It’s the one year anniversary of the Gaza massacre last summer. A week ago, I went to a presentation, “Commemorating the 2014 War on Gaza” at Alwan for the Arts, which is in downtown Manhattan, in the Wall Street area. The event was sponsored by Al-Awda New York (The Palestine Right to Return Coalition.) It was a bit like a memorial service for the people who were killed. It was also a political strategy meeting.
There were five speakers. To begin, Lamis Deek and Joe Catron spoke.
Lamis Deek is a lawyer who is involved in Palestine advocacy through the National Lawyers Guild, and also through Al-Awda NY. She was passionate: She said we need to start holding individuals accountable for their political views, right here in New York City. We need to make sure that Zionism has a social cost. Of course, we all need to get on board with BDS — boycott, divestment, and sanctions. BDS is our first step. Marginalizing Zionism, socially, is sort of like the second step, and it’s another important aspect of the BDS movement. I thought Ms. Deek was imaginative and persuasive.
Joe Catron is a freelance journalist who has lived in Gaza for 3 1/2 years. At one point last summer, he was almost killed when he left a hospital just before the Israelis bombed it. It is clear that he has become emotionally identified with the people in Gaza. The Nakba — the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 — is vivid to him. Thus, he was able to translate to the audience how the Palestinians feel. They are connected to their historical narrative, and their long story is almost more important to them than day-to-day politics. The demand for the “right of return” is not likely to go away any time soon. As readers of this site know, the Palestinians are insistent that they want their property back, and, in some cases, they are living within walking distance of the property that was seized! The right of return is not an abstraction to them.
Mr. Catron spoke only briefly. He also made an interesting comment, towards the end of the evening. A student in the audience asked how to defend herself against allegations of anti-Semitism. Mr. Catron responded strongly. He pretty much told her, don’t be intimidated, and don’t apologize for your activism.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti was the main speaker. Dr. Barghouti has been an important political leader for many years. Currently, he is president of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. He shared his own personal photographs of the destruction in Gaza. Large residential neighborhoods are still completely destroyed. At one point during his slide show, Dr. Barghouti showed a “before” photograph of a lively neighborhood, including a kind of square with a little green park. In the “after” photograph, the entire area was concrete rubble. The park was completely buried, so there was no color green in the image at all. You couldn’t tell where any landmarks had been.
Dr. Barghouti had also photographed what appeared to be a variety of exploded shells, casings, etc. which were scattered everywhere he went in Gaza. He was particularly interested in photographing large metal cylinders, which were partially shredded and peeled apart. Apparently, these barrels had been filled with explosives, and they seemed to have been detonated at street level, in densely populated areas. Clearly, the intent was to do as much building damage as possible, and to kill and maim lots of people. In addition, as has been documented endlessly, the Israelis intentionally bombed hospitals and shelters (UNRWA schools that had been designated as shelters) which were overflowing with terrified family groups. It is so disappointing that the United States paid for this, and provided the weapons.
Dr. Barghouti cited the record that, of the more than 2,200 dead, 580 were children (including many infants and very young children.) Old people were killed as well: 101 of the people killed were elderly. Approximately 85% of the people killed—the vast majority—were crushed while they were inside their own apartments. They were simply unable to get out in time. Dr. Barghouti said he doesn’t like to use the term “war” to describe what took place in Gaza last summer, because the word “war” suggests a fight between two armies. This was an aggression against a people who had limited means of defending themselves.
Dr. Barghouti said that almost every single Palestinian thinks the Israelis have dishonestly participated in “the peace process.” The Palestinians believe that the Israelis consciously use the peace process as a cover for a land grab. In other words, the peace process is just a stalling tactic. The Israelis claim that they’re working towards peace, but they’re really just buying time so they can keep seizing more land. Dr. Barghouti showed several maps, and demonstrated how, stretching back into the 60’s, the Israelis have nibbled away at more and more Palestinian territory with each new “peace” agreement. And, as we all know, the Israeli government has continued to allow more and more ugly settlements to be constructed throughout the West Bank, many of them filled with religious fanatics (some of them from Brooklyn, Ms. Deek reminded us.)
Dr. Barghouti also discussed the government roads in the West Bank. The Israeli government has criss-crossed the entire Palestinian area with roads. Palestinians can’t use the roads! If they break the law and drive their car onto one of the roads, they can go to jail for 6 months.
Dr. Barghouti urged us to join the BDS campaign, and, especially, to not be afraid of Israel’s anti-BDS efforts. He also asked us to please support the efforts to prosecute Israel in the ICC (International Criminal Court.) We need to take the Israeli government to court. Long term, it seems as if Dr. Barghouti eventually wishes to have a one state solution. Ms. Deek commented that, ultimately, the Zionist population of Israel will be forced to live as equals with the Palestinians.
Finally, Mr. Siam Nowara spoke. He spoke for only a short time, but his presentation was very moving. Here he is, flanked by Fatin Jarara and Lamis Deek:
Mr. Nowara’s son, Nadeem Nowara, was killed last summer at age 17. An Israeli sniper shot him in the chest during a protest. The family has started a “Justice for Nadeem” Facebook page. Mr. Nowara spoke about his family’s experience. Several days after Nadeem was killed, Mr. Nowara and his wife opened up the backpack that Nadeem had been wearing at the time he was murdered. In the backpack, among the books, was the actual bullet that went through Nadeem’s body. The bullet had gone right through him, and into his backpack.
Mr. Nowara reminded us: “the weapons used by the Israeli government are given to it by the U.S. government.” Then, Fatin Jarara, from Al-Awda NY, told the audience that Mr. Nowara had exhumed his son’s body, so that a private autopsy could be performed to gather more evidence.
She also said that Mr. Nowara had sold his business, to raise money to travel the world, and to talk about his son, Nadeem, the martyr.
Afterwards, the audience was given dates and ice water. The event was powerful and fascinating. I hope I was able to convey that in this story. Whenever a high-quality political event is offered, it is an honor.