AUTHOR: INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT, GAZA TEAM
Date: April 16, 2017
16th April 2017 | International Solidarity Movement, Ramallah Team | Gaza, occupied Palestine
Today marks the 6th anniversary of the death of Vittorio Arrigoni, a journalist and an italian activist working with the International Solidarity Movement, in Gaza.
Arrigoni first went to Gaza in 2008, on an activist-organised flotilla seeking to defy the Israeli blockade over Gaza, imposed two years before. On April 16th 2011, when Arrigoni was 36 years old, his body was found in Gaza city, only a few hours after “The Brigade of the Gallant Companion of the Prophet Mohammad bin Muslima”, a Salafist group operating in Gaza, released the video where he was blindfolded and wounded. After investigations, his alleged murderers were arrested and sentenced to life-imprisonment (15 years after appeal).
Vittorio “Vik” Arrigoni wearing a kaffiyeh.
Vittorio Arrigoni was one of the international activists present in Gaza during Israel’s attacks on the Gaza strip in 2008-09, while volunteering with the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and was one of the few international voices dispatching information during the attacks, especially after Israel banned the entry of journalists into the territory.
For almost his 3 years living in the Gaza Strip, Arrigoni was a committed ISM activist, working in solidarity with farmers and fishermen, whose lives were being severely constrained by the blockade. His presence in protests and demonstrations allowed him to document and report the impact of the blockade, warfare and human rights violations in that territory. Arrigoni’s involvement with the Palestinian struggle made him a target for arrest and injuries by the Israeli military several times, and also led him to volunteer in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon.
After breaking the blockade in 2008, Arrigoni described that moment as being on of the happiest of his life, as “it became clear, not only to the world, but Palestinians also, that there are people who are willing to spend their lives to come and hug their brothers here in Gaza.”.
As it has been happening every year, Palestinians have commemorated the sixth anniversary of Vittorio Arrigoni’s death yesterday, by gathering in the port of Gaza. Vittorio’s memory is also honored in Gaza by the street and school that carry his name. Some of his thoughts on his experience in Gaza and on the solidarity with the Palestinian people have also been collected and turned into a book, “Gaza: Stay Human” (a nod to the way Vittorio used to sign his emails), first published in 2011.
ISM mourns this loss and hopes to honor Vittorio’s death by supporting and showing solidarity to the Palestinian people in their daily, non-violent resistance to the blockade in Gaza and the occupation.
“We must remain human, even in the most difficult times … Because, despite everything, there must always be humanity within us. We have to bring it to others.”
Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike.
Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners’ Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.
Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.
Israel, the occupying power, has violated international law in multiple ways for nearly 70 years, and yet has been granted impunity for its actions. It has committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against the Palestinian people; the prisoners, including men, women and children, are no exception.
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I was only 15 when I was first imprisoned. I was barely 18 when an Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain, and the resulting fall left an everlasting scar on my forehead. The interrogator mocked me afterward, saying that I would never procreate because people like me give birth only to terrorists and murderers.
A few years later, I was again in an Israeli prison, leading a hunger strike, when my first son was born. Instead of the sweets we usually distribute to celebrate such news, I handed out salt to the other prisoners. When he was barely 18, he in turn was arrested and spent four years in Israeli prisons.
The eldest of my four children is now a man of 31. Yet here I still am, pursuing this struggle for freedom along with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world. What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.
Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel rather than in the occupied territory. In doing so, it has unlawfully and forcibly transferred Palestinian civilians into captivity, and has used this situation to restrict family visits and to inflict suffering on prisoners through long transports under cruel conditions. It turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including some painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges its prison service decides to grant us or deprive us of.
Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions. Palestinian prisoners and their families also remain a primary target of Israel’s policy of imposing collective punishments.
Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses.
Over the past five decades, according to the human rights group Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel — equivalent to about 40 percent of the Palestinian territory’s male population. Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.
How to account for this unbelievable state of affairs?
Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent.
Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.
Instead, though, Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.
Israel has tried to brand us all as terrorists to legitimize its violations, including mass arbitrary arrests, torture, punitive measures and severe restrictions. As part of Israel’s effort to undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom, an Israeli court sentenced me to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers.
Israel is not the first occupying or colonial power to resort to such expedients. Every national liberation movement in history can recall similar practices. This is why so many people who have fought against oppression, colonialism and apartheid stand with us. The International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners that the anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada and my wife, Fadwa, inaugurated in 2013 from Nelson Mandela’s former cell on Robben Island has enjoyed the support of eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, 120 governments and hundreds of leaders, parliamentarians, artists and academics around the world.
Their solidarity exposes Israel’s moral and political failure. Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace.
Last spring, I found myself facing several hurdles, and trying to get established with volunteer projects in Amman Jordan, having been turned away at the Allenby Bridge crossing into the West Bank by the Israeli authorities.While it was a big disappointment to have my passport stamped “denied entry” plus a big red line drawn across the page designating very clearly that there was absolutely no welcome mat for me, I gradually got my bearings, found my way, and even found myself smiling time and again when I was greeted by the national mantra, “Welcome to Jordan.”
My journey last year had been backed by a solid invitation to do health care rehabilitation and trainings in Palestine. I felt much more prepared for my role in this work, than I had 25 years earlier, during the first Intifada, when I first volunteered in a Palestinian village health clinic.Over the years, my clinical skills had improved, as had my appreciation for the struggles, the ever increasing squeezing of the Palestinian people, and how the military occupation severely affected the health status of the people.
Author: International Solidarity Movement, Gaza Team
Date: August 7, 2016
As every year during the summer, the water shortage in the Gaza Strip is accentuated. At the same time, the energy shortage caused by the blockade prevents engines and water pumps from pushing it from wells and tanks to houses and farming fields.
The Beach Camp is one of the more densely populated areas of Gaza and therefore one of the most affected by water scarcity. In addition, because of its location, directly on the seafront, its aquifers are some of the most affected by the infiltration of seawater and wastewater.
We collected several testimonies of people affected by this problem in order to discuss them with the engineer Monther Shoblak, General Director of the Palestinian National Authority Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU).
in my home and in the homes of my four sons and their families we don’t have a drop of water
The first testimony is that of Azzam Miflah El Sheikh Khalil, who says “the water comes only once every three days, and just for a few hours, which is not enough [to fill the tanks]. People can’t imagine how we are suffering because of the lack of water. In addition, there is no difference between the water from our wells and the sea water… The main problem is that when there is electricity there’s no running water and when there is running water there’s no electricity . The only solution we have is to buy a generator to produce electricity when there’s water, but who can buy it if there is no work?”
[In late 2013, some of the Palestinian leadership of ISM in Palestine created their own nonviolent resistance organization on the same model, calling it the Solidarity Movement for Free Palestine (SFP). We at NorCal ISM decided to support both groups, which we have been doing ever since. The Israeli government came down hard on the new group, so a lot of our support in Palestine has consisted of paying fines and legal help for imprisoned leaders. But this is not the only support that we have given, as you will see below.]
In early June an international volunteer of the SFP visited the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon to show solidarity with the refugees of Palestine. The visit included touring the medical facilities built and run by the Palestinian population of the camps and learning about the vital role they have played in securing dignity for the residents during their exile, awaiting their return home to Palestine.
With help from NorCal ISM, SFP provided funds over the summer to the Nahr al-Bared maternity hospital project
Home to nearly 750,000 Palestinians, victims of the 1948 Nakba (‘Catastrophe’ in English) and their descendants, the tragedy but steadfastness of the Palestinian people of the Lebanese refugee camps endures. Nahr al-Bared camp exemplifies this more than many. Home to over 30,000 Palestinian refugees it was the scene of one of the latest examples of the continuing Nakba Palestinian refugees face in Lebanon.
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.
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.