Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Thanks to Portland Indymedia for filming! And thanks Portland for turning out!!
The case perhaps most notably authorized by the Material Support Law, which was upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday, was that of the Holy Land Foundation, once the largest Muslim charity in the United States. My father, Ghassan Elashi, co-founded this charity, and after two lengthy, expensive trials, he’s now serving a 65-year prison sentence.
The panel was split 6-3, the valiant minority being Chief Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth B. Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts concluded that the Material Support Law is not too vague and does not violate the First Amendment, opposing the extensive arguments of constitutional law expert David Cole who, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, challenged the law in the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion, stating that the law could criminalize speech and association “only when the defendant knows or intends that those activities will assist the organization's unlawful terrorist actions.”
The Patriot Act, which expanded a provision in the Material Support Law to include those who provide “assistance,” essentially made it illegal to send charity to the U.S. Treasury Department lists of desig nated terrorists. The Holy Land Foundation, or HLF, was never found guilty of giving charity to a desig nated terrorist organization. Rather, they were convicted of conspiring to give material support in the form of humanitarian aid to Palestinian charities called “zakat committees” that prosecutors alleged were fronts for Hamas, which was designated in 1995.
A Texas jury deadlocked in the first trial in 2007, defending the defense’s main argument: that USAID, Red Cross, the UN, CARE and many international NGOs sent money to the same zakat committees listed on the HLF indictment. But in the 2008 retrial, after essentially the same arguments, the jury returned all guilty verdicts. My father is currently being held in a Communications Management Unit in Marion, Illinois, a prison that's been called "Little Guantanamo" since two-thirds of the inmate population is of Middle Eastern descent.
The Supreme Court decision is not the most optimistic news regarding the HLF case, which is now under appeal. Nevertheless, defense attorneys assert they still have strong grounds for appeal, including the prosecution’s evidentiary errors and anonymous expert from Israel who claimed he could smell Hamas and testified under a fictitious name, thereby preventing defense attorneys from effectively cross-examining him.
According to the ACLU, the Material Support Law is “in desperate need of re-evaluation and reform.” The Supreme Court didn’t see that need, but hopefully, Congress will see that the law is shredding our Constitution in the name of national security and undermining bona fide humanitarian efforts, thus, causing an economic chokehold on Occupied Palestine.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
"Obama has no power; he works for the companies," she added. "It’s all about money; a ménage à trois between the government, the regulators and the companies."
Among residents, the White House’s response, particularly Obama’s press appearances and visits to the gulf, are viewed with disdain.
Chester, a transportation contractor who works around the oil industry, said he was not impressed with Obama’s June 15 address from the Oval Office. "Obama’s about as smooth as smooth could be. But history has been made, and he can’t keep up with it," he said.
Deneen agreed. "Obama’s not responding; he’s acting for the cameras. The only reason he made those four trips [to the Gulf] was because of the criticism he was getting from the general public.
"Obama has no power; he works for the companies," she added. "It’s all about money; a ménage à trois between the government, the regulators and the companies."
On June 14th, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the Los Angeles Superior Court at 210 W. Temple to demand justice for Oscar Grant. Angelenos made it very clear that the significance of the trial of Johannes Mehserle is bigger than just Oscar Grant's case, and that police brutality is part of systematic oppression. Connections were drawn between police killings in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, as well as in New York.For more pics, etc. here: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/06/14/18650665.php
And not forgetting the six month long uprising, which began on June 14, 2006, loud cries of "Oaxaca Vive Vive, La Lucha Sigue Sigue" rang through the downtown streets.
I want to first say thank you--thank you for taking the time and
making the commitment to come to this place--but thank you mostly
for remembering. Sometimes I sit in this cage and I find myself
wondering if anyone really remembers. Many days, remembering is
all my mind allows me to do. So, again, thank you. Thank you for
bearing witness and being a part of a living memory.
But maybe the most important thing I'd like to say is don't
forget. Not ever.
You must be the historians who keep this lesson alive because
this story isn't about one day, one event, one person, or even one
lifetime. This is a story that goes all the way back to the day a
misguided fool, whose name I won't even mention, led his troops in
an attack on innocent people at the Greasy Grass, and in the process
got himself and over two hundred of his troopers killed. And while
the victors on that day had no choice but to defend themselves,
we have been the victims of a genocidal revenge that continues
until this very moment. So don't forget. Not ever.
It is vengeance that preoccupies the mind of the colonizer. It
is this fervor to show us who is boss that led to the massacre
at Wounded Knee, the theft of the Black Hills, the establishment
of boarding schools, and the criminalization of our languages
and traditional ways. It is vengeance that armed the GOON squads,
killed our leaders, and surrounded our people at Wounded Knee again
in 1973. Revenge is why they today prosecute Indian people for the
crimes they know the government committed during their murderous
campaigns of the last generation. Vengeance is what killed Joe
Stuntz, Anna Mae Aquash, Buddy Lamont and so many others. Getting
even is what keeps me in prison. So don't forget. Not ever.
All of these events are bound together, interrelated and
interdependent. And quite clearly the lesson they intend for us
to learn is don't defend yourselves. Don't stand up for what is
right. Don't think for yourselves. Don't choose to be who you
are. Don't remember your ancestors. Don't live in defense of the
Earth. Don't you do it! Don't even think about it. If you do,
this government--this mindset of control--will unleash an attack
so vast it will even seek to destroy our genetic memories. So don't
forget. Not ever.
In days past, some among our people were induced to become
"scouts". For whatever reasons, these individuals made possible
the treacherous campaigns that resulted in the deaths of countless
innocent people. These days--sadly--there are still these types
amongst us. The government preys on the weaknesses of these people,
inducing them to turn against the rest of us. The government
uses this treachery to cover up state sanctioned murder and
terrorism. They do this and then tell us that what we remember
didn't really happen at all, as though memory or truth is something
to be shaped and molded to fit a preconceived outcome. So don't
forget. Not ever.
We gather today after decades and generations of blood and trauma. We
gather in defiance.
And we remember.
We remember not just one day or one event, because remembering what
occurred on June 25 or June 26--or any particular date--is important,
but not as important as an understanding of the ongoing campaign
of colonization. This is a continuing human drama of slaughter
and uncontrollable bloodlust and we're still here, engaged in
our running defense; praying for balance, peace and justice; and
trying to make some sense of it all. Perhaps, in the face of such
a menace, the most important thing we can do is remember. So teach
your children. Pass this knowledge. Don't forget. Not ever.
Remembering is resisting and, if we remember, then we'll be free
one day. Free of their mindset. Free of their theft. Free of their
guns and their bombs. Free of their cages. Free to be who we are.
And free of their fear. That's the truest freedom of all and true
freedom is what this is really all about, not the illusion of
freedom they offer us.
So don't forget. Not ever.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
Friday, June 25, 2010
Bombs go off in Turkey, a great spree of terrorist bombings and attacks. Practically every day Turkish soldiers and civilians are being killed. The killings are done ostensibly by the Kurd terrorists of PPK, but this is a new step in Israel’s warfare against Turkish independence. Encouraged by Israel, PKK extended its operations to the Aegean and the Black Sea resorts all the way to Izmir.
Israelis armed, supplied and trained Kurdish terrorists for many years; they have turned the Iraqi Kurdistan into their territory with many Israeli businessmen doing their affairs waiting for Kirkuk oil to flow to Haifa as it did in the days of colonial British rule. The Kurds remained a hidden tool of Israel in the region for many years; its activation now shows that Israel still wants to teach Turks a lesson.
The main neocon magazine in the US, frontpagemag.com, openly called to support the Kurds to retaliate for Turkey’s support of Palestine. Another Jewish right-wing think-tank speaks of mobilising the US congress to condemn one-hundred-years-old Armenian tragedy as a means to undermine Turkey. After many years of siding with Turkey, the Jewish Lobby now decided to switch sides and support the Armenian claims. So Turkey is now under attack from all sides. It could be expected, for the popular Israeli slogan says “if force does not work, use more force.”
This was the explanation of the Flotilla Massacre on May 31, 2010. The Mavi Marmara attack was intended to be a short, sharp shock to the increasingly independent Turks. Israelis intended to terrify and frighten them into obedience; that is why they ordered a blood bath on board the Mavi Marmara. As we know now, the Israeli commandos began shooting well before encountering any resistance. They did not want to play soft ball, submission was what they are after. Murder was not a result of surprise or miscalculation: it was an open attack on Turkey.
Israel’s conflict with Turkey was not an unfortunate result of the murderous raid. The confrontation between them became acute two weeks before the massacre, on May 17, 2010. Together with Brazil, Turkey has arranged and signed the Tehran Declaration of a nuclear fuel swap deal with beleaguered Iran. This declaration could derail the US-Israeli plans of sanctioning Iran to death prior to bombing it.
Israel wants Iran destroyed; as much as she wanted Iraq demolished, Gaza starved and the rest cowed. The swap agreement undermined all the logic behind the sanctions. All the plotting of Israeli lobbyists in the US and Europe was wiped out in an instant. Indeed, as the Muslims say: they plot, but Allah plots better.
Israel received the news of the Turkey-Brazil-Iran agreement as a heavy blow. “We were defeated by the crafty Turks and Iranians,” read the headlines of Israeli newspapers. Not so fast. The US State Department minimized the damage, effectively asking: “Who cares what these lowlifes agree about? If we have decided to bomb somebody, bomb we shall. We shall never allow facts to confuse us.” Thomas Friedman in the NYT was disappointed why “a Holocaust-denying thug” is allowed to live.
Brazenly disregarding the agreement, the Security Council approved the sanctions on June, 9. Moscow and Beijing were bribed or blackmailed to agree. China preferred to play ball in order to avoid confrontation over North Korea. The story of sunken South Korean ship provided a pretext for an attack on North Korea, and such an attack could cause much damage to China. The Chinese are also vulnerable to the Western meddling in Xinjiang and Tibet.
The Russians have received some precious gifts: Ukraine returned into Russia’s fold, Georgia was marginalised, the new nuclear arms treaty was better to Russia than anything they could expect. At the same time, Moscow suffered a severe terrorist attack reminding the Russians of their enemies’ ability to seed trouble. Still, Turkey voted against the sanctions, proving its new regional role as a reliable new pivot for the Middle East.
The conflict between Turkey and Israel did not start with the Iran swap: it began earlier, in January 2010, when the Israeli deputy Foreign Minister Dani Ayalon invited Turkish ambassador and publicly humiliated him. In Oriental fashion, Ambassador Chelikkol was offered to take seat in a sofa lower the Ayalon’s armchair. Ayalon refused to shake hands with the ambassador and told journalists in Hebrew while cameras were rolling: “We would like to show that he takes lower seat and there is only one Israeli flag on the table”.
Or perhaps the conflict began a year earlier, in January 2009, when the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Erdogan walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Erdogan was annoyed by an attempt of a western moderator to stop his response to the Israeli president Shimon Peres who justified mass killings in Gaza.
Or perhaps it started in September 2007 when the Israeli planes flew over Turkey to bomb Syria without as much as ‘by your leave’.
Perhaps it was even earlier, when Turkey began to assert its independence by discarding its century-old and worn ideology of Kemalism. Secular nationalism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a trap for the former Empire. Brutish Kemalist Turkey was necessarily a member of NATO, an enemy to Arabs and Iranians, a docile client of the US, a loyal ally of Israel and a persecutor of Kurds.
Now is the time to thank the Europeans for doing their bit to reform Turkey. In endless negotiations with Turkey, the European Union demanded to release the Army’s iron grip on power. Without this gentle prompting from Europe, Turkey would be still ruled by a Zionist general or by a Zionist generals’ appointee. With people being free from military rule, the Turks had ended their violent secularism and regained peace with Islam and with their neighbours.
I visited Turkey last Christmas, and had met with the activists who were about to depart for Gaza. Turkey is doing well: no economic crisis, steady growth, peace with the Kurds, a brave attempt to make peace with Armenians, and a perfect balance of religion and freedom. Who wants may go to a beautifully restored Ottoman mosque and pray, who wants may go to a café and drink very good Turkish wine. Girls are forced neither to shed their scarves nor to cover their arms.
“We lost Turkey”, said Robert Gates, the US Secretary of Defence, and blamed the European Union for refusing to accept Turkey. But we have to thank the Europeans for this refusal. We do not want Turkey in the EU; we need Turkey for ourselves, for the region.
There is a great new plan of creating a Middle East Union as a regional equivalent of the European Union. This is the right place for Turkey, in the head of this new formation. In a way, it will be restoration of the Ottoman Empire: to the same extent the European Union is a restoration of Charlemagne’s Empire. The difference is that Europe was fragmented for centuries, while our region was united until 1917. Even if full political union may be a far-away perspective, this is good to start moving towards this goal.
There are already free trade treaties between Turkey and its Arab neighbours; the spiritual dimension is there, for Istanbul was the last seat of the Caliphate. Now Turkey may establish a regional International Court to deal with regional problems, among others, with Zionist excesses.
Europe is still not free from Zionist control and that is why the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court in The Hague are unsuitable places to try Zionist criminals. Moreover, their present location reminds of Eurocentric world of yesterday. A regional Court may also convincingly deal with war criminals in occupied Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. Great lawyers like Richard Falk and Judge Goldstone could be invited to seat in it.
Establishment of the International Court (East) would be a serious and realistic step towards further decolonization of the region and its future unification in a Middle East Union.
Saturday, June 26
Westlake Plaza, 4th & Pine
"Do you think you have seen it all?" Click here http://www.voicesofpalestine.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
June 23, 2010
Jenin – Ma'an – The parents of a Palestinian detainee from Jenin have called on international rights groups to secure their son's immediate release, after he was reportedly tortured in an Israeli prison.
Asad Sholi, from the Kafr Dan village in Jenin, was severely beaten by Israeli Prison Service staff, during which both hands and legs were broken, parents said.
Sholi's injuries were went untreated, leaving him partially paralyzed , they added.
The parents called for his immediate release and transfer to a hospital to undergo treatment. Sholi has been in detention for the past six years.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The failure of the international community to confront Israel's decision to isolate Gaza from Israel and the West Bank is at the root of the web of crises centered on Gaza today. However understandable the international focus on Gaza's humanitarian emergency, what is at issue is the fact that Gaza's current nightmare is the consequence of Israel's continuing effort to separate the political, economic, and security destiny of the West Bank from that of the Gaza Strip--an objective that the international community has tacitly supported because of opposition to Hamas' rule in Gaza (for more on this, see Tony Karon's piece in Time magazine and Marc Lynch's Middle East Channel post).
That said, the economic strangulation of Gaza actually preceded Hamas' election victory in January 2006 and Fateh's bloody expulsion from Gaza in June 2007. It is rooted in Israel's 2004 decision to "disengage" from Gaza. This policy resulted in an end to Israel's permanent security and settlement deployment in Gaza, but also to a marked a change in its economic, trade, and labor relationship with the territory. An Israeli policy of economic estrangement along the Israel-Gaza frontier aimed at minimizing the transit of Palestinians, Palestinian labor, and economic trade across the Gaza Strip-Israel border and forcing Egypt to re-assume the economic and security role it played in Gaza before Israel's June 1967 occupation. This latter policy represented a reversal of Israeli policies pursued from the inception of occupation in June 1967, and it enjoys broad popular support in Israel.
Draconian restrictions on the entry of Palestinian labor to Israel, the failure to establish a reliable export/import regime through Karni and other crossings, and the stillborn safe passage route linking Gaza with the West Bank--all signature elements of policy before June 2007 and indeed before Hamas' parliamentary victory in January 2006--are the product of this strategic re-evaluation of Israeli interests. As such, the policies that have so stirred the international community in recent weeks are not incidental byproducts that can be solved by technical fixes of the kind now being proposed, but rather are integral to Israel's strategy. Even before June 2007, this system resulted in the creation of a "soft quarantine" that created substantial economic dislocation in Gaza and led to widespread flight of Gaza's manufacturing base.
If you wonder sometimes why it's so hard to change US policy toward Israel, consider this confluence of events.
Bibi Netanyahu announced yesterday that Israel is easing the blockade. In the meantime, Aipac has released a letter that circulated Friday that 85 senators signed on to urging Obama to stand tall with Israel and face down the UN if it gets up to making a new set of demands on Israel. The letter justifies the blockade thus:
We fully support Israel's right to self-defense. In response to thousands of rocket attacks on Israel from Hamas terrorists in Gaza, Israel took steps to prevent items which could be used to support these attacks from reaching Gaza. Israel's naval blockade, which is legal under international law, allows Israel to keep dangerous goods from entering Gaza by sea. The intent of the measures is to protect Israel, while allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.In other words, exactly while Israel is slightly softening its position, the vast majority of US senators signs a letter defending the old position. Aipac has a strong hold on the US Congress, and that will not change. In fact, the more a presidential administration shows signs of wanting to make demands of Israel, the stronger that hold gets.
The list of signatories is here. Every Republican signed except Jim Bunning of Kentucky, and the Democrats who didn't sign are mostly liberals who feel secure in breaking from the Aipac position and have sometimes done so in the past (John Kerry, Russ Feingold, Chris Dodd) or who represent states that don't have many Jewish voters (Jay Rockefeller of you know where).
Meanwhile Obama and Bibi are meeting again July 6.
On our second day in Gangjeong a community forum was held (at about the same time the South Korean soccer team was playing for the World Cup) and 70 people turned out. Each of the people in our delegation spoke and here are a few key points that were made:
- Corazon Fabros reported that the U.S. still refuses to take responsibility for the toxic pollution long after its Navy base was closed in the Philippines. "We have to match our enemies strength with our unity and solidarity," she said.
- Shinako Oyakawa (University student from Okinawa) shared that 20% of their island has U.S. military bases since the end of WW II. Now the U.S. is attempting to build another base on environmentally sensitive lands in Henoko, Okinawa. They have learned that the U.S. military created the Henoko base plan all the way back in 1966. 85% of Okinawa citizens want the U.S. bases closed.
- Michael Lujan Bevacqua (College instructor from Guam) said that 30% of Guam has U.S. bases, and the U.S. wants to build two more, also to be located in environmentally sensitive locations on the island. The U.S. military controls the largest water source on the island. The U.S. Navy wants to bring nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to Guam which will kill the coral reefs.The South Korean government has announced that they intend to begin actual construction of the Navy base in September and expect to be finished in 2014. The South Korean Defense Minister has called the Gangjeong villagers "African natives" in an obvious racist slap at the fact that they are unwilling to be controlled.
The people in Gangjeong are a rare inspiration. They intimately feel their sacred connection to the land, the sea, the rocks, the fish, and the coral. As a village young and old alike are taking collective responsibility to protect it all. It is not a common sight in today's world to see virtually an entire village moving together with such common purpose. It indeed is a pure honor to be able to witness and find even small ways to support such a principled struggle.
My primary lesson from listening to the villagers of Gangjeong, and the other activists from Okinawa, Guam, and the Philippines is that the American people have no clue about the suffering that our military bases around the world are causing the people who have to deal with these outposts of empire. Many U.S. citizens seem to avoid opening their hearts to the enormous harm that is being done in our name with our tax dollars. The environmental degradation that results from these U.S. bases is beyond imagination.The voices of those opposing U.S. bases must be heard. Each of us should hear their crys for support and we must do more in our own communities to bring these appeals to the public attention. The American people must learn that there is a consequence somewhere in the world when our planes, ships, tanks, and troops are deployed in a particular country. There is an impact on the environment and the human population who live there and who have a right to self determination.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
Arrested on May 6 at his home in Haifa, Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Ameer Makhoul is due to stand trial beginning on 27 June. Writing from Gilboa Jail, Makhoul describes how his arrest, interrogation, torture and trial using "secret evidence" are Israel's tools for the criminalization of human rights defenders.
May 30, 2010
After being allowed to get a pen and a piece of paper, which has been banned for the last three weeks, and after being allowed to get out of my total isolation, it's a moment to write a short letter from my jail (Gilboa).
It's a great opportunity for me to express my sincere thanks, greetings and appreciation to all the colleagues, friends and solidarity groups, organizations and persons, internationals, Arabs in the region, Israelis and Palestinians in the homeland and in the Diaspora. A very special salute to all those who visited my family and supported them after the trauma they passed on May 6 and since that late night.
It's a moment to express my great appreciation to all the international & local human rights organizations which raised their voices loudly.
Also to Ittijah partner organizations all around the world which supported my/our struggle for justice and for a fair trial in order to get to prove my innocence.
Physically I am still suffering very much but morally it's a great feeling to know what solidarity means.
My story is that the Israeli intelligence, "The Shabak," assumed something without knowing and without any evidence. I was requested and forced to explain to them in a very detailed way how exactly I did what I didn’t do, ever. In case of any logical problem for them to complete the puzzle, they have the legal tools to fill it in by so-called secret evidence, which my lawyers and I have no legal right to know about.
According to the media in Israel, I'm already guilty, a terrorist and a supporter terror. The rule of the game here is that I’m guilty whether or not I prove that I'm not. This collective assumption is prior to court and trial procedures.
The abuse of evidence & fair legal procedures are crucial. The Shabak can tell lies to the court by so called "secret evidence," "banning meetings with lawyers," "banning the publication of information,” “imposing total isolation” and other very sophisticated ways of torture, which leave no direct evidence although it is very harsh. (See Adalah: www.adalah.org). I believe that my case is an opportunity to examine these tools as tools for the criminalization of human rights defenders.
I would like to highlight again your support & solidarity. I look to it as a very essential and crucial message of support for the victim and to stop the oppressor. Thank you. Let us continue with the way for justice, human dignity, human rights and ensuring an opportunity for a fair trial.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
ACTIVIST CINDY SHEEHAN TO LEAD PROTEST AGAINST DEEPWATER HORIZON UNIFED COMMAND CENTER IN NEW ORLEANS
CONTACT INFO: Call Cindy Sheehan, National Director of Peace of the Action: 707-301-6177
As one of the People’s responses to a historic meeting of activists from all over the country, there will be a protest at the: Deepwater Horizon Unified Response Command Center in New Orleans, LA, on Monday, June 21st from 12pm to 2pm.
“Obviously, the government and British Petroleum are not as invested in this planet as the people are,” said Sheehan from New Orleans. “As usual, we the people need to force the corporatists to meet our needs.”
The Command Center is located at 1250 Poydras Avenue in the Eni Petroleum building.
“Acts of Civil Resistance are definitely possible,” added Sheehan. “BP and our government are obviously committing terrible crimes and criminal negligence in the Gulf of Mexico—it’s time for us to stand up.”
The new Emergency People’s Coalition will deliver this group of demands to the Command Center:
1) Stop oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Full compensation, retraining and new employment, including public works, for all affected
2) The government and entire oil industry must allocate all necessary resources to stop and clean up the spill, prevent oil from hitting shore, protect wildlife, treat injured wildlife, and repair all devastation. Full support, including by compensation, must be given to peoples’ efforts on all these fronts and to save the Gulf.
3) No punishment to those taking independent initiative; no gag orders on people hired, contracted, or who volunteer; those responsible for this crime against the environment and the people should be prosecuted.
4) Full mobilization of scientists and engineers. Release scientific and technical data to the public; no more lying and covering up. Immediately end use of dispersants; full, open scientific evaluation of nature and impact of dispersants. Fund all necessary scientific and medical research.
5) Full compensation for all losing livelihood and income from the disaster.
6) Provide necessary medical services to those suffering health effects of the spill. Protect the health of and provide necessary equipment for everyone involved in clean up operations. Full disclosure of medical and scientific studies about the effects of the oil disaster.
This banner was later floated through the huge crowd by tearfully-masked solidarity folks, handing out informational material.
Tons of supportive comments from Fair attendees.
This guy on the bike had "Jerusalem" tatooed across his belly. 'Nuff said!
Prison Justice People's Movement Assembly at U.S. Social Forum -- Co-sponsored by the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee
Friday, June 18, 2010
I met Bill Christison and his wife Kathy, both of them former CIA officers, on the high seas off Mazatlan on a Nation cruise in December of 2001. Bill had been pretty high up in the Agency and at one point had been the official charged with discharging national threat assessments and the like into the armor-plated cerebellum of President Gerald Ford.
Bill, a Princeton grad, had joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. He’d met Kathy when they were both doing tours in Saigon.
After leaving the Agency they settled in Santa Fe and began their journey to the left, an itinerary on which they were well advanced by the time I met up with them and invited them to write for CounterPunch.
We published Bill’s first big piece on March 4, 2002, under the title “Former Senior CIA Officer: Why the War on Terror Won’t Work.” The piece, which created quite a stir, listed six root causes of terrorism, beginning,“My number one root cause is the support by the U.S. over recent years for the policies of Israel with respect to the Palestinians, and the belief among Arabs and Muslims that the United States is as much to blame as Israel itself for the continuing, almost 35-year-long Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”My number two root cause is the present drive of the United States to spread its hegemony and its version of big-corporation, free enterprise globalization around the world. …. The gap between rich and poor nations, and rich and poor people within most of the nations, has grown wider during the last 20 years of globalization or, more precisely, the U.S. version of globalization.Bill’s other prime causes of terrorism included the sanctions on Iraq and daily bombings; the continued presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and the indiscriminate use of air power, with “missiles launched from a great distance, and now even on drone aircraft with no humans on board…But while few Americans get killed, sizable numbers of other nationalities do.”
This was just over six months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and Bill’s calm and rational analysis was a huge relief and inspiration for many, after week upon week of ideological saturation bombing in the main stream press. He followed it up a couple of months later with a series on what a rational US foreign policy would look like. He and his wife Kathy, whose chief topic has been Palestine, became important and popular contributors to CounterPunch.
Bill was heading into his late 70s by now, but he was as frisky as a 20-year old as he and Kathy kept up a fierce schedule of talks in the south west and across the US, along with trips to the Middle East, often in somewhat grueling and even perilous circumstances.
He got more radical with each advancing year and chafed sometimes when Jeffrey and I expressed reservations about some of his strategies for direct action.
Kathy told us a few weeks ago that Bill had fallen victim to a rapidly advancing neurological condition – and on Sunday, June 13, he died in Santa Fe at the age of 81. He was a noble soul and used his later years with an idealism and energy that we should all envy and hope to emulate.
To a Rabbi that called to scold him on his position: “Any experience that deliberately sets up a people to die because they can’t get water, can’t get medicine, is a death camp,” Barron went on, “and if you don’t like me using those words, too bad. That’s what it is. You can’t purposely set up people to die, inflict genocide on other people and think that you’re the only one that has a monopoly on suffering. You have no monopoly on suffering. Every people has a holocaust. There’s been an African holocaust.” Millions of black people died under the apartheid regime in South Africa, with its partner Israel, Barron pointed out, “so don’t talk to me about your outrage.”
“We know that when we liberate Palestine, we liberate Africa,” said Barron. “When we liberate Africa, we’re going to liberate the Caribbean and Latin America, and Central America and Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant and the United States of America. This struggle is important for us to win.”
To read what the survivors had to say (except for one who was blocked from coming to NY), go to:“You only go around once in life so you might as well live it with some spine,” he concluded.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a corporate crime whose magnitude almost defies comprehension. The eventual cost—combining damage to complex Gulf and coastal ecosystems, wiping out of the fishing and tourism industries, and long-term health consequences for the population of the region—is likely to total over $1 trillion.
The explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, killed 11 workers and began the massive and continuing flow of oil was not an “accident,” but the product of willful corporate cost-cutting and negligence. Further evidence of this fact was provided Monday in documents released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. One document was an email from a BP engineer, Brian Morel, on April 14, six days before the explosion, in which he described the rig as a “nightmare well which has everyone all over the place.”
An accompanying letter from the committee detailed decisions made by BP officials during the days leading up to the disaster. “The common feature of these five decisions is that they posed a trade-off between cost and well safety,” the letter said. “Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense.”
In this context, the much-publicized demand by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, that BP establish an escrow fund of about $20 billion from which compensation would be paid to fishermen, seafood processors and others robbed of their livelihood by the disaster, is a fraud.
The $20 billion fund would represent only two years of dividend payments for BP. This is likely to be portrayed as a “compromise,” in which the oil company agrees to suspend dividend payments, partially or wholly, for a few months, as a public relations gesture while the Gulf crisis dominates the headlines.
This amounts to an effective amnesty to the giant oil company, and a back-door bailout, since any compensation above the escrow fund amount would become the responsibility of local, state and federal governments, i.e., like the cost of the Wall Street bailout, it would come at the expense of the working class.
The scale of the Gulf oil disaster is so enormous that for any serious estimate of the real costs in terms of cleanup, compensation and long-term repair of damage, the bidding starts at a trillion dollars and rises rapidly upwards.
An estimate published by Earth Economics, an environmental group, found that the Mississippi River Delta in Louisiana alone had an economic value of between $330 billion and $1.3 trillion, based on benefits provided like water supply, water flow regulation, hurricane protection, food production, raw materials production, recreational value, carbon sequestration, atmospheric composition regulation, waste treatment, aesthetic value and habitat value.
Besides Louisiana, however, oil from the BP spill is now washing ashore on the coastline of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Vast plumes of undersea oil have been detected in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, beyond the continental shelf, where the destructive impact on ocean ecosystems and the food chain is incalculable.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Don’t Let Enemies of Freedom Suppress the Truth About
Israel’s Attack on a Humanitarian Aid Ship!
All Out to the House of the Lord Church 415 Atlantic Ave. Thursday June 17, 7 pm
MAVI MARMARA SURVIVORS HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HEARD!
Two weeks ago Israeli naval commandos stormed a Turkish ship loaded with humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. They murdered 9 unarmed passengers. The oldest, Ibrahim Bilgen, was 61. the youngest, Furkan Dogan, a U.S. citizen born in Troy , N.Y., was just 19.
On Thursday, June 17, two eyewitnesses to this horror, U.S. filmmaker Iara Lee and British political organizer Kevin Ovenden, and Ahmet Unsal, a former Member of Turkeyâ€™s Parliament, have been invited to tell their views and stories at a public forum at Brooklyn’s historic House of the Lord Church. The meeting is cosponsored by dozens of organizations.
They come with nothing but words. But words of truth strike fear into the hearts of certain hate-filled New York politicians who have voted time and again to turn U.S. taxpayers’ dollars into missiles and bombs for Israel’s war machine.
On June 14, City Council speaker Christine Quinn, Reps. Jerry Nadler, Anthony Weiner, Carolyn Mahoney, Charles Rangel and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer gathered in Times Square at the behest of the so-called “Jewish Community Relations Council.” They shamelessly demanded that the State Department investigate the invited speakers for “ties to terrorism.” They want to prevent or delay their entry the United States. This is a clear attempt to not only deny the passengers’ right to speak but to deny the people of the United States the right to hear their words.
The group of politicians who issued this call have supported every act of terror by the Israeli state against the native people of Palestine and its neighbors. They cheered the 2008-9 terror bombing and invasion of Gaza that slaughtered 1,400 people, including hundreds of children. They applauded Israel’s 2006 mass murder of 900 Lebanese civilians. They hail the cruel blockade that denies food, medicine, electricity and sanitation to the people of Gaza and they dare to support the killing and kidnapping of Turkish, U.S., British and Irish citizens who tried to break that blockade.
These political hacks now attack our very right to learn and discuss the issues involved. They seek to pin the label of â€œterroristâ€ on any who oppose the vicious and immoral blockade of Gaza and the endless stream of U.S. guns and dollars to Israel’s brutal war machine. And they want to hide the truth about what happened that bloody night on the Mavi Marmara.
We call upon all people who believe in justice and freedom to resist this attack on our rights. Let your elected representative know that you have the right to hear what the courageous survivors of the Mavi Marmara have to say. And let’s pack the House of the Lord Church Thursday night. Let’s answer this vile attempt at intimidation with a powerful mass meeting.
Sponsors include Muslim American Society, International Action Center, National Lawyers Guild-NYC, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, American Muslims For Palestine, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, NYC Labor Against the War, Arab Muslim American Federation, Labor For Palestine, FIST, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, Action for a Progressive Pakistan, ANSWER Coalition, Anakbayan, Bayan USA, Creative Nonviolent Resistance against Injustice, Gabriela USA, International League of Peoples Struggle–NY/LOC, Middle East Crisis Response, El Beireh Society, The Indypendent, Socialist Action, International Socialist Organization, Westchester Peoples Action Coalition, American-Iranian Friendship Committee
LET THE TRUTH BE HEARD! Please Forward Wide
Monday, June 14, 2010
At a nonviolent demo against the flotilla attack, Emily was shot with a teargas cannister which caused her to lose her left eye. http://palsolidarity.org/2010/05/12604/
June 14, 2010 "Al-Jazeera" -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip as a violation of the Geneva Conventions and called on the Israeli government to lift it.
In a statement released on Monday, the organisation called the blockade "collective punishment", a crime under international law. It described Gaza as a territory plagued by frequent power cuts, a ruined economy, and a collapsed health care system.
"The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is about to enter its fourth year, choking off any real possibility of economic development," the ICRC said.
"Gazans continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty and warfare, while the quality of Gaza's health care system has reached an all-time low."
Israeli officials insist that they provide enough "humanitarian aid" to cover Gaza's basic needs.
But the ICRC said the meagre list of goods allowed into Gaza doesn't meet the needs of the territory's 1.5 million inhabitants.
Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, the head of the ICRC's Middle East operations, told Al Jazeera that the organisation - which traditionally remains neutral - was reluctant to publicly criticise the blockade. But she said three years of quiet efforts to ease the embargo did not result in any progress.
"The result has not been what we expected, and we thought that after three years the situation was dire enough, serious enough, to speak out publicly to try to break this closure of Gaza," she said.
The shortages are particularly dire in Gaza's health care system, where the ICRC said more than 100 essential medicines - including chemotherapy and hemophilia drugs - are unavailable. Many basic medical supplies, like colonoscopy bags, are also barred from Gaza and routine blackouts cause damage to medical equipment.
"The state of the health-care system in Gaza has never been worse," Eileen Daly, the ICRC's health co-ordinator in Gaza, said.
"Thousands of patients could go without treatment, and the long-term outlook will be increasingly worrisome."
B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, released its own report on Monday documenting dire conditions in the Palestinian territories. The group noted that 95 per cent of Gaza's factories have closed, that 98 per cent of residents suffer from blackouts, and that 93 per cent of Gaza's water is polluted.
Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, on Sunday called for an end to the blockade.
The ICRC also criticised Hamas, the Islamic movement which controls Gaza, for preventing the ICRC from visiting Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in 2006. Shalit is entitled to visits from the Red Cross under international law.
"In violation of international humanitarian law, [Hamas] has also refused to allow him to get in touch with his family," the ICRC said.
But the bulk of the ICRC's criticism was directed at Israel's blockade. In addition to the health care problems, the ICRC noted that 40 per cent of Gaza's residents are not connected to a sewage system, and that restrictions on movement have driven many farmers and fishermen into poverty.
One-third of Gaza's farmland is located in a "buffer zone" controlled by the Israeli army, and boats are only allowed to fish within three nautical miles of Gaza's coast.
The ICRC demanded that both Israel and the Hamas government "allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage" of aid shipments to Gaza. Hamas has refused to accept 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid seized from the flotilla of aid ships attacked last month by the Israeli army.
The Israeli government announced on Sunday that a panel, chaired by former supreme court judge Yaakov Turkel, would investigate the flotilla attack.©
Unconscionable. Offensive. Hurtful. Bigoted. Terrible. Hateful.
These are the words being used to describe Helen Thomas' recent comment about Israel and Palestine. Editorialists across the country have condemned her statement that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go back" to Europe.
Let's agree that she should not have said those things, and that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East fundamentally requires reconciliation between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. We need also to agree on a formula that allows them both to be at home in the same land (I have long advocated the idea of a single democratic and secular state for both peoples; a state that treats all citizens as equals). Insisting that either people does not belong is not merely counterproductive; it lies at the very root of the conflict.
If, however, it is unacceptable to say that Israeli Jews don't belong in Palestine, it is also unacceptable to say that the Palestinians don't belong on their own land.
Yet that is said all the time in the United States, without sparking the kind of moral outrage generated by Thomas' remark. And while the nation's editorialists worry about the offense she may have caused to Jews, no one seems particularly bothered by the offense felt every day by Palestinians when people — including those with far more power than Thomas — dismiss their rights, degrade their humanity and reject their claims to the most elementary forms of decency.
Are we seriously to accept the idea that some people have more rights than others? Or that some people's sensibilities should be respected while others' are trampled with total indifference, if not outright contempt?
One does not have to agree with Thomas to note that her remark spoke to the ugly history of colonialism, racism, usurpation and denial that are at the heart of the question of Palestine. Part of that history involves vicious European anti-Semitism and the monumental crime of the Holocaust. But the other part is that Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homeland in 1948 to clear space for the creation of a state with a Jewish identity.
Europeans and Americans were, at the time, willing to ignore or simply dismiss the injustice inflicted on the Palestinians, who, by being forced from their land, were made to pay the price for a crime they did not commit.
But this callous carelessness, this dismissal of — and refusal even to acknowledge in human terms — the calamity that befell the Palestinians, and of course the attendant refusal to acknowledge their fundamental rights, did not end in the 1940s. It continues to this very day.
Mainstream politicians, civic leaders, university presidents and others in this country routinely express their support for Israel as a Jewish state, despite the fact that such a state only could have been created in a multicultural land by ethnically cleansing it of as many non-Jews as possible. Today, Israel is only able to maintain its Jewish identity because it has established an apartheid regime, both in the occupied territories and within its own borders, and because it continues to reject the Palestinian right of return.
Where is the outrage about that?
Where was the outrage in 1983 when Israeli Gen. Rafael Eitan looked forward to the day that Jews had fully settled the land, because then "all the Arabs will be able to do about it is scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle"? Or when Alan Dershowitz suggested in 2002 that Israel summarily empty and then bulldoze an entire Palestinian village as a punitive measure each time it was attacked? Or when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman claimed in 2006 to have discovered a "pathology" that caused some Arabs to "hate others more than they love their own kids"? Or when Avigdor Lieberman (who now serves as Israel's foreign minister) said in 2004 that Palestinian citizens of Israel should "take their bundles and get lost"? Or when Israeli professor Arnon Sofer, one of the country's leading demographic alarmists, said that to preserve the Jewish state, Israel should pull out of Gaza, though that would require Israel to remain at the border and "kill, and kill, and kill, all day, every day"?
An endless deluge of statements of support for the actual, calculated, methodical dehumanization of Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular goes without comment; whereas a single offhand comment by an 89-year-old journalist, whose long and distinguished record of principled commitment and challenges to state power entitles her to respect — and the benefit of the doubt — causes her to be publicly pilloried.
To accept this appalling hypocrisy is to be complicit in the racism of our age.
Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA. He is the author of, among other books, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.
Is it possible to be shocked and yet not be surprised? Israel's stupidity and disregard for human life is nothing new. It is a recurring theme in the life of the Jewish state from its very inception. Surely as the destruction in Gaza remains untouched 18 months after the murderous attacks that began on 27 December 2008 there can be no surprise at Israeli brutality. Yet as the news unfolded and the images of the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza began to unravel a sense of shock was expressed everywhere.Miko Pelled is a writer and Israeli peace activist living in San Diego. His father was the late General Matti Peled, his grandfather Avraham Katznelson, signed the Israeli declaration of independence, his niece Smadar was killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem. He is the co-founder of Elbanna-Peled Foundation. For more information or to respond, go to mikopeled.wordpress.com.
Israel too is shock stricken. Not by the sheer brutality of its forces, or by the injustice of the siege on Gaza but by the public relations blunder and fact that this "military mission" was a failure. Once again Israeli commandos are shown to be weak and helpless. How could the decision-makers not see that this would damage Israel's image in the eyes of world and even worse, in the eyes of Israel's enemies?
Israeli foreign ministry officials claim that Europe and the rest of the world have increased their diplomatic assault on Israel. They claim the world is emboldened by the fact that the American stand in support of Israel has weakened. This they will say is the fault of US President Barack Obama, a president Israelis never cared for anyway. The notion that the world is coming to a point where it is unable to bear the racism and brutality of Israel as a state never enters the conversation. Israeli talking heads will not apologize, will not stray from the official line: we, Israelis are right and they, everyone else are wrong; we are good and they are evil; we are victims of age-old anti-Semitism and they are hateful, violent Muslims intending to kill innocent Jews.
Lives were lost due to a cowardly reaction of trained assassins who were sent to a mission for which they were clearly unprepared, so in a way one can claim that the killers themselves are not to blame, those who sent them are. In the murky relations between the military and the civilian government in Israel it is quite common to fault the lowest person on the totem poll and more often than not it is the military. In this case the mission was an act of piracy aimed at a very determined group of activists who had no intention of backing down. The fact that this particular group of activists took on this difficult and dangerous mission should have in itself been a warning to the Israeli officials that they would not back down and would put up a fight.
There can be no argument as to the courage displayed by the activists aboard the ships as armed pirates with an overwhelming military power attacked them. The pirates, trained Israeli commandos who are known for their brutality and total lack of regard for human life, were armed to the teeth and had the support of the Israeli navy, air force and ground forces. Yet as they boarded the ships they were met with a justifiably angry and clearly determined crowd who were not willing to let go of their boats and cargo. Tragically some of them paid for this determination with their lives.
Will this tragedy bring any change? Clearly the only thing that can bring change is a strategic decision by President Obama to divorce the United States from the dysfunctional relationship with Israel. When the president decides that it is time to end the Israeli war on Palestinians he will engage in a head-on collision with Israel and its American bully, the influential pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC. It is no secret that advisers with Zionist prejudice surround the president and naturally one is forced to wonder if a strategic shift of such magnitude is possible. Still, if one judges by the fear expressed in Israel perhaps there is some change, some outrage among the president's men.
It is not unlikely that when Americans get tired of paying $10 million per day of their hard-earned money to the State of Israel that the president will act. The question is how many innocent Palestinian lives will be lost until that happens.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Friday, June 11, 2010
Accusations of Terrorist Ties
The most dangerous accusation by congressional Democratic leaders involves charges that the activists on board and the organizers of the flotilla had ties to terrorism. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade, called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute American participants in the flotilla. Because the Gaza Strip is currently ruled by Hamas, according to Sherman, any humanitarian aid to the people of that territory is "clearly an effort to give items of value to a terrorist organization." Sherman also announced he would be working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the more than 700 non-U.S. citizens who took part in the flotilla would be permanently barred from ever entering the United States. This would include European parliamentarians and Nobel laureates, as well as leading writers, artists, intellectuals, pacifists, and human rights activists, virtually none of whom is in the least bit sympathetic with Hamas or terrorism.
A series of Democrats in Congress have joined in insisting that the organizers of the flotilla have, in Sherman's words, "clear terrorist ties." Indeed, Frank insists that these groups are "pro-Hamas people" and that, rather than provide aid to the people of the Gaza Strip, they were actually "seeking to land in Gaza to aid and support Hamas." Engel insisted that the organizers of the flotilla have "links to Hamas and reportedly played a role in the attempted Millennium bombing in Los Angeles." Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) insisted that the United States "must stand up for the right of Israel to defend herself against terrorism — which is what Israel did when she blocked the attempt by the Flotilla to forcefully breach the blockade." And Rep. Ackerman claimed that the humanitarian relief effort was "to provoke a confrontation with Israel for the benefit of Hamas and as part of the international effort to delegitimize Israel's existence."
The very idea that pacifist, feminist, Jewish, and Christian organizations like CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the American Friends Service Committee would ally with a violent, misogynist, Islamic group like Hamas — much less any group that engages in terrorism — should be recognized as absurd on face value. When prominent Democrats — including the head of the House subcommittee on terrorism — imply that leading American and Israeli peace groups are linked to terrorism, it is no longer simply heated rhetoric in defense of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, but a dangerous attack on civil liberties.These congressional Democrats also ignore the fact that the Free Gaza campaign is supported by such Israeli groups such as Yesh G'vul, the Coalition of Women for Peace, New Profile, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, among others. Such organizations and their members were already being subjected to violent attacks by far right-wing groups, some of whom have openly called for the murder of Knesset members who supported the flotilla. By falsely accusing these groups of being part of an effort that supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, these members of Congress appear to be willing to put the lives of Israeli peace and human rights activists at risk.
No more Israeli apartheid.
No more Israeli war crimes.
End Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine.
End Israel's illegal siege of Gaza.
Equal rights now.
We'll stand in vigil at Westlake Plaza from noon to 2 pm, and some of us will also walk to several locations downtown and call for a BOYCOTT of Israeli goods.
WHEN: Saturday June 12, Noon- 2:00 PM
WHERE: Westlake Plaza, 4th and Pine, downtown Seattle
see you there
Voices of Palestine
Palestine Solidarity Committee
"Do you think you have seen it all?" Click here http://www.voicesofpalestine.
Jamila Hammouda, a mother of five small children, hopes that she will be reunited with her family in Cairo, Egypt. Because of closure and travel restrictions, her last visit was 15 years ago.
Hammouda, her husband and their children were waiting on the Gaza side of the Rafah terminal crossing with Egypt, where Palestinians in Gaza have queued up after Egyptian authorities reopened the crossing "indefinitely." Egypt's move follows Israel's deadly raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which aimed to bring world attention to and break Israel's 36-month siege on the Gaza Strip.
Hammouda's family was joined by throngs of other travelers from Gaza who gathered at the border gates. Standing at the crossing, they wait for their names to be called by one of the Hamas authorities, with the hope that they will finally be able to ride the bus to the Egyptian side of the terminal.
"For the first time ever, I am hopeful that I will finally see my dear family in Egypt. For the past couple of years, I have been following the required procedures for travel outside of Gaza but all my attempts have failed; each time I was told that I don't have the required travel permit," Hammouda said, tears trickling down her face.
Surrounded by her family and their luggage in a small rest area at the border, Hammouda expressed mixed feelings. "Who said I am traveling? I may or may not travel; I have heard that a large number of travelers have been turned back by the Egyptian authorities. For almost 15 years now I have not had the freedom to visit my family. In the past, we heard about travelers allowed passage on a humanitarian basis. Am I not a humanitarian case?"
Hammouda's case is similar to that of thousands of other Palestinians from Gaza over the past three years. Like Israel, Egypt sealed off the border crossing with Gaza three years ago, preventing free movement of the territory's 1.5 million residents, for whom the terminal has become the only outlet to the outside world.
Also at the rest stop in Rafah City, Hassan Bayouk was pacing anxiously, waiting for his name to be announced by the border authorities. A 45-year-old with a kidney condition, he has been seeking permission to travel to Egypt for medical treatment.
"I have some kidney problems, but I am aware of the fact that given the [previous] crossings closure I wouldn't have been able to go to Cairo for treatment on my own. This time, now that the crossing has been reopened, I do hope I can find my way out of besieged Gaza," Bayouk said.
Ehab, a young man in his 20s, carried a small handbag, waiting to cross the border for some on-the-job training outside of Gaza. He declined to give his full name, fearful that it would jeopardize his chances of traveling.
"Sorry, I cannot give my name but I can say that I am really hopeful to leave Gaza, at least I am relieved to leave the difficult circumstances here, with Israel imposing a total closure for more than three years," he said tersely.
Subjected to a life of few guarantees, those waiting for travel are experiencing a mix of hopefulness and trepidation. Their ability to travel is dependent on the whim of the Egyptian authorities as Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip, like their brethren in the West Bank, don't enjoy sovereignty or freedom of movement outside the tiny territory.
According to the Hamas authorities on the Gaza side of the border, only 500 to 600 travelers are being allowed through the border crossing on daily basis. They also state that the same arrangements that existed before Egypt reopened the border last week are still valid, with only students, medical patients and those with residency permits in neighboring Arab countries allowed to cross the terminal.
Ghazi Hammad, the top authority on the Palestinian side of the crossing, told The Electronic Intifada at his office at the Rafah border terminal: "We have no more details, nor explanations about this opening, maybe it will remain open or will be closed suddenly. We do hope that the crossing remains open forever and we have been in contact with the Egyptian authorities. Unfortunately, Gazans with Palestinian passports cannot go through the crossing and this is of concern to us and we do hope that finally all Gazans can move freely the way [they did] before the blockade was enforced."
Hammad added: "If the crossing is to be opened daily, then first of all, we hope that all people can move freely without obstacles. Second, we wish that the coordination between us and the Egyptians becomes smoother. We have previously suffered some restrictions by the Egyptian authorities as these authorities have sometimes prevented some people like members of political parties or even some patients from traveling."
Asked whether the Egyptian move aims to pressure the Hamas-led government in Gaza to shut down hundreds of underground tunnels on the Gaza side of the border, Hammad said that the tunnels are a last resort.
"If the Rafah crossing is opened for commerce and travelers, then we don't need the tunnels because the tunnels are disastrous. We proclaim loudly that we want to work above ground and not underground."
Since 2007, Egypt has opened the border crossing occasionally for short periods of time. In January 2008, when Hamas forces destroyed Rafah's border wall, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza flooded into nearby Egypt to stock up on essential supplies, including cooking gas and fuel, which Israel's blockade has made scarce.
While the Egyptian Foreign Ministry says it will open the crossing indefinitely, Egypt has colluded with Israel in the siege of the Gaza Strip. The closure was imposed after the democratically-elected Hamas party's takeover of the territory amidst factional fighting with the rival Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007. Abbas's term ended in January 2009 and he has remained in power under controversial emergency powers and has repeatedly blocked attempts to finalize a national unity agreement with Hamas, under American and Israeli pressure and with Egyptian support.
Egypt has previously insisted that in order to fully open the Rafah crossing, Hamas needs to meet the conditions of a 2005 American-sponsored agreement, in which the Palestinian Authority would return to power in Gaza. From 2005 to 2007, Palestinian presidential guards and a group of European observers monitored movement at the Rafah terminal. Now Britain and France are calling for the return of those observers, but that would be difficult to achieve without a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah have demanded a return to the status quo ante under any unification agreement. For its part, Hamas has called for joint border control with Fatah as part of a comprehensive national unity arrangement.
"We want a compromise between us and our brothers in Fatah in order to share administration of the Rafah crossing terminal. First of all, we have to end the [political] division, restore national unity and achieve conciliation, then the world will respect us. We have to work hard in order to restore conciliation," Hammad explained.
After three years of siege, a great deal is at stake with the opening of the Rafah crossing for the average Palestinian from Gaza. While diplomatic efforts to end or at least ease the siege continue behind closed doors, travelers like Jamila Hammouda wait with uncertainty in the hot dusty air of Rafah's terminal. "I cannot say conclusively that I am traveling; I have to wait until I am already on the Egyptian side of the border [to know]," she said.