“You never know what’s next”: An interview with activist Barbara Lubin

Barbara Lubin

Education plays a big part in Barbara Lubin’s life. In fact it was a broad-based education that made her realize that she was getting a distorted view of what went on in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Lubin was born into a conservative Zionist family. She had been taught that the Jews needed to establish a state of their own; that what had happened to her relatives during WWII; when their land was occupied, and family members murdered in camps, should never happen again. For much of her life Barbara Lubin felt that the Zionist ideal was the right thing.

However, in 1982 her eyes were open to a new horror. A new form of occupation — an occupation enacted by Israelis. In 1982 the massacres of Shabra and Shatila occurred in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Lubin probed more and began to see that Eretz Israel (Greater Israel) was built on land owned by Palestinians. Since her awakening, Lubin has been a tireless promoter of Palestinian rights and recognition.

Lubin is the founder and executive director of The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) based in Berkeley, CA. MECA has delivered, since 1988, millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to children’s clinics, hospitals, schools, and women’s organizations in the Occupied Territories and Iraq. Her tireless work is an inspiration too many.

I recently had the chance to speak to Barbara Lubin, via telephone, about the growing crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Christopher Brown: Barbara Lubin, your organization, MECA, focuses on protecting and advocating for the rights of all people, especially children in the Middle East, specifically in occupied Palestine, Israel and occupied Iraq.

At present, Israel is continuing to carry out its military incursion “Summer Rains” in the Gaza Strip, an operation that was originally launched to retrieve a captured Israeli soldier. On Friday September 29th, just a few days before Yom Kippur, the Israeli military killed two Palestinian children, brothers ages 16 and 13, with a surface-to-surface missile while they rode their bikes near a gas station. Since this operation began more than 200 Palestinians have been killed, many of the victims were children; the Gaza power transformer was destroyed, food and medicine are in short supply. Is all of this necessary to rescue one soldier?

Barbara Lubin: Necessary? Of course it’s not necessary. And it’s really not about that. This behavior on the part of Israel has been going on now for many years. This is just the latest and, actually, one of the more brutal times that they have done this. But this isn’t new for Israel, of course its not to retrieve a soldier its about b ringing the people of Gaza to their knees, which they have, unemployment is up about 80 to 95 percent; hitting the electrical plant has been a disaster, so they had a very hot summer. the Palestinians have had to live without electricity for most of the day and night and they suffered horribly from the heat and lack of water, and from the in ability to bring to Gaza the food and medicine necessary to have healthy children.

It’s not about the soldier [Cpl Gilad Shalit], it’s about making life so horrendous for people that hopefully they’ll just leave. Disappear. But its not new. People in Gaza have been suffering at the hands of the Israelis from the very beginning.

CB: Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to arrive in Israel this week in order to talk about “creative means” to strengthen Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. One such creative means is to move funds to the PA through Abbas, which has been unable to pay more than 165,000 civil workers since March. Are we seeing the U.S., trying to undermine a democratically elected government simply because it will not fall in line with U.S. foreign policy?

BL: Well of course, you know as far as Hamas is concerned, you have to look at Hamas in terms of the early intifada that started back in 1987, that is when Hamas began. They really didn’t have that much support inside Gaza or the West Bank. But the Israelis, in fact, allowed them to flourish to grow; they never arrested them. They only arrested people in the “left” organizations like the Palestinian Communist Party, or the PFLP which is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or the DFLP, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but they never arrested the Hamas people. They allowed them to grow and to become as strong as they have become.

And, not to forget, that approximately 98 percent of all the money that Hamas has given and raised for Palestinians over the years has been for clinics and pre-schools and helping people financially when they’re homes are demolished so that only a very small percentage of the money has gone into the armed struggle.

The Israelis have made it impossible now for the Palestinians to get any money to buy food for their families, to even survive. Since March of this year none of the people who work in the government or in places, like my friend Zacharia in Jerusalem who works for the UNDP, the United Nations Development Project, none of them have been paid. And they have manipulated the banks for quite awhile. When Hamas was elected, Israel and the United States decided that they would do anything they could to turn the Palestinian people against Hamas. And they have not been successful; I think that Hamas has become even stronger as a result of this folly.

I’ll tell you a story. This summer I was in Palestine, I was in Gaza, with our Gaza development director for MECA, Dr. Mona El-Farra who works with Dr. Haider Al Shasi who works with the Red Crescent and who does wonderful work. And I was there with her [Dr. El-Farra], and I gave her a check for $10,000, because things are so horrible in Gaza. You know we are trying to get food and just basic health into people. And a few weeks later a woman works with me, and she was there, and I had sent another check for $9,000.00 to Dr. Mona. Both of those checks Dr. Mona put in the bank. [But] the money left the MECA account in the amount of $19,000.00 and has never been released to Dr. Mona.

There is total, complete control over the lives of the Palestinians; whether it’s the money in the bank, whether is the medicine at the hospital, whether the schools will be open — its complete

So here we’ve lost $19,000.00 and Dr. Mona has not been able to get it. The Israelis have controlled everything. Over the years we have wired money, bank wires, and sometimes the money is held for three, four, five months at a time. There is total, complete control over the lives of the Palestinians; whether it’s the money in the bank, whether is the medicine at the hospital, whether the schools will be open — its complete. And it’s a very bad situation.

CB: The framers of the “Roadmap to Peace” have demanded that the Hamas led government; recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and abide by previous international laws. Why isn’t the same conditions being imposed upon Israel?

BL: Yeah well, this is the life. The United States and Israel want to, as I said, control everything. It has always amazed me that one people is asked to recognize, and the Israelis are never asked or forced to recognize the rights of Palestinians and it has always been like this. It’s all part of the same story, Israel and the United States do not want a unity government. And I met with people from most factions when I was in Gaza this summer and they were working very hard at trying to pull together this unity government. But if the Palestinians are successful with this then what will happen is that all the money that is being held back, which was not given to the Palestinians particularly from the Europeans, will be flowing in again. And Israel doesn’t want this — they want to starve them out. And that is why this whole idea of Fatah and Abbas, that is the only person they want to deal with because he’s their guy. He’s the guy that does the U.S.’s bidding and Hamas won’t.

CB: For years, many Palestinians who have foreign passports yet live in the occupied territories have gone back and forth from Jordan to renew their three-month visitor visas. Many of those who must go through this process are political moderates with successful business, wanting to infuse the sagging Palestinian economy. Since the second intifada, Israel began denying these entrepreneurs re-entry into the country. Tens of thousands seemed to be ensnared by an Israeli policy that has effectively frozen immigration to the Palestinian territories. Yet at the same time, someone with a Jewish identity can step off a plane at Ben Gurion airport and receive, not only citizenship, but also financial assistance. Why the double standard in a so-called democracy?

BL: Well you know you can’t call yourself a democracy; a government that has certain laws for one person based on their religion and separate laws for others, that’s not a democracy. It’s wrong. Clearly anybody who was born in Palestine and was forced out, and let’s not forget that the majority have been living in some of the most horrific circumstances in refugee camps, particularly in Lebanon; it is unbelievable! The life there is beyond belief, and to say that they don’t have the right to go home, and yet people who are born in Poland, or whose parents were born in Russia or anywhere in the world can go [there] just because their Jewish is racist and pretty outrageous.

CB: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approval ratings have been plummeting ever since the conclusion of the Lebanon war. At present his ratings stand at 22 percent. In a recent poll conducted by [the Israeli daily] Yedioth Ahronoth, 27percent of those polled said they would want Benyamin Netanyahu to be prime minister, 15 percent choose Avigdor Lieberman, a right-winger from Yisrael Beitenu party, who say they would expel all Arabs from both Israel and the territories; and 7 percents or respondents would choose Olmert. Is there a chance that Israel might hold early elections and usher in a new more militant prime minister?

BL: Yeah, that’s a very real possibility, absolutely. I think that a majority of people in Israel would support Netanyahu; they certainly have in the past. And that is horrifying but you know what, none of it is surprising to me. For those of us who have been involved in [the Israeli-Palestinian issue], I’ve only been involved for 19 years, but this has been going on forever, since ‘48, and you know it keeps going round and round. And clearly it’s to the point where we could see the end of the Palestinian movement, as we have known it so far. I think it is at a point that where it is very dangerous where you starve people. It’s the same kind of tactic that the United States used for many years against the people of Iraq — sanctions killing children. It was a disaster and the same kind of thing is happening here. It’s not that new for the Palestinians.

Don’t forget that during the 13 years of sanctions, the U.S. led sanctions against the people of Iraq, over a million people died. And 500,000 of them were under the age of five. They died from ordinary childhood diseases malaria and dysentery, and this in a country that was very modern and had gotten rid of all of these childhood diseases, they died because there was no clean water. Its very similar to what we did in Iraq to what we are doing in Gaza particularly since the capture of the soldier.

And in Palestine and Israel you never know what’s next. That’s been my experience never knowing what is gong to happen. It always changes and I’m never surprised. But the one thing that never changes is the fact that it gets worse and worse for the people that live there.

CB: How can people get more information about what is going on in Palestine/Israel and how can people find out about the work of MECA?

BL: They can go to our new website; www.mecaforpeace.org or they can always call us at 510-548-0542; of course we’re happy to talk and meet with anyone. And they also need to read about the truth of what has happened and what is happening. I have a suggestion that they read some the books by some of the Israelis, the anti-Zionists Israelis. And one of those people who is a hero of mine is Ilan Pappe. They should read Edward Said; there’s a lot of people who can give you all the information that you need. It’s there you just have to put away these ideas that we’ve grown up with here in this country. And I know as well or better than anyone else what all of that is about.

I grew up here, and when I was a little girl I grew up in a very right-wing Zionist home. I was a Zionist up until very late, until ‘82 — until the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Shabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres. I am a late bloomer to this movement. And I think if you can really get educated and really understand you should go over there. Go over there and see what life is like and see what its about. I really think that you have to see it to believe it.

Related Links

  • BY TOPIC: Cutting aid to Palestine (30 March 2006)
  • BY TOPIC: Gaza food crisis (19 March 2006)
  • BY TOPIC: Banning of internationals and foreign passport-holding Palestinians (25 June onwards)

    Christopher Brown is a grassroots journalist based in San Francisco, CA. You can go to his blog at www.cbgonzo.blogspot.com