Gaza, home to two million people, continues to face suffocating conditions imposed by Israel. For sixteen years Palestinians in Gaza have lived under a brutal blockade, isolated from the rest of historic Palestine and the world.
AFSCs new anthology, Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire, imagines the future of Gaza beyond the cruelties of occupation and Apartheid. It imagines what the future of Gaza could be, while reaffirming the critical role of Gaza in Palestinian identity, history, and liberation.
Light in Gaza is a wide-ranging anthology that includes new works by eleven Palestinian writers and poets. It constitutes a collective effort to organize and center Palestinian voices in the ongoing struggle for liberation and justice. It explores the central question: can a better future for Gaza be imagined as a part of a broader vision for ending the Nakba through return, restoration of rights, and achieving justice?
We hope that Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire will serve as a powerful intervention at an important political moment.
July 14th is the Bastille day–the day in which the Bastille fell, and that has come to symbolize the French revolution. This year, on this highly symbolic day, a steady, years old anti-corruption movement in Israel morphed itself into something else completely. By the end of that night, more than 50 protesters –including myself–were led to a police station soaking wet after hours of water cannons trying to disperse the hundreds of protesters blocking roads all around Jerusalem.
The background to these protests is a combination of a prime minister who has been indicted and currently stands on trial on multiple charges of corruption, an “emergency coalition government” formed to respond to the COVID crisis after three elections in which Israeli politics were at a complete deadlock, a complete failure of the government to address the spread of the “second wave” of COVID in the country, and the failed economic response to COVID giving symbolic blanket payouts on the one hand while failing to actually address the needs of those who lost their jobs and incomes….
Old news but worth repeating so many know. From The Times of Israel (October 2012)
JTA – A Quaker group has removed a French and an American company from its financial portfolio due to what it calls the companies’ involvement in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.
Friends Fiduciary Corporation will drop the French multinational corporation Veolia Environment and the US-based Hewlett-Packard from its portfolio following requests from Quakers concerned about the companies’ involvement in the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands.
FFC has investments of more than $250,000 in HP and more than $140,000 in Veolia, according to the We Divest Campaign. The money is part of an overall $200 million in assets and investments for more than 250 Quaker meetings, schools, organizations, trusts and endowments around the US.
The Quaker group does not issue public announcements about such moves, but did send a letter confirming the information, according to Anna Baltzer, a spokesperson for the We Divest Campaign.
“It’s not private; it’s public information and they’ve written a letter to the Friends Meeting in Ann Arbor, Mich. that raised the issue,” she said. The Ann Arbor group did not return JTA’s call for this article.
However, Jeffrey W. Perkins, the FFC’s executive director, said in a press release issued by We Divest that HP provides information technology consulting services to the Israeli Navy, and Veolia Environment is involved in “environmental and social concerns” with the Israeli military,
This decision comes a few months after the FFC dropped shares in Caterpillar Inc. because Caterpillar “would neither confirm nor deny the extent or type of modifications to equipment sold to the Israeli military,” according to the release.
This is highly distorted view of the courageous work of our esteemed quasi-Quaker sister organization, the AFSC. A damning point of view—yet to me, ironically, an affirming catalog of its many campaigns including No Way to Treat a Child, and Gaza Unlocked. I strongly believe understanding the views of one’s adversaries helps us argue and work for the truth. Wikipedia reports that “The on-line communications editor of NGO Monitor, Arnie Draiman, was indefinitely banned from editing articles [on Wikipedia] about the Israeli-Arab conflict for biased editing, concealing his place of work and using a second account in a way that is forbidden by Wikipedia policy.” Please check my links at the end for rebuttals to NGO Monitor. (Skip Schiel)
Accuses Israel of “obvious violence in Gaza…slow and systematic ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem through continuing displacement from sprawling illegal settlements, land grabs, the separation barrier…crushing restrictions of Palestinian movement, and a network of racist laws.”
In 2015, “Palestine-Israel Program Director” Mark Merryman-Lotze explained AFSC’s “position supportive of anti-normalization principles,” rejecting “any project, initiative, or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal opposition and resistance to the Israeli occupation and structural inequalities.”
AFSC operates a project with Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) called “Hamushim” (“Armed”) that “works to expose the true human price of the Israeli military industry and arms trade, as well as to mobilize actions against it.” The organization’s activists accuse Israel of selling weapons to dictatorships and countries that suppress human rights in exchange for their sympathetic votes in the UN mechanisms.
On November 13, 2017, Hamushim held an event titled “The Israeli Arms Empire” which discussed how “In the past 50 years, Israeli weapons have been handed over to almost all perpetrators of crimes against humanity, civil wars and genocide” as well as the “Israeli connection to the suppression of protests by Black Lives Matter in Ferguson, USA.”
In October 2017, Jennifer Bing, director of the Chicago AFSC Palestine-Israel Program, spoke at a conference titled “Parallel Liberation Struggles: Lessons in Resistance” commemorating the “100-year Palestinian resistance to Israel’s settler-colonial project and explor[ing] the similarities in violence used against Palestinians, African Americans, and Native Americans and their methods of resistance.”
In February 2018, AFSC stated its support for “boycott and divestment campaigns that target companies complicit in the occupation.” According to AFSC, “BDS has proven effective as a nonviolent tool for realizing political and social change… AFSC answered the call for divestment from apartheid in South Africa. Supporting the call for BDS from Palestinians seeking freedom, equality, and justice is just as critical today.”
AFSC launched an online investment screening tool to “help individuals and institutions identify companies on their investment portfolios that are directly complicit in ongoing severe violations of human rights and international law.”
Dalit Baum, AFSC Director of Economic Activism, is co-founder of Coalition of Women for Peace’s flagship BDS project “Who Profits?” (now an independent organization) and formerly served as the campaign’s project manager.
Ajlouny, General Secretary of AFSC, formerly served as Country Director for the Palestinian territories and Israel for Oxfam GB and Director of the Friends School in Ramallah.
On November 6, 2017, Ajlouny signed a letter to members of Congress opposing anti-BDS legislation and “support[ing] nonviolent means to end the 50-year-old occupation.” According to the letter, “bills also conflate Israel and the settlements, erasing the important distinction between Israel and its illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. They further imply that opposition to Israel’s practices in the territories is the same as being anti-Israel. We are troubled by the bills’ intent to penalize or criminalize the use of economic measures as a legitimate means of opposing policies that inhibit human rights.”
In a June 2015 interview with the Jerusalem Fund, Ajlouny explained that “As a Quaker school, it is our role to guide students to a nonviolent path. The BDS movement is very big on our campus, too. Our students are always challenging us as an administration to see if we are keeping up with BDS.”
It is estimated that as many as 250,000 Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the Great Return March since the nonviolent border protest launched March 30. Many are from a new generations of Palestinian refugees who are rediscovering the spirit of resistance manifested during the first and second intifadas. One of them was Abed El-Fattah Abed Elnaby, 18. He was my second cousin.
He was among the first martyrs—a number that since has grown to 49. One of nine shot and killed by Israeli snipers that first day, Abed El-Fattah achieved a kind of posthumous fame when what has now become an iconic photograph, taken moments before he was shot by Gaza photographer Mahmoud Abu Salama—appeared on the front page of the Washington Post. Here is the story behind that photo:
Abed El-Fattah was both the tallest and the youngest among the four sons in the family. (He also had five sisters!) He was known as a joker, but was a quick learner in school with a special aptitude for math. However, the boy left school when he was just 16 to help support his family. He trained as a plumber and put in additional hours at a baker, helping to pay one of his sister’s university tuition. Abed El-Fattah even bought his own clothes with his earnings.
Why did he decide to risk his life, meager as it was, to not only participate in the protest but approach the front lines? His family members tell me Abed El-Fattah yearned to see his family’s original village of Simsim (سمسم), located just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) northeast of Gaza. On May 12, 1948, pre-state Israeli forces ran the villagers out of their town. The concept of a daily march to the border to call for Palestinians’ right to return to their ancestral homes captured his imagination, and he had been listening to the news every day.
On March 30, Abed El-Fattah woke up at 8 a.m. and worked at his brother’s falafel restaurant until around 2.p.m. Then he went home for his mother’s lunch, but didn’t eat much. Instead, he began preparing himself for the march, putting on new clothes he had purchased the day before. It was as if he wanted to look like a gentleman for what would become the day of his death. Dressed, he left home in a taxi. His friends next door (Zyed Abu Oukar and Yousef Masoud) and his brother Muhammad, with whom he was very close, followed shortly after.
Many of the protesters carried tires, which had become a symbol of the first and second intifadas. Tires were used at that time to block the vans driven by Zionist soldiers. But this time, many among the thousands gathered along the border began burning the tires to obscure the view of the Israeli snipers, who were targeting them with live ammunition.
According to Muhammad, Abed El-Fattah did not join them. However, when snipers began shooting at a younger boy carrying a tire close to the border fence, he darted toward and grabbed it from him so the teen could run faster. Both were running back toward the crowd of demonstrators when the Israeli snipers shot five bullets: One hit Muhammad, who was close by; he was spared only because the bullet was deflected by the mobile phone in his front shirt pocket. Another hit Abed El-Fattah in the head. He was rushed to a hospital, but he could not be saved.
“My soul was taken from me,” his father says.
How do you begin to describe such a loss? I could write about his grieving family and friends, who are haunted by his memory. Or I could describe the community mosque and his sister’s house he had helped build. Or I could interview Fadwa, an elderly woman in the neighborhood who can’t walk so is confined to a wheelchair. Abed El-Fattah knew she had no children to look after her, so became her surrogate son, bringing her food and helping her with chores almost every day. Now, she moans about how deeply she misses him.
“He is still with us, though, because he is in our hearts,” says his mother with tears in her eyes.
And despite their bottomless grief, his brothers continue to participate in the march with their father, in the hope that change will come, and that maybe, just maybe, they can see Simsim.
The strategy of The Great March of Return, Palestinians in Gaza demanding their right of return to their villages and towns, curiously parallels the nonviolent resistance methods taught by Mubarak Awad before Israel exiled him in 1988. (Posted two days before Memorial Day in the United States, a day dedicated to participants in violence, honorable people no doubt but perhaps misguided.)
Here’s part of an interview conducted in 2000:
An old man came to me whose land the Israelis had taken. He wanted it back. So I told him to get 300 or 400 people from his village—children, young people, old people—anybody who wanted to come.
The settlers had put a fence around the land. We could take the fence down and just sit there and if the Israeli military wanted to kill us, let them kill us. I told him, on one condition: Not a single person should throw a stone.
If we are all going to be massacred, let it be. And we did that; we took the land back from the settlers. That created an echo with a lot of Palestinians, who started coming to me at the Center instead of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Taking fear away from people and replacing it with courage is the essence of nonviolence.
Mubarak Awad is the founder of Nonviolence International. Meir Amor, an Israeli peace activist living in Canada, interviewed him.
In May 1988, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir ordered Awad arrested and expelled. Officials charged that Awad broke Israeli law by inciting “civil uprising” and helping to write leaflets that advocated civil disobedience that were distributed by the leadership of the First Intifada. No evidence was provided to support the charge and Awad appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that he had forfeited his right to residence status in Israel when he became a U.S. citizen and he was deported in June 1988. (Wikipedia)