Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Hegemony in the Middle East,” in an op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times, begins, “Nearly everything you’ve been led to believe about Gaza is wrong.” He follows with points about Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip that are missing from the conversation in the press, including facts about the occupation, the blockade, the ceasefire, and war crimes. President Jimmy Carter, who has long argued that it is necessary for the US to engage with Hamas, in an op-ed in the December 8 Washington Post, calls the current military actions in Gaza “an unnecessary war.” He describes the conditions in Gaza, and suggests the conflict could have been resolved through diplomacy. Peter Preston, who was editor for the Guardian for 20 years and now writes columns for the paper, wrote an article for its January 7 issue entitled “Israel barks, the US media wags its tail: America’s commentators should break their silence on the conflict in Gaza: Tel Aviv cares what they think.”

Resources

Members of the online discussion gave many resources to help us understand the situation and stay informed of current events:

Tactics

In practical terms, correspondents offered both short and long term tactics. Here are some:

  1. Give money to help civilians, and encourage others to do the same: www.interaction.org/gaza — this is a list of InterAction members who are helping civilians on the ground in Gaza. “InterAction is the largest coalition of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focused on the world’s poor and most vulnerable people. Collectively, InterAction’s 172 members work in every developing country.”
  2. Contact your Congressperson . The two most effective and efficient ways to do so are:
  3. Write letters and comments to local and national media outlets, and to online networks and outlets. Draw information and ideas on what to say and ask for from organizations on the ground helping people , and from credible analysts. The most important general things to stress are that you care and why; that other people should care; and what you want them to do. Some organizations to look at:
  4. Hand In Hand, www.handinhand12.org, offers a direct way to support an organization actively fostering cultural understanding, open dialogue, and conflict mediation strategies among the children suffering from this conflict.
  5. Check out the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, www.endtheoccupation.org, which regularly updates actions one can take to respond to the conflict. The campaign is a coalition focused on challenging US policy and using boycott and divestment as a means to get Israel to abide by international laws.
 
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The Author : Ellen O'Grady
Ellen O'Grady is the author of Outside the Ark: An Artist's Journey in Occupied Palestine. She lives in Durham, NC, and travels frequently, giving storytelling/slide-show presentations based on her work. She is currently drawing panels for her next book The Magic Nation, a graphic novel that explores boundary crossing. For more information check out her website: www.ellenogrady.com.
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