Isolate Israel “at every level,” urges Palestinian-Canadian physician in Gaza

A grandfather mourns over his three grandchildren who were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza on 21 August.

Mohammed Asad APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

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Report from physician in Gaza

Dr. Rand Askalan: I’m Rand Askalan, I’m a physician, a pediatric neurologist in Toronto, and I came to Gaza last Friday and I’m currently in Marna House, it’s a little hotel next to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: And can you describe what’s happening outside your window right now, it’s Wednesday evening, tell us what’s happening.

RA: The day was relatively quiet — relatively. There were some — you could hear some planes during the today, but there was no bombing after a very tough night, there was very heavy artillery last night. But now, for the past half an hour, there has been a lot of planes which usually precedes the bombing. So people are expecting there will be bombing soon.

I hear it — I don’t see any gas or clouds yet, but I could hear the sounds. Now I think they’re bombing.

NBF: You’re in Gaza City, can you tell where these bombing sounds are coming from right now?

RA: No, I can’t. Not yet.

NBF: Well, if you could talk a little bit about what you’re doing there in Gaza, and especially as a pediatrician, a pediatric neurologist, what your work entails in Gaza and how you can assess the situation for children right now across the Gaza Strip.

RA: So, basically this is not my first time in Gaza — I was here last year as well, doing some similar work. So in addition to actually seeing patients and running clinics, which I did and I hope I can go to a clinic in Khan Younis tomorrow, but also I do — especially under these circumstances — I came for some needs assessment. One of the things I do is to try and provide urgently needed medical equipment.

So for instance, just two weeks ago, I managed to fundraise and also we bought surgery equipment that were in significant shortage here. And now, for the past week, I’ve been visiting different hospitals and sitting there with people and trying to assess what the hospitals need to function as best as could be in these circumstances.

And the plan is — now I have a few things on the list that need to be provided, and my plan when I go back is to try and make these devices available here in Gaza by fundraising and with community work, we can bring these devices into Gaza.

Basically, and also it’s very important in my mind — it’s as important as the supplies that are needed — is also for the people of Gaza to feel supported, to feel that the world out there knows about their pain, knows about their suffering, knows about the crimes that are happening against them. Especially by Palestinians in the diaspora, like myself.

So this really, for me, as important as everything else — that they know that we are here for them, that we are all together in this — not just the Palestinians in Gaza.

NBF: Dr. Rand, can you talk a little bit about some of the most impactful stories that you’ve come across, or experiences that you’ve had working in Gaza over the last couple of weeks?

RA: Oh boy. Every day, every day here — you go, you walk out in the street, you walk to talk to people, you hear very powerful stories. There’s nobody here without a story, without losing a loved one, without losing a home. It’s basically every person you talk to.

My latest one was yesterday, when I went with the team of medical relief — the Palestinian Medical Relief Society team, who goes and visits wounded patients in their homes. Although these patients — in any other place in the world, they should be in the hospital — that is impossible here because of the huge numbers of injured that the hospitals cannot accomodate.

So they were discharging patients prematurely, and these paramedic teams will go around and change their dressings and care for their wounds and see how they’re doing. I joined one of these teams — and basically in every home we went into, with every injured person we saw — there’s a very sad story.

One of them was a man who actually was on the beach when the Israeli army killed the five children playing on the beach [Editor’s note: Israel killed four children in the attack]. He described to me exactly what happened. He was sitting at a cafe nearby, and when they sent the first missile — the kids were playing on the beach, and they sent the missile and everybody ran to help the kids. At that point, one child was killed. But then, when they ran together, they sent the second missile, and this is where five kids were killed. And it was clear that people were there — it was an unbelievable targeting of civilians on the beach, like there’s no suspicion whatsoever that there was anything else but children on this site.

He, himself is only 21, and has five different [shrapnels] in his body. And one of the reasons I saw him is to assess his spinal cord function. One of them was in his spine, and you could see that there was one in the bones, luckily it didn’t get to the cord — so he still has full function of his legs and he has significant other injuries.

I can tell you stories like that endlessly. Another young man, who’s only 25, is a taxi driver who was — all he was doing all day was to trying to move people away from the danger, especially children and the elderly who cannot walk very fast. And they targeted his car at the end of the day, and he has also significant injuries.

These stories tell me — really this argument that [Israel] is only targeting where they think rockets are coming from — well, these are clear targets and there’s no way that rockets are coming from places like that or crowds like this. So they’re targeting civilians, Nora, they’re targeting civilians in a very clear way that the world has to see.

NBF: Dr. Rand, what do you think is the most important thing that people in international civil society, people who are outraged about what’s happening in Gaza, can do right now? And how can people support your work and the work of doctors in Gaza?

RA: For the international community, I — it’s basically not to be quiet. Is to keep pressuring the governments, especially in the west, especially governments in Europe — enough is enough. Enough of supporting Israel blindly, enough of going behind this [rhetoric of] “Israel is defending itself.” Israel is not defending itself because they are the occupiers. They are the aggressors.

So really what we need is the international community to see that this argument doesn’t make sense in this case, and to keep pressuring their government. They’re using their tax money to buy weapons to give to Israel to kill children. I don’t know how anybody in this world can live with that, how anybody can live with this fact.

We need huge movements, and be in the streets every day until the governments stop supporting Israel. Until they boycott — weapons boycotts, every kind of boycott. Things like, for instance, Spain is selling weapons to Israel. I know it’s not a huge supplier, but still, things like that are what will make a difference, when Israel becomes isolated at every level. And that’s when things will start to change.

End transcript.

Rami Almeghari: Hundreds of thousands seeking shelter in UN schools

Note: This report was filed on 12 August with Free Speech Radio News.

Rami Almeghari: According to United Nations figures, nearly two thousand Palestinians have been killed and almost ten thousand injured since the start of the Israeli military offensive five weeks ago. More than 16 thousand homes have been destroyed or severely damaged and hundreds of thousands remain displaced. But lost in the statistics is the impact the offensive is having on everyday life.

Riham al-Khaisy and Yahya Hijazi are a young couple from the eastern Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza city. They were supposed to get married this week – plans which were put on hold after Israeli air strikes and tank shells heavily bombarded their neighborhood weeks ago. They are now taking shelter in the al-Bahrain UNRWA-run prep school for boys in western Gaza city.

Yahya’s fiancee, Riham, says it’s the second time their wedding is postponed in the last year and a half. She told FSRN that some in the shelter suggested holding the wedding party in the school, “but others objected and even cried, warning us against any wedding party. I do truly hope that the times, prior to the war, return. Of course, I feel really sick and disgusted, as I have lost all my belongings, including the things of the wedding. Our entire house has been destroyed. We fled in the early days of the war, as our house is located just on the eastern limit of the border.”

One of the reasons some staying at the school warned against holding a wedding party there is because many of the shelter residents are mourning loved ones killed in the offensive. The al-Bahrain boys’ school now currently shelters 3,300 residents from the eastern areas of Gaza city. Among them is Hussam al-Harazzen, a father whose house was partially damaged during the attacks. He says he has no problem with staying at the school long-term.

“Our demands are legitimate and possible. We simply want to be able to live in dignity, the way a part of this world lives. It’s not as if we’re demanding the standard of living of advanced countries.” Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are holding indirect talks in Cairo via Egyptian mediators, for the stated purpose of reaching a lasting ceasefire in the region.

On Monday [11 August], the parties agreed on a three-day ceasefire. UNRWA’s spokesperson in Gaza, Adnan Abu Hasna, estimates that the relief agency is now hosting 207,000 displaced residents in 87 UN-administered schools. He says if the parties reach a lasting ceasefire, some of the facilities can reopen for the new school year by early September.

However, other schools will continue to shelter a few thousand displaced families. Abu Hasna also says the agency will ramp up its distribution of food aid to the general population. “This will include aid for 144 thousand families including registered and non-registered refugees and citizens,” he told FSRN. “Our food rations will include a 30-kilogram sack of flour and 10 kilograms of rice for each household.”

Palestinian media reports that the parties in Cairo have agreed on some points, including increasing the number of truckloads of goods into Gaza, allowing entry of raw building materials under close observation and expanding the fishing zone for Gaza fishermen. All three points have been severely limited by an eight-year-old land and sea blockade of the territory.

Hamas and other armed factions in Gaza have demanded an end to the Israeli blockade and establishment of a sea port, a point which Israel has refused. Israeli demands include the disarmament of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including Hamas, and the release of the bodies of two soldiers killed in the fighting. In the meantime, Gaza residents mourn their dead, care for the wounded, and try to reclaim a semblance of “normal life” under siege.

End transcript.

Bay Area activists block Israeli ship for four days

Linda Khoury: On Saturday, August 16th, a diverse coalition of thousands of Bay Area activists took direct action to disrupt business as usual with Israel’s largest cargo shipping company, Zim Integrated Shipping Services. Their goal was to prevent the Zim ship from being offloaded into the port of Oakland. These actions were in response to calls made by the Palestinian trade union movement for Palestine solidarity and US labor rights activists to work together to oppose Israel’s most recent onslaught in Gaza.

Sid Patel, a graduate student and activist with Students for Justice in Palestine at Stanford University, provided his reactions to the Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza:

“You know it’s… in a way it’s obviously a horrible injustice and a tragedy. In another way it has invigorated and kind of compelled many thousands or tens of thousands of people or more across the globe to commit to ending the occupation of Palestine, to winning the right of return, and to ending apartheid within Israel.”

In 2010, Bay Area activists successfully prevented the Zim line from unloading onto the port for the first time in US history.

The action was initially planned for August second but was postponed in order to garner more support from the ILWU—the international longshore and warehouse union. The ILWU has a long history of leveraging their union power to support global human rights struggles. In 1984 they refused to unload cargo from a ship arriving from apartheid South Africa.

Saturday’s events began later than the original time of 5am. The evening prior to the march, mass texts informed activists that the march to the port was not docking at its scheduled time. The ship remained at sea and was rescheduled for unloading later that afternoon.

Jody Saucelour, one of the rally’s organizers, gave me more details about the ship’s initial delay:

“Because there’s been so much build up around this demonstration and there’s been international coverage, so the boat just didn’t come. The boat just delayed and delayed and delayed. And so the longshoreman weren’t even called into work this morning and so there wasn’t even anyone at the port this morning which was already a huge victory for us.”

Demonstrators met in front of the West Oakland Bart station at 3pm, initiating the march to the port with a rally. Leaders from a variety of nationalist and indigenous struggles made solidarity speeches. Pierre Labossiere from the Haiti Action Network was one of the speakers:

“I just want to bring today, the greetings of solidarity of the people of Haiti—who are engaged in a struggle against imperialism, against misery. We identify very strongly with the people of Gaza, with the people of Palestine.”

Links between police brutality in the US and Israel were also frequently made throughout the march.

Shortly before marchers approached the port’s entrance, one of the organizers declared the action a success with his announcement that the Zim ship would not be docking in Oakland’s port. Activist Mohammad Sheikh, Communications Director with the Oakland-based organization Critical Resistance, gave me his reaction after the announcement was made:

“We consider this a fabulous victory… that before we even got to the port, before we even had to start our picket lines, the Zim ship was afraid to dock at the port of Oakland because they knew that we were a real [threat] to them being able to conduct business as usual.”

The following day, on Sunday, August 17th at 5pm, rally organizers alerted Bay Area activists through social media that the Zim ship would dock at 6 o’clock that evening. Later that night, block the boat organizers announced on their Facebook page that, within an hour they were able to mobilize about 400 protesters to come the port where they formed a picket line, which was honored by the workers.

Protesters returned for a third consecutive morning on Monday, August 18th, to once again block the Israeli ship from unloading. Workers responsible for unloading the ship didn’t show up to work due to safety concerns and a heavy police presence. In 2003, several longshoremen were injured during a protest at the port when police used rubber bullets and tear gas against a crowd protesting the Iraq war.

Early Tuesday morning, as Charlotte Silver reported for The Electronic Intifada, activists declared yet another victory against the Zim Line, marking four consecutive days of successful actions to block the unloading of the Israeli ship.

Block the boat organizers updated their facebook page on Wednesday with the following statement: “Today, we salute the rank and file workers of ILWU local 10 for standing with us against Israeli Apartheid by honoring our pickets and letting the ship go from the SSA [Stevedoring Services of America] terminal yesterday afternoon!”

Over the next week, Long Beach, Seattle and Vancouver [Canada] all have upcoming actions planned at their respective ports. These actions are a part of the global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel — a coordinated strategy that seeks to economic pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and restores Palestinian rights by ending the occupation and blockade of Palestinian lands.

End transcript.

Director Sandra Madi on her film Saken

Sandra Madi: My name is Sandra Madi, I’m a Palestinian theatre artist and filmmaker and I’m based in Amman and Beirut. I recently focused on directing documentary films.

Maureen Clare Murphy: Your new feature-length documentary Saken focuses on the relationship between two men named Ibrahim and Walid. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

SM: Yes. Ibrahim is an ex-Palestinian guerrilla. He was part of the Fatah group and he was born and raised in Kuwait, and at the age of 18 he moved to Beirut and he joined the Palestinian revolution there at that time.

Walid is a young Egyptian man; he comes from a village in northern Egypt, near Kafr el-Sheikh, from a small village there. He came to Amman where he met Ibrahim in the late ’90s, where he became his friend and nurse after of course Ibrahim was injured in the year 1982 by a bullet from a sniper and he was paralyzed since then.

It’s a film about the friendship between two men who come from a very different backgrounds and the film focuses on their life, where they stayed for over thirteen years in the Palestinian liberation army hospital in Amman, which is one of the few places that’s left from the PLO in Amman, Jordan.

After the first Gulf War, Ibrahim came to Amman from Kuwait with his family, he stayed a few years at his house with his family and then he decided to stay for some reason in this hospital in particular. This hospital is a hospital for an army; all the staff there have a militant background … the nurses, doctors, everyone who works there.

I filmed in the room where Ibrahim was living for over thirteen years with Walid and I highlight the daily life of these two men and what stays behind this very special relationship.

MCM: What is the significance of the title Saken?

SM: I don’t like to say that it reflects or means one thing; I really depend on the audience or the people when they see the film, they reflect from or to the title.

But Saken for me it means “static” or “still.” Saken comes from sukun or sukna [in Arabic] — “resident” or “silent” or “static,” as I said. Yes it means that nothing is moving, it’s like, we say in Arabic, al-mia’ al-sakina — the water that is really silent, it does not move.

So maybe in a way I feel like that this life of Ibrahim, or their life, Ibrahim and Walid, with all its dynamics — I saw it as if it’s reflecting on the general situation or the very cause itself.

Ibrahim he symbolizes for me, he’s like the Palestinian cause — he’s alive but he’s paralyzed. He can move, he has his own ways to communicate with the world, but it’s as if he’s trapped in his body or in the place itself, which is this hospital.

It’s very symbolic in this way to have this hospital with Palestinian militants but it means nothing to be Palestinian militants in Jordan at this time or even before, since the ’70s. … So it’s a very symbolic existence.

I found this story and I tried to reflect it from its very human aspect … [yet] it’s very political, I’m aware of what I’m doing, of course. I want it to be like that but at the same time I try not to ignore the core … that they are human beings and they have stories, their own things to worry about.

The drama of life consists in the not very symbolic way, it consists in the daily life, in the details — in the things that we want, or we love, or we wish, or we try to defend, or to keep for us. I hope the film contains or will reflect what I’m saying.

End transcript.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).