Spinning Gaza … yet again.

(soorry in advance for the typos – I just had to get this out.  If I had waited any longer, it wouldn’t have been published, so please bear with me.)

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With the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt the Arab Spring is in full-bloom!

Yet some are none to pleased about this turn of events.

But, please . . . please do not give in and believe easily all of the spin and negative rhetoric that is being pushed by the other side right now.  Yes, you know who I mean by “the other” side.  I try to remain somewhat neutral when I can, but the situation in Gaza is one of the biggest injustices of the past decade.  Plain and simple.  Below is a list of some of the spin I am picking up in the media over the past week or so re. Palestine along with my version of the “truth.”  Of course these statements of truth reflect my own personal bias.  However, I fully admit to it.  Unlike some…..

Spin: Hamas siezed Gaza in 2007.  Truth: Hamas was elected in democratic elections which had been strongly advocated for by both Israel and the USA.  Anyone with an ounce of understanding about Palestine could have seen that one coming.  The ruling  Fatah party did, and strongly cautioned that Palestine was not ready for elections.  American politicians either didn’t believe it or didn’t care and pushed hard for elections.  Once Hamas was elected (due to strong public works initiatives, anti-Fatah corruption stance, and strong rhetoric against Israel) the US cut off diplomatic ties.  IMO, this was one of the biggest foreign policy debacles of the past decade.  Was Hamas being elected the best possible outcome from the elections?  Absolutely not.  Were the elections possibly rigged?  I seriously doubt it.  Should the US taken this as a serious wake-up call and need for a change in directions in Middle East foreign policy?  Yes.  The first thing they should have done was appoint Jimmy Carter as Ambassador (or Special Envoy) to Palestine and kept the channels of communication wide open.

Spin: An open border with Egypt will allow guns and Iranian weapons experts into Gaza.  Truth: Both are most likely already there.  The result of a completely blockaded border around Gaza (read: open-air prison) has been the development of a system of tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border and “illegal” trade in everything from cement to cigarettes, guns to chewing gum.  And probably a few Iranian weapons experts made it in too.  Israel and the old Mubarak regime in Egypt were constantly griping about the tunnels and trying to shut them down – but the fact of the matter was they were Gaza’s lifelines in a very desperate time.  Ask yourself what you would do as a normal law-abiding citizen if your town was completely blockaded by sovereign power.  Would you politely request your  duly elected government to stop their misguided approach to international politics in hopes that someday a shipment of flour might make it to your local supermarket – or would you line up at the end of the tunnel where all of the “illegal” flour was coming into the country?  Now that the border with Egypt is open, everyday commodities needed for health and life will flow through the open borders and the tunnels will only be used for truly illegal things.  Now the Palestinian authorities can join with Egyptians in shutting down the tunnels.  As for the Iranian weapons experts – don’t get too worked up.  If they have been helping up to this point they haven’t been that good.  Palestinian military tech is woefully inaccurate.  Also Iran has co-opted the Palestinian cause and ultimately Palestinians have no natural affinity for Iran.  Which brings me to . . .

Spin: The open border with Egypt will increase Iranian support of PalestineTruth: American foreign policy already pushed Palestine towards Iranian support.  It’s about time somebody else starts speaking up for the underdog.  This is simple playground rules.  When someone is being bullied they look for help.  When they are getting beat up real bad on a regular basis, they will look for help from anyone bigger and stronger than they are.  They will especially look for help from someone who is enemies with the one that is beating them up in the first place.  Even if the one being picked on isn’t really friends with those people.  When your back is against the wall and your being threatened sometimes you throw in with some unsavory types. Especially when all the cool kids are just hanging around watching and not wanting to get their knuckles dirty.  Or if it’s the cool kids’ friend that is doing the bullying.  With America refusing diplomatic relations with the duly elected government of Palestine, US foreign policy pushed Palestine into the arms of Iran making the situation much worse than it ever was before.  Will Iran have freer access to Gaza now. Perhaps.  But to what end?  The truly cool kids on the playground are the ones who stand up for the underdogs even when it is their own BFF that is beating them up.

Spin: Obama was out of line and endangering our relations with Israel, not to mention Israel’s security by suggesting a return to 1967 borders.  Truth: George W. Bush said the same thing a few years ago.  If you don’t believe it – check out this letter from W. to Ariel Sharon.  Bush used a term that probably makes more sense – “the 1949 armistice lines” but in effect both he and Obama said the same thing.  Bush even advocated for a two-state solution in his letter.  So what is all the fuss about?  What are Republicans griping about?  American politicians need to stop posturing over Israel-Palestine and stop cowering in fear of AIPAC lobbying money being pulled out from underneath them and actually stand up for what’s right and just in the region. Besides Obama was clear in his speech that the ’67 (or ’49) borders were the basis  for final border negotiations with the idea of mutually agreed upon land swaps.  This has been part of every American backed plan for peace in the Middle East for the past several years.  Why is Obama taking heat for it.  Obama went on to speak very strongly against any Palestinian backing of terrorist operations or denying Israel’s right to exist.

Spin: Per Benjamin Netanyahu they 1967 (1949) borders are indefensible.  Truth: It is decades of illegal Israeli settlement activity that have made that border indefensible.  Anyone who has spent any time in the West Bank know that it has not been a contiguous Palestinian territory for a very long time.  It is riddled with Israeli settlements like a hunk of Swiss cheese and sliced up by Israeli roads that Palestinians are forbidden to drive on or build near.  The long-standing policy of Israeli’s constructing settlements and roads on Palestinian land has disrupted the natural growth and development of Palestinian society.  It has also acted as an Israeli insurance policy to be cashed in on the day final status negotiations begin in earnest.  With all of the territory and population represented by Israeli settlements in the West Bank, surely Israel would have the right to protect those interests.  They couldn’t ask those citizens to leave their homes and property could they?  (Kindly note the dripping sarcasm).  The 4th Geneva convention clearly states that it is illegal for an occupying power to transfer citizens to settlements within the militarily occupied country.  It would be like Americans setting up American-only cities in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Crazy.  It would never happen.  Yet we’ve let Israel do it for over 40 years.  And now Israel is crying, “How will we protect our citizens if we go back to the 1967 borders?”  Well, maybe you shouldn’t have continued to steal Palestinian land to build your illegal settlements?  For those who think I am being to harsh I saw it with my own eyes back in the 90s.  A Palestinian farmer whose family had owned land since Ottoman times, routinely had land stolen by settlers.  They would come out at night with automatic weapons and extend their fence 10 more meters into his property.  The year we visited him they also burnt his wheat harvest.  Which brings me to the last spin . . .

Spin: Palestinians are not true partners for peace.  Truth: Neither are the Israelis. Anyone who honestly looks at the 100+ years of history (I’m going back to the beginning of the “modern” zionist movements) cannot see either side as being 100% committed to lasting peace.  Both sides have committed great atrocities.  Both sides have advocated and politicked mostly for themselves.  Both sides have sought the upper hand.  But, honestly . . . Israel has had the upper hand for quite some time.  They have been almost completely in control of the territory since 1967.  They have continually tightened the noose around Palestine’s neck.  The discomfort this caused led to two intifadas, but, really – if the Palestinians had enough resources, don’t you think there would have been an outright war by now?

So, yes the Arab Spring is in full bloom … but I fear a scorching Middle Eastern summer is due to hit anytime soon and all the flowers that have sprung up around the region will soon wither and die.

The problem is both Israeli and Arab cultures highly value honor, despise shame, and espouse revenge.  Both are eye for and eye and tooth for a tooth cultures.  Many eyes have been blackened, many teeth knocked out, much blood spilled by both sides.  The need for revenge does not die easily in the Middle East (on either side).  It festers for years and years.  Politicians will continue to say what they want.  Pundits will spin these speeches.  People will take sides on Facebook.  And people (both Israeli and Palestinian) who we don’t know, will never meet, and honestly probably don’t really care about will continue to suffer and die until both sides have the courage to lay down all of their perceived rights and follow the advice of an old Middle Eastern prophet, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . .”

Thinking about the World’s Largest Open-air Prison on Martin Luther King Day

A cold rain drizzles on the street outside the cafe where I’m sipping tea on this Martin Luther King Day. Of course, this holiday goes unnoticed here in Amman,

President Obama marks MLK Day at VermontAve. Baptist Church in Washington D.C. (NY Times Photo)

Jordan – it is a uniquely American recognition of the life and work of one of the world’s great civil rights and peace activists. MLK’s life’s work and ultimately his sacrifice in death paved the way for the positive changes in the circumstances of African Americans in the US over the last 40-50 years; and indeed race relations in general. While no one would deny that there is still much room for improvement, 46 years after King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington an African American serves in Washington as President of the United States. Yesterday President Obama spoke at Vermont Avenue Baptist church and invoked the memory of MLK’s hard work and influence .

Obama quoted a bit from a sermon King had preached at the same church almost a half century earlier, which itself was a quote from a poem:

Truth forever on the scaffold
Wrong forever on the throne…
And behind the dim unknown stands God
Within the shadows keeping watch above his own.

With this verse, I couldn’t help but think of another anniversary that was marked today. A year ago today, Israel’s deadly offensive into Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) ended. The result? Shattered homes and lives.

Gazans among the rubble of destroyed homes (AFP Image)

1,385 Palestinans dead (762 non-combatants – 318 children)
13 Israelis dead (3 non-combatants – 0 children)

3,500 residential buildings destroyed in Gaza
20,000 Palestinians left homeless
(stats from B’Tselem the Israeli Center for Human Rights)

Israeli attacks over Gaza (Getty Image)

A bombed out medical center - note the destroyed mobile medical clinic in the background

Gaza school recieving incoming Israeli fire during conflict; children back at school after the conflict (AFP image)

Gazan on a destroyed building (AFP photo)

Gazan climbs down from destroyed building (AFP photo)

A year later, the devastation still persists. A group of 8 NGO’s (Amnesty International UK, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, CAFOD,
Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK and Trocaire) recently released a report detailing the current abysmal situation in Gaza (T h e G a z a S t r i p : A H uma n i t a r i a n Imp l o s i o n). None of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are allowed in or out of the territory and a strict blockade has prohibited the import of goods and supplies, including building materials, food, and much needed medicines. 95% of Gaza’s industry remains non-functional because of lack of power and supplies. Electricity is only available sporadically (8-12 hours per day). The Gaza power plant which at one time could produce 140mW off power now is only capable of 60mW. The Deep Poverty Line for Gaza is $2.3 per day – 70% of the population now lives on the equivalent of $1.2 per day. 80% of the population relies on outside Humanitarian aid which has been restricted from 200 trucks per day to 45 (500-600 are estimated to adequately meet current need). Millions of liters of sewage remain untreated daily and runs openly into the sea. The healthcare situation is horrendous with a lack of supplies and electricity and cases of easily preventable disease are on the rise. Doctors report a growing mental health crisis as Gazans cope with loss of life, livelihood, and the daily anxiety of trying to survive. 56% of the population are children who will bear the brunt of this mass imprisonment and humanitarian debacle for decades to come.

Gazan girl in damaged building (AFP photo)

The chief reason cited for this nearly complete blockade (imprisonment?) of Gaza by Israel is security, namely the on-going Qassem rocket attacks on Southern Israel by militant groups in Gaza. In four years these have resulted in 11 Israeli deaths. In the same time period over 2500 Gazans have been killed in retaliatory attacks. One of the objectives of Operation Cast Lead was to end this largely ineffective rocket attacks. A year later they still occur as a beleaguered populace lashes out against the decades old military occupation.

A network of smuggler’s tunnels that would put Hogan’s Heroes to shame has developed over the years beneath the Gaza-Egypt border. Everything from medecine to food to cement to guns are reportedly moved through this network. To Gazans these tunnels are a life line. Egypt recently began building a security wall which will apparently extend 20 meters deep in hopes of cutting off this activity. The project also includes pipelines which will flood any remaining tunnels with sea water with unknown consequences for the natural aquifer and already limited fresh water supply in the area.

And so to echo the poem in MLK’s sermon from so long ago . . .

Truth forever on the scaffold
Wrong forever on the throne…
And behind the dim unknown stands God
Within the shadows keeping watch above his own.

The stark truth of the situation in Gaza is readily available to anyone who cares to find out, from any High School student with an internet connection to the halls of power in the the most affluent and influential nations in the world. Wrong remains on the thrones in both Israel and Palestine, and indeed around the world, as those who govern turn blind eyes and issue anemic policy statements and position papers. The future of Gaza seems not just a dim unknown, but shrouded in deepest night. Some scientists figure that the environmental toll alone will take decades to reverse – the entire area might be condemned as uninhabitable if American EPA standards were enforced.

And yet God himself is in the shadows keeping watch above his own. When, oh when, will justice roll down for Gaza? Justice will never be fully meted out by walls, rockets, guns, or the strong arm of man. It will only come at the merciful hands of the Almighty and in His time. When will the day of justice come for the weak and widowed and orphaned of Gaza? Not a day too soon. But on that day woe to any who has the blood of injustice on their hands. Those stains can be invisible in the normal light of day but will be shockingly revealed when the light of Him who watches from the shadows is fully revealed.

Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963 on the day he deliveredthe "I Have a Dream" speech

I do not mean to say that the situation is fully hopeless on the human level. I firmly believe that one of the greatest gifts that God bestowed upon humanity is that of freedom. By it’s nature this freedom is a bit of a two-edged sword. It gives us the capacity for both great good and great evil. Both Israelis and Palestinians can still work towards peace and security and freedom. As the NGO report says, “The current situation in Gaza is man-made, completely avoidable
and, with the necessary political will, can also be reversed.” Or perhaps as MLK said more eloquently:

“Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

These words were spoken with conviction in the hours of dark night for the African American community, yet today a black man is President of the United States of America. What will the situation in Gaza be 50 years from now? From a human perspective the same or much worse than today. But if frail yet arrogant humanity would get out of the way of God’s mercy and justice then perhaps much, much better. In another part of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech he recognized whites who had

“come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We can not walk alone.”

This truth resonates today as much as it did in 1963, but it applies not just to blacks and whites, but to Israelis and Palestinians and indeed, all peoples of the world.

We cannot walk alone, nor can we simply expect to lay down centuries of hatred and walk arm in arm singing kumbaya. No, we must walk together humbly in fear of God for the shadow we perceive around him is of our own making and will one day be laid bare. On that day we will be ashamed of the sufferings we have imposed on each other in the name of what we supposed to be right and dear and true.

Jordanians rally in support of Gaza

Here are a few way in which Jordanians have expressed their support of those suffering in Gaza:

  • Food and clothing drive – update: MommaBean reports that 25-30 tons were collected at the 7iber/Action Committee/Aramex aid drive near Cozmo the other day.  7iber also reports along with pictures of the sorting effort at the Aramex warehouse.
  • Blood drives
  • Sending a military plan to pick up 40 wounded from Egypt, however due to problems in Egypt they only retrieved 8
  • Businessmen raised 520,000 JD ($738,400) to provide humanitarian assistance, most of it will be administered by the Jordanian government’s official humanitarian arm which has been authorized to provide aid in Gaza.
  • Doctors and nurses staged sit-ins to protest the wounding of Palestinian doctors and medics in the line of duty
  • 50 Doctors have volunteered to go to Gaza to provide medical assistance if authorized to do so.
  • Thousands have participated in predominately peaceful protests.
    • One protest was apparently controlled by tear gas as police stood firm to prevent protesters getting too close to the Israeli embassy here in Amman.
    • 30,000 protesters gathered in a sports stadium.  Many chanted for the repeal of Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel
    • An Arab friend gave me an important vocab lesson – masireh (peaceful protest) vs. muDHahareh (riot).  So far the protests we have heard of here have been in the first category.
    • I’ve been itching to go to one of the protests, but have been warned by a handful of local friends to be careful (not just at the protests, but in general) as anti-American sentiments are on the rise.  I blend in well enough if I don’t open my mouth. But how likely is that?  I must say however, that we have kept to our usual routines and really have to seek out information on the unrest.

I have had several conversations  with locals over the past week about the situation in Gaza.  The same things usually come out:

  • Outrage over the civilian deaths in Gaza, especially the children.  Latest estimates place deaths around 400, about 10% of which have been kids.  I can’t emphasize enough how much this is upsetting to people here.  It’s not just a sound bite on the evening news.  It’s not just collateral damage that can be justified by some larger goal.  People are really upset about this.  And the question of what about Israeli casualties does not fly – only 4 or 5 reported so far and I don’t think any of them have been kids.
  • Questions about what Israel is really hoping to accomplish.  How will this end in peace when so many lives are being shattered?
  • Questions about why the US backs Israel seemingly carte blanche.
  • Anger towards George W. Bush.
  • I haven’t heard much about this on the street, but in the press there are growing questions about Obama’s ability to step into this mess in a helpful way.  His selection of staunch Israel supporter Rahm Emmanuel has fueled these concerns.

It’s a bit surreal.  A couple of weeks ago I relished the questions “Min wayn?” or “Ayya baladak?”  (Where are you from?  What is your country?)  These used to seem like great conversation starters.   But now I flinch a little internally, and have a few handy things to say in my back pocket if the conversation turns towards anything negative.  People are usually surprised to find out that I have actually lived in Gaza and that helps salvage conversation.  A lot of taxi drivers have been listening to the news more this week.  A number of times George W. Bush has come on condemning the Hamas rocket attacks as acts of terror.  This is usually not received favorably, not so much because people support Hamas, but because they can’t understand why the one (mostly ineffective) attack is classified as an act of terror and the other (much deadlier) is a justified act of war.

I guess I wonder too.  How many more civilians have to die?

Responding in English would be difficult enough, let alone in Arabic.

Just a taste of what I’ve been wrestling with.

Breaking News . . .

As I sit here typing, I just recieved news that ground troops have entered Gaza.  Officially to focus on the Hamas rocket positions.  We shall see.  Ominously, Iranian officials have warned that a land invasion will be a huge mistake on the part of Israel.  Hamas has apparently said that the Israeli army is walking into their planned trap.  (AP report here)  I wonder what stories will be told when dawn breaks 7 or 8 hours from now.  It’s going to be a very restless night in Gaza.

Please pray and act for peace.

Jordan Collects Aid for Gaza

Street approaching the donation drop-off and Cozmo supermarket blocked with traffic

Street approaching the donation drop-off and Cozmo supermarket blocked with traffic

Humanitarian Aid Collected in Jordan

Cars jammed the street leading up to the Gaza relief drop-off point neat Cozmo in Amman, Jordan Tuesday night.  Bumper-to-bumper traffic barely crept along, prompting some Good Samaritans to hop out and carry their boxes of food, clothes, and blankets the final dozens of meters.  Police were on hand, including some in riot gear, but everything was peaceful as the pile of donated goods grew and grew.  A line of volunteers passed donations along a human chain to fill waiting delivery trucks.  Inside the store it was obvious who was shopping for Gaza.  Both Jordanians and ex-pats were pulling stacks of canned goods and large sacks of rice off the shelves and filling carts.  Store employees were giving directions to some shoppers, advising them on what could and could not be included in the shipments.

People in Jordan donating and loading a truck with relief aid for Gaza

People in Jordan donating and loading a truck with relief aid for Gaza

Humanitarian Aid Boat Rammed by Israeli’s

As I dropped off a meager donation I wondered if anyone would ever benefit from it.  Both the Israelis and Egyptians have been notorious for not allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza – even during the ceasefire.  What about now, during what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak described as “all out war” ?  Just this week a civilian boat carrying humanitarian aid from Cyprus to Gaza was shot at and rammed by an Israeli military vessel.  The AP reported that, “Israel’s navy on Tuesday turned back a boat of pro-Palestinian protesters who had hoped to enter Gaza to demonstrate against the Israeli blockade.”  The Reuters article that accompanied the photo below gave a different story, “Cyprus state radio said the Cypriot government would seek explanations from Israel over the incident. The vessel was carrying medical aid donated by Cyprus and there were at least three Cypriots on board, including a parliamentarian.”  The boat was apparently escorted by a Lebanese naval vessel to the port of Tyre.  Hmmm . . . now Lebanon is involved.

Free Gaza aid boat that was rammed by an Israeli military vessel (Reuters photo)

Free Gaza aid boat that was rammed by an Israeli military vessel (Reuters photo)

Will this shipment of aid from Jordan ever make it?  Let’s pray it does.  And when it does, let’s pray it goes to help those who really need it.

Gazan Family Mourns the Loss of 5 Daughters

Like the Balousha family of Jabalia refugee camp who lost 5 of their daughters this week when an Israeli bomb destroyed a mosque and several surrounding buildings in the crowded camp, including the  Balousha’s three-room cinder block house (Guardian UK article here).  The girls were sleeping in one of the rooms and had no chance.  They were ages 17, 15, 13, 8, and 4.   Their mother and father lay sleeping with the families two youngest in the next room.  All were injured, but survived as did one other sister who miraculously was pulled from the ruins of the room where her 5 sisters had died.  Can you even imagine?  Innocent victims of a sickening conflict that has potential to engulf the entire region.

Funeral procession for 5 girls who dies in one family as a result of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza (Guardian UK photo)

Funeral procession for 5 girls who died in one family as a result of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza (Guardian UK photo)

How will this end?  The current conflict is not simply a sound bite on the 5 o’clock news.  It doesn’t just fill a space between the first weather forecast and the local sports scores.  It’s been fomenting for centuries and is unlikely to subside anytime soon.  All the major political players will at least pay lip service to trying to fix things.  There will be lots of posturing and statements made in the world press.  But the most important ones will not come from politicians or generals.  I wonder if anyone will pay attention to the anguished statements of men like Anwar Balousha who is described here:

…He was pale and still suffering from serious injuries to his head, his shoulder and his hands. But like many other patients in Gaza he had been made to leave an overcrowded hospital to make way for the dying. Yesterday his house was a pile of rubble: collapsed walls and the occasional piece of furniture exposed to the sky. He spoke bitterly of his daughters’ deaths. “We are civilians. I don’t belong to any faction, I don’t support Fatah or Hamas, I’m just a Palestinian. They are punishing us all, civilians and militants. What is the guilt of the civilian?” Like many men in Gaza, Anwar has no job, and like all in the camp he relies on food handouts from the UN and other charity support to survive.

And still the Balousha family, and those like them will mourn the lives shattered because politicians and power-men couldn’t put down their egoes and their weapons.

Not just another round of violence in Gaza

It’s the holidays.  The lull between Christmas and New Years when so many of us have a little time off from work and spend extra hours enjoying the company of loved ones.  A time of peace, joy, and celebration.  A time to be thankful for the blessings of the past and consider what possibilities the future may hold.

Not so in Gaza over the last two days.  Israel has pounded the Palestinian territory with precision air strikes causing over 250 deaths and over 600 injuries.  Casualty statistics vary according to source, but all are climbing in the wake of some of the worst single-day violence in recent years of the conflict. The airstrikes come on the heels of a tenuous months-long cease fire that was punctuated by mostly ineffective Hamas sponsored rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.  Reaction in the Arab world has been quick and vocal.

  • At least one Saudi cleric has issued a fatwa condemning Israel and calling for attack on Israeli targets anywhere.  The cleric does not appear to have any “official” standing – but I am sure more and more of these edicts will begin to roll out from clerics of varying degrees of stature
  • Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi has called upon the Arab League to end all attempts at its peace initiative with Israel
  • The Arab League (not in response to Libya) postponed a regularly scheduled meeting to be held over the weekend to meet later this week reportedly to establish an official response to the airstrikes
  • Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khameini (Ahmadinejad’s boss) said, “”The Zionist regime should be punished by Muslim states. This usurping regime’s leaders should also go on trial and be punished for this crime.  All Palestinian Mujahids (fighters) and believers in the Islamic world are required to defend in any way they can the defenseless women, children and people of Gaza.”
  • Protests broke out in leading cities from Iran to Syria to Lebanon to Morocco to Spain to England

There were even protests here in Jordan.  My wife called from the grocery store with the news, “Something’s up – people are all gathered around televisions sets and it looks like buildings are on fire and there are people protesting.” As it turned out the fireswere in Gaza and the protests were here in Amman. An hour later she was stuck in traffic being held up by the army while a protest wound it’s way through the old city of Amman (see picture below).  My wife called and said she could see the protesters were waving green flags.  I guess they could have been Amman Municpality flags, but I was fairly certain that they were Hamas flags (which they were).  According to the Jordan Times some protestors “expressed allegiance to Hamas” and chanted, “We will avenge you, we sacrifice our blood and souls for you Gaza.”  I would have tried to find a safe vantage point to observe but everyone in our house has been sick of late, so I stuck at home and watched a little news coverage.  Today a friend and I exchanged typical greetings with a Muslim neighbor. Instead of the usual stock answers he said he was terrible “because of Gaza.”  Seems this latest attack has really struck a chord here.

Jordanians protesting Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Dec 27th 2008 (photo from Jordan Times)

Jordanians protesting Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Dec 27th 2008 (photo from Jordan Times)

I’m afraid this is not just another deadly tit-for-tat in the ongoing struggle between Palestine and Israel.  Both popular and political reactions were swift.  It might just be saber rattling on the part of leaders like Khameini or Qaddafi.  But I’mnot sure how much longer the man in the street willput up with the situation in Gaza.  The situation has gone from bad to so much worse in the last 24-months.  Under American pressure premature elections were held resulting in Hamas legally (and democratically) winning power.  Of course democracy is only a good thing when the people “we” want to win actually do.  This unexpected (??really?? kinda like the Shiites winning in Iraq, right?) outcome has resulted in a civil war between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza (some in the western media allege  this was partially funded and equipped by the US), a fracturing of the Palestinian government, and a prolonged siege of Gaza.  For the past 18-months Israel has blocked shipments in and out of Gaza – including humanitarian aid.  Airstrikes have knowcked out power supplies and conditions on the ground are worse than they have ever been before.

Add to this some fresh post-Christmas, pre-New Years blood shed.

The initial barrage reportedly started right around the same time school children leave for home after the mornign shift at school and lasted for about 3 hours.  40 targets were reported, including mostly police stations, smuggling tunnels, and “Hamas related” posts.  Yeah, that makes sense.  Knock out the police stations.  Then let’s see how fast they can restore order.  Despite the official list of targets, missiles were reported as hitting near playgrounds, vegetable markets, the headquarters of a major charity organization, and near the entrance to the largest hospital in Gaza (where a friend of mine used to work).  Refugee camps were hit. Camps where I’ve walked the main streets and stretched both arms out to touch the cinder block  buildings on either side.  Camps where no amount of precision computer controlled targeting is going to keep civilians from being injured.  At least 20 children have been reported dead so far as a result of the strikes.

Of course, the Palestinians and, yes, the world should have seen it coming.

Back in February I mentioned that a Deputy Israeli Defense Minister made waves by saying, “The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger ’shoah’ because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”  The big stir was over the use of the term “shoah” which Israelis primarily reserve to refer to the holocaust.

But that’s not the only reason why the world should have seen this brutal attack coming.  On Christmas Day Ehud Olmert was interviewed by Al-Arabiya (a Dubai based news agency).  He gave this ominous warning:

Israel withdrew from Gaza approximately three years ago not in order to return to it. I appeal to the residents of Gaza: I speak to you as a father and grandfather and I know that there is nothing I want less than to put my children and grandchildren in danger. Is it the spirit of Islam to kill innocent children? To shoot rockets at kindergartens and at civilians? I do not think that this is the spirit of Islam. Hamas, which does this against the spirit of Islam, is the main reason for your suffering – for all of ours.

I say to you in a last-minute call, stop it. Stop it. You the citizens of Gaza, you can stop it. I know how much you want to get up in the morning to quiet, to take your children to kindergarten or school, the way we do, the way they want to in Sderot and Netivot.

Hamas is the enemy of the residents – not only in Israel but in Gaza. We want to live as good neighbors with Gaza. We do not want to harm you. We will not allow a humanitarian crisis and that you should suffer from a lack of food or medicines. We do not want to fight the Palestinian people but we will not allow Hamas to strike our children. We have very great and destructive strength – which we do not wish to use. I think of the tens of thousands of children and innocents who will be in danger as a result of Hamas’s actions. Do not let the murderers of Hamas, which is acting against the values of Islam, put you in danger.

Could I allow more missiles against the residents of Israel? More strikes at children and civilians and do nothing? Certainly not. Hamas is firing at us and at the power station that is supposed to supply electricity to Gaza. Stop them. Stop your enemies and ours. Tell them to stop shooting at innocents.

I did not come here to declare war. I have said in the past – as long as I am Prime Minister, I intend to reach peace with, not fight, the Palestinians. But Hamas must be stopped – and so it will be. I will not hesitate to use Israel’s strength to strike at Hamas and Islamic Jihad.  How? I do not wish to go into details here.

2 days later the world found out.  Merry Christmas.

What I find most galling in Olmert’s statement is his outright lies about his desire not to harm the civilians of Gaza or cause a humanitarian crisis.  Way too late for that – the humanitarian crisis started several months ago because of Israel’s blockade of Gaza.  It’s interesting that he addresses the exact same issues that the Deputy Defense Minister did back in February – the rocket attacks in southern Israel and the fact that Israel has a lot of power and can use it if they want.

Did you catch what he said in the interview, “the tens of thousands of children and innocents who will be in danger . . . “ What’s he talking about?  So far only a couple of hundred have died.  Is he alluding to some far greater, far more destructive attack? Let’s pray that this is not the case!  However electronic intifada reparted,

As Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli occupation forces Chief of Staff, said this morning, “This is only the beginning.”

Only the beginning?  Of what?

Olmert’s appeal to the citizens of Gaza might seem reasonable on the face of it – after all they elected Hamas, presumably the citiznery could do something about it.  But, really?  When have you or I ever really held sway over a duly elected official in the peace-loving United States? Now what is the average Joe Gazan going to do? Sidle up to the rocket launchers and say, “Look I know we elected you a couple of years back, but it seems like you’re making matters worse than better, could you maybe stop with the rockets for a little bit?” It like asking the people of LA or Southern California to take on the gangs and the Mexican drug lords.  Its rubbish.

It’s at this point that we all should start wringing our hands and say, “there’s no easy answer.  There’s innocent blood on the hands of both sides.  I’m just one person, what difference can I make?”

I don’t know.

But now, more than ever we need to pray for peace.  And work for it in whatever small ways we can.  In the spheres of influence that we have.  Maybe your circle has nothing to do with Israel and Palestine, but I’m sure there is conflict, and I am sure there is a way of peace that can be pursued.  Don’t take the easy way out and just ignore it.  Bad things don’t go away when we ignore them they just get worse.

Until someday we all have innocent blood on our hands.  Let’s pray it’s not too late.

Ooops, I forgot Weekend Headlines from Jordan #4

(as reported in the Jordan Times.  Paragraphs below are my summary and additional commentary on articles on the front page of the JT Friday edition)

Top Headline: ‘When we are fasting, we are all one‘  It’s hard to explain to someone living in the West how culturally significant iftar, or the meal to break the fast is here in Jordan.  Life is totally re-oriented during the month of Ramadan so that you are able to make it home to break fast with you family or friends.  We had the ironic experience of eating at TGIFriday’s last week right at iftar.  I am sure we were one of 2 non-Jordanian/Arab couples in the packed out restaurant.  Will write more on that experience later.  That being said many do not have the means to prepare special meals and so this article discussed the numerous iftar tents set up around the city to help the underprivileged.  These tents are sponsored by wealthy individuals, corporations, and also the royal family.

A variety of people take advantage of free iftar tents during Ramadan.  (Jordan Times)

A variety of people take advantage of free iftar tents during Ramadan. (Jordan Times)

In particular, HM Queen Rania has a tent which hosts a different group in need each night. (to check out the Queen’s fascinating website click here and follow the 3rd link.)  There is much concern for the poor here during Ramadan, which is the traditional time to give your zakat, or alms, each year.  But I wonder a bit about the poor the rest of the year.  If they don’t have the means to prepare an evening meal in Ramadan, what about next month?  Who helps out then?   I also wonder if Christians ever sponsor iftar tents or if that is taboo?

Three AIDS cases registered: which brings the number of cases this year to 7.  Not sure how that compares with the States – but a quyick search gave me a stat of over 30,000 cases in the US last year.  I don’t think Jordan is on that track.  The article made a point to note that the three new cases were infected abroad and also pointed out that one was a woman.  I wonder what it is like to have AIDS in this country where honor and shame are so much at stake.  Will this woman’s family have compassion on her or scorn?  Will she receive good medical treatment?  I also wonder if AIDS cases are under-reported here,  The government is definitely concerned about it – any foreigner staying in the kingdom more than 6 months has to get tested!

West Bank settlers take over more land – group: Interesting to see that an Israeli human rights group that I often quote (B’Tselem) is referenced as front page news here in Jordan.  The article reports on 1,100+ acres annexed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.  Half of this land was private Palestinian property.  It was taken for “security” purposes by fencing it off under the watchful eyes of armed settlers and soldiers.  This same method of illegal settlement expansion was going on 10 years ago when I was in Gaza.  Soldiers and settlers would take Palestinian farmland at night by extending the fence by 10-20 feet, citing attacks from that property that never occured. It should be noted that these new security measures are being taken inside Israel’s already existing “security” barrier.

In Urban areas the barrier is a full-fledged concrete wall completely surrounding cities

In Urban areas the barrier is a full-fledged concrete wall completely surrounding cities

In rural areas the barrier is a complex series of fences and trenches

In rural areas the barrier is a complex series of fences and trenches

I’m all for protecting people from suicide bombers, but when an entire town is surrounded by a wall like this it seems like collective punishment to me.  As I’ve said before, it would be as if the rest of California decided to wall in L.A. because of all the gang violence there.  Migth help keep things safer in the short-term, but makes no sense whatsoever in the long-term.  Do the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall or the Berlin Wall mean anything to anyone?

Grounded for Life, Part 1

Did you ever get grounded as a teenager?  Or have some “privilege”  taken away?  Perhaps phone, or TV, or Nintendo privileges?  Or the ultimate discipline trump card – taking away the car privileges!  If you were like me you would stew, bristle, and complain (sometimes vocally), but usually – deep down inside – we all knew we had it coming to us.  There is often a very clear and stated reason for grounding or revocation of spec.ial privileges.  My parents used to make it clear that things like these (having access to the phone or car) were privileges and not rights

I lost my bike privileges once after my Mom picked me up on an unlit country road way after dark.  I had stayed hours too long at my girlfriend’s and was biking the 9 miles back in the dark without a headlight.  I remember that night clearly – my Mom pulled up, popped the trunk for my bike, and said absolutely nothing the entire car ride home.  I knew I was in for it.  I tried to make a case for it being a moonlit night, but the evidence was not in my favor.  I lost the bike privileges (and I think car and visiting the gf) for quite some time.  I had it coming to me and I knew.  Eventually I got those privileges back and I learned some important life lessons, but does the phrase “I was soooo grounded” mean anything to anyone.

I’ve been privvy to a different more troubling teen angst story recently.  One where a step-parent regularly grounds a teen for no stated reason.   It’s just “Go to your room and stay there until I say you can come out!”  Night after night, week after week.  It’s like Harry Potter at the Dursley’s all year round.  Oh there’s protests and shouts of “What did I do?”  But these are only met with stony silence, or “Because, I’m the parent and I said so.”  No reason is ever given for the grounding, nor any clear conditions for being ungrounded.  Crazy, right?  This sounds like where discipline crosses over into punishment and possibly even abuse.

It has come to the point where the teen is effectively “grounded for life.”  The nearest thing to an explanation for this has been “when you respect me I will give you some freedom” to which the response is “I will respect you when I have some freedom.”  I think legally the teen could leave home now, but the step-parent has made the situation such that the teen is 100% dependent on them financially, etc.   I don’t know if the term entrapment is correct, but besides school, the teen cannot leave.  There doesn’t seem to be any relative who can intervene or wants to.  From my understanding legal action has been attempted with no success.

What do you think?  Is there any hope for this teen and step-parent?  Is the relationship permanently wounded?  Is there anything that can be done to make things better?