Julie Rufo’s last Facebook post (on the war in Syria) was probably minutes before she almost died on September 2, 2016.
I first met Julie at a talk I gave on the successful boat trips to Gaza, in late 2008. She told me that she would like to help, and that, as a retired person, she couldn’t offer much financially, but could make a gift of her talent as a professional bookkeeper.
That was the beginning of a friendship, as well as an invaluable resource for the small but ambitious nonprofit corporation that sponsors the International Solidarity Movement and a number of other human rights projects concerned with the Middle East and Cuba. With as many as fourteen separate bank accounts, it’s quite a job, but Julie is definitely up to it.She has kept the books for major entertainers, and makes it look easy.
Weeks later, Julie described what happened that September 2nd.
Living through a war is an experience I don’t wish on my worst enemies. It’s one of the most excruciating experiences a person could have, and I first had mine when I was 10 years old.
It was 2006 when Fatah and Hamas fought for control of Gaza. I find myself at loss for words when trying to describe how I felt when my uncle rushed my cousin and I out of school, ducking behind a wall to escape gunshots as we tried to get home in one piece. Or when guns fired endlessly through the night, practically shattering my eardrums, while my grandma held me so tightly I could barely breathe, assuring me everything was going to be okay.
As a child, it baffled me how people who were supposed to be from a strong Islamic brotherhood could do this to each other. How could you possibly point your weapon at another human just like you? It didn’t take my 10-year-old self long to figure out this was going to be a recurring event in Gaza. But next time it was waged by a stronger enemy who wasn’t just looking for power, but to wipe us out completely.
It was a day only about two years later, as I was leaving school after my first final exam in fifth grade, when I heard a massive explosion and saw a huge cloud of black smoke in the sky. I didn’t understand what was happening. By luck, my usual bus driver was running late that day and we were assigned another one who didn’t know my home address exactly. He dropped me off a mile or so away from my house, and I walked like I was in a daze, explosions still going off in the distance, ambulances rushing through the streets, people running around all over the place. I didn’t feel scared though; I felt confused.
As the days passed, the war kept getting worse and worse. I think the first time it hit me that the Israelis with their so-called “defense” forces wanted to hurt us was in the middle of one night when the bombing kept going on and on. With every bomb, a car alarm would go off, and suddenly I felt so scared for myself and my family that I started sobbing. To this day, the sound of car alarms makes my heart race.
When the war was finally over, I thought it was never going to happen again. I was mistaken, of course. The 2012 war came. This time, I was much more aware of what was happening. I thought, if I was scared shitless, then how must the people who were defending us feel? The resistance fighters who were out there in the middle of it all risking their lives for us?
I was growing stronger, but there’s always a moment in a war when you feel death is so close it’s breathing down your neck, sucking you in; when all your senses are on such high alert the world around you seems to still. That moment in 2012 happened when I was with my aunt and brother. I distinctly remember standing by the balcony door watching huge bombs drop in the distance, lighting up the world around us in the pitch black night. I don’t remember the bombs having sound, I only recall the blinding, orange light.
That war ended after a “mere” eight days. But the worst was yet to come.
The Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014 was the worst, the war that left me so bruised and hurt it’s impossible to describe. It was the longest and scariest; there wasn’t just a moment when I felt death was near, it was all the time.
I felt its presence when all six members of my family gathered in one small room for the worst night of our lives, the night bombs kept going off every five seconds until dawn. I felt death slowly tightening its grip around my neck every time we jolted awake to the sound of explosions. For the first three seconds after waking up, I felt relief, thanking God I was alive–until I remembered another family just like mine has been killed instead.
That war went on so long. I remember sitting like a lifeless skeleton in the candle light one evening, just staring into space, waiting for the end, waiting for our deaths to be reported on the radio. That war left everyone in Gaza deeply scarred.
After that war ended, I knew better than to think it would never happen again. Of course it will, on an even worse scale. It kills me that so many people around the world either stand with Israel or refuse to take sides. It kills me that an Israeli teen who spent the war in a fancy bomb shelter underground says her experience of war was horrible, while I spent it out in the open praying the next bomb would miraculously miss its target.
My words are nothing but a glimpse inside these wars, a glimpse from a fortunate person who never personally lost anyone or anything as a result, yet still feels their massive effect. I hate never feeling truly safe, knowing an Israeli assault could happen any day. I hate that everyone in Gaza has to live with that fear for the rest of our lives.
Do not judge us until you understand what we’ve gone through, because we’ve all been to hell and back. Every war that doesn’t kill us truly makes us stronger, even if it batters us and smashes us into pieces. We always seem to get back on our feet, and that’s what we’ll keep doing until this occupation comes to an end.
I feared I wouldn’t be able to go back to my former life after the war ended, but I did.
It felt so awkward. Everything was normal and people were acting as usual. How did I go back to my life, loaded with the guilt of being alive, of breathing?
I apologize for being alive. I apologize to the son who asked his dad to bring him some chocolate, but he got neither chocolate nor his dad. I apologize to the woman who dreamt of having her first child in two months, but a rocket stole her sweet dreams of motherhood. I apologize to the boy who wanted to see the sky, but it was the last thing he saw. I apologize to the people who went to an UNRWA school believing it was safer, a haven, but it was their graveyard. I apologize to the kids who prepared kites for summer, but never had the chance to try them out or boast about how good they’re flying. I apologize to the kids who had to spend a soulless Eid, forced to stay home, deprived of joy, sweets and swings.
I apologize to the man who worked overnight to build a house for his children and then witnessed it turning into rubble.
I apologize to the girl who thought her father abandoned her when her mother couldn’t be candid with her and tell her they could never find his body.
I apologize to Gaza, my love. I apologize that it must carry such a burden.
The Palestinian child Ahmad Manasra at Zionist occupation military court today. Ahmad was severely injured after being shot by fascist Zionist occupation police about 8 months ago, he was left bleeding for about an hour, then he was kidnapped. Ahmad’s will to live was stronger than their will to kill, he is the living evidence of their terrorism, they tried to bury his story but he insisted to survive to tell the whole world his story despite their ongoing brutality against him.
The United States has offered to increase its military aid to Israel on the condition that Tel Aviv spends more of the aid on the purchase of American equipment and fuel rather than on its domestic products.
Israel and the US have been engaged in negotiations over a memorandum of understanding for an aid package to replace the current one that expires in 2018.
A letter by National Security Adviser Susan Rice and co-authored by the White House’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, outlines the US offer which includes a pledge to substantially increase the aid package, worth some $30 billion over 10 years. It further aims to secure a new deal that would constitute “the largest pledge of military assistance to any country in US history”.
The next 10-year deal could top $40 billion, and would include a 10-year pledge to fund Israel’s missile defense systems, the New York Times reported.
Under the existing agreement, Israel is permitted to spend about 25 percent of the aid it receives outside the US and another 13 per cent on fuel for its aircraft.
According to an Israeli newspaper, this arrangement originated in the 1980s to build up Israel’s defense industry, which has thrived. As a result, Israel has become one of the top 10 arms exporters in the world, and a US competitor.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported a senior US official as saying that this stipulation “no longer serves Israeli or US interests,” adding that “We would like to modify it.”
“It doesn’t make sense from a US perspective,” the source added. “We want more of the assistance to be spent in the US on US companies helping to support economic growth and jobs creation here at home.”
They came from Europe,
these people, single and in
families, eager to settle.
They said they were returning
home, though we had never
seen them, were here
for generations stretching back
for a thousand years
or more. Then, along
about 1917 – a British Lord
named Balfour said our land
was theirs without asking if
we minded. And so they came,
saying our land was empty,
was full of sand and little
else. Failing to see our ancient
olive groves, our cities, our
libraries and our learning,
they took everything
they wanted, killed our people
and destroyed our villages,
setting a million people
fleeing for their lives, then
denied us the right to remember
the event. They call their
attackers the most moral army
in the world. But we remember
the grandmother sitting on her
veranda embroidering a gift for
her granddaughter, when a
sniper sent a bullet through
her head. We remember the
by a bomb dropped by this
very moral airforce, and all
the other bombs
too numerous to count.
When will it end? Have we to
weep a tide of bitterness
until all our memories
of joy are erased and replaced
What is wrong with
people that they mistreat
others with demonic fury
and contempt, yet continue
to proclaim their innocence
and see themselves as the victims?
– George Polley is a novelist and a poet. He is the author of The Old Man and The Monkey, Grandfather and The Raven, Bear, and, most recently “The City Has Many Faces“. He contributed this poem to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his blog.
This 9-minute video, showing Israeli Jewish MPs’ reaction to a speech by Haneen Zoabi today, offers a very revealing insight into how Israel’s tribal democracy works. And it isn’t pretty.
Even in the British parliament, which is imploding at the moment, it is impossible to imagine scenes like these.
Zoabi made the speech after Israel agreed this week very belatedly to pay compensation to the families of nine humanitarian activists killed by Israeli commandos in 2010 on the Mavi Marmara, as it plied international waters on its way to deliver aid to Gaza. In fact, it would be more accurate to say Israel assassinated the activists, as a way to deter others from following in their wake.
The Marmara was a Turkish vessel and the compensation was part of Israel’s reconciliation deal with Turkey.
Zoabi was the only Israeli MP on the ship, and was accused of treason by Knesset members for participating in the aid flotilla. She became public enemy number one and received many death threats at the time, including some barely veiled ones from Jewish MPs.
All the exchanges in this video are in Hebrew, but that doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to understand the language to understand what is going on. One Jewish MP, Oren Hazan, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, heckles Zoabi non-stop for more than four minutes, with the Speaker doing nothing more than politely asking him to calm down and refrain from interrupting.
Remember that Palestinians MPs are regularly ejected from the Knesset for far less than this kind of barracking and violation of parliamentary protocol. Notice also that the Knesset TV spends as much time, if not more, focusing on the heckler than Zoabi, implicitly legitimising his anti-democratic behaviour.
But when Zoabi accuses the soldiers of “murder” at about 4.30-min into the video, all hell breaks loose. A dozen or more Jewish MPs rush to the podium and start circling Zoabi like a pack of baying hyenas. By this stage, when Zoabi is being physically threatened by a number of MPs in the parliament chamber, you might think it would be time for some of them to be forcefully ejected, if only to indicate that this subversion of the democratic process will not be tolerated. But not a bit of it. They are treated with kid gloves.
The Knesset guards simply try to block the violent Jewish MPs from reaching the single Palestinian MP in their sights, presumably fearful that were she to be physically assaulted that might make headline news and make Israel look bad.
Paradoxically, the only MP you can see on the film being pushed out of the Knesset chamber is Zoabi’s party leader, Jamal Zahalka, who from the look of things is interceding because he’s worried she is in danger. Hazan was finally removed, though after more than eight minutes of heckling, threats and belligerence.
Another paradox: Zoabi and her fellow party MPs have only recently been allowed to speak in the Knesset again, after the ethics committee (dominated by Jewish MPs) suspended them for several months because of their “unacceptable” political views.
I doubt very much that any of these Jewish MPs, even though they have threatened and tried to physically harm another MP, one from the wrong tribe, will suffer any consequences at all for their behaviour.
Zoabi said in her speech: “I stood here six years ago, some of you remember the hatred and hostility toward me, and look where we got to. Apologies to the families of those who were called terrorists. The nine that were killed, it turns out that their families need to be compensated. I demand an apology to all the political activists who were on the Marmara and an apology to MK Haneen Zoabi, who you’ve incited against for six years. I demand compensation and I will donate it to the next flotilla. As long as there’s a siege, more flotillas need to be organized.”
In addition to the violent reception from MPs visible on film, there was widespread incitement from other MPs. Michael Oren, who a while back was Israel’s ambassador to the US, sounded like Avigdor Lieberman as he said Zoabi’s speech proved she was not loyal and should be permanently stripped of her parliamentary status, under a soon-to-be-passed Suspension Law.
In true colonial style, the government’s chief whip, David Bitan, was reported to have told Palestinian voters in Israel after Zoabi’s speech: “We need to make sure she doesn’t stay in the Knesset. We’ve had enough of this and she doesn’t even represent you properly.”
There were no tears shed in the Israeli government over Britain’s vote last month to leave the European Union. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right blame Europe for many of Israel’s woes.
Internal wrangles about how to manage Brexit, they hope, will shift member states’ focus away from criticising Israel. The longer-term fallout could be a clamour from voters in other European countries to follow Britain’s lead. A weakened Europe, according to this theory, will be less effective as a counterweight to Washington, which invariably prefers Israel’s interests.
As an added bonus, a Europe with an uncertain future, and one where nativist sentiment makes identifiable minorities less welcome, could be boon to those, such as Mr Netanyahu, who believe Israel is the only true home for Jews.
Committed to beating the Palestinians in a battle of numbers, Mr Netanyahu already exploits every terror attack in Europe to urge Jews to move to Israel. Now he can milk rising racism too.
For these reasons Regavim, an organisation representing the illegal Jewish colonies in the occupied territories that enjoys close ties to the Netanyahu government, campaigned loudly for British Jews to back Brexit.
Sensing the danger, British prime minister David Cameron reassured the Jewish community shortly before the June 23 vote that Britain was “Israel’s greatest friend” and would be “powerless” to help if it left the EU.
The Israeli right is almost certainly misreading developments in Europe and beyond.
True, the EU has been a thorn in Mr Netanyahu’s side, especially since his government effectively quashed the Oslo peace process. Europe leads the diplomatic opposition to the settlements, and is introducing a labelling system to identify settler products.
Also, last month the French tried to revive the moribund peace process by dragging it out of Washington’s orbit. Later this year a Paris summit may give Europe the chance to embarrass Mr Netanyahu.
But the deeper reality is that the EU has been a loyal friend to Israel, and one almost as central to preserving its strategic interests as the United States.
The labelling of a few settlement items has done nothing to dent Europe’s role as Israel’s largest trading partner. While Washington has watched Israel’s back with military aid and tireless diplomatic support, the EU has created an economic haven for Israeli goods.
Trade, worth $5 billion (Dh18.4bn), has doubled in the past decade. Israel also benefits from important EU research grants and cooperative projects.
In addition, Europe foots much of the bill for Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, effectively underwriting the costs of Israel’s occupation.
All of this would be in jeopardy if the Israeli right’s fantasy – of an EU collapse – actually occurred. But assuming the EU survives Brexit relatively unscathed, Britain’s absence will nonetheless be felt by Israel, as Mr Cameron warned.
Since the end of the Second World War, Britain has been Washington’s key ally in Europe – its eyes and ears. With Britain out of the EU, Washington fears its influence in the region will be diminished.
Calmer heads in Israel agree. They warn that EU countries more critical of Israel, especially Sweden, Ireland and Slovenia, will soon have a greater weight in discussions about whether and how to sanction Israel.
But Brexit should be a wake-up call to Israel for another reason. It is the latest symptom of a backlash among western voters against political elites seen as distant and unaccountable.
The anger has been directed not only at supranational bodies such as the EU but at domestic politics too. It is reflected in polarised debates about issues that were once embraced by a safe consensus, as well as the rise of radical challengers, of the right and left, to the old order.
In Britain, the established left and right are beset by insurrections: Jeremy Corbyn has fought to make the Labour Party more accountable to its base, while the right has been destabilised by the rapid rise of the anti-immigrant party, UKIP.
Parallel developments are obvious in other European states – and in the United States. Donald Trump successfully smashed the rule of the Republican establishment, and Bernie Sanders came within a hair’s breadth of doing the same to the Democrats.
This has revived an interest in politics among those who long felt disempowered. In the long run, that can only be harmful to Israel.
Surveys have repeatedly shown that western voters deeply distrust Israel, with only North Korea and Iran more disliked. The conflict with the Palestinians is seen as a sore fuelling an Islamic extremism that poses an ever greater threat.
The grass roots boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has bypassed local politicians. It is slowly turning the Palestinians into a cause for international solidarity equivalent to the popular campaign against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.
Brexit is a warning sign that western leaders will pay a price if they continue overlooking popular concerns. Israel would be foolish to assume that it can remain immune indefinitely from the upheavals consuming Europe and the US.
Israeli soldiers invaded, on Tuesday at dawn, Beit Fajjar town, and Aida refugee camp, in the West Bank district of Bethlehem, shot and injured a Palestinian child, and kidnapped two young men.
Several military vehicles invaded Aida refugee camp, north of Bethlehem, violently searched many homes, interrogated many Palestinians and kidnapped two.
The Bethlehem office of the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) said the two kidnapped Palestinians have been identified as Fares Khader Zreina, 20, and Mohammad Khaled al-Kurdi, 19.
The soldiers also occupied many rooftops, fired gas bombs and concussion grenades at Palestinians who hurled stones and empty bottles at the military vehicles.
In addition, the army invaded Beit Fajjar town, south of Bethlehem, clashed with many youngsters, who hurled stones and empty bottles at the military vehicles, while the soldiers fired several live rounds, gas bombs, and rubber-coated steel bullets.
Medical sources in the town said a child, 16, was shot with a live round in his leg, while many other Palestinians suffered the effects of teargas inhalation.
Northern California branch of the Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles.
Founded in August, 2001, ISM aims to support and strengthen the Palestinian popular resistance by providing the Palestinian people with international protection and a voice with which to nonviolently resist an overwhelming military occupation force.