Tag Archives: Gaza

A blessed and terrible month for the world’s Muslims

The days are long and the nights are full of newscasts.

Simply put, this has not been our month. 

I am not the most active Muslim — I like going to the mosque for taraweeh, but not every night. I like to read Quran, but at an embarrassingly sluggish pace. Still, I know that Ramadan is supposed to be the month of prayer, charity, and, if we do it right, forgiveness. But this year, it feels more like Ramadan has been a month of tragedy, hatred, and crippling sadness. We hate and kill each other, other people hate and kill us, and meanwhile, most of us would rather the warmongers and ideologists would leave us out of it so we could live and pray in peace. When it comes to human beings, I have become a cynic. I don’t believe that any one side in any conflict is good — I think everyone is pretty awful, to tell the truth.  

Bad things that have happened to Muslims (and, really, to humanity) this Ramadan:

  • Bangladesh. The Rohingya, a stateless and persecuted Muslim minority, have been banned from marrying in Bangladesh to prevent those fleeing from violence in Myanmar from marrying citizens and receiving citizenship. The ban also means they cannot marry each other, and they are prohibited by law from living together out of a state-recognized marriage.
  • China. Chinese authorities continue to try to erase the Islamic identity of Uighur Muslims by banning fasting, certain types of clothing, and unapproved Islamic literature.   
  • Iraq. When Muslims kill each other, we all lose. No matter what political agenda the different factions espouse, the (often execution-style) murder of civilians is always a tragedy. Iraq Body Count puts the number of casualties at 802 in the first 17 days of July alone. 
  • Syria. The UN has literally given up on keeping track of the number of dead in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Last week, photos of children swimming in bomb craters were all over the internet — just another reminder that it is the children who pay the price for the wars waged by men. 
  • Malaysia. A commercial flight blown out of the sky and 298 people dead for nothing. 
  • Afghanistan. The dead almost seem to run together since the U.S. invasion in 2001, so it’s important to note the 89 dead in a car bomb attack on a busy market three days ago. Way to keep that Ramadan spirit alive.
  • Gaza. This one hurts the most, maybe because I have Palestinian roots, or maybe because people the world over seem to be actually, truly convinced that it is justified. This isn’t a new conflict. Gaza has been losing a teenager every week or two to IDF bullets for years with no fanfare. But since three Israeli teenagers were murdered (no evidence at all proving who killed them has been released), Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khdeir was brutally burned alive, more than 1,000 have been arrested in the West Bank, and (as of writing this), the death toll in Gaza has reached 265. Israel claims they are only hitting terrorist targets, but they have hit multiple hospitals, homes, schools, and mosques. 

Good things that have happened to Muslims (and humanity) this Ramadan (and every Ramadan):

  • Surat Al Baqarah, 185-186:

شَہۡرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانُ هُدً۬ى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡهُدَىٰ وَٱلۡفُرۡقَانِ‌ۚ فَمَن شَہِدَ مِنكُمُ ٱلشَّہۡرَ فَلۡيَصُمۡهُ‌ۖ وَمَن ڪَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوۡ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ۬ فَعِدَّةٌ۬ مِّنۡ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ‌ۗ يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ بِڪُمُ ٱلۡيُسۡرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِڪُمُ ٱلۡعُسۡرَ وَلِتُڪۡمِلُواْ ٱلۡعِدَّةَ وَلِتُڪَبِّرُواْ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَٮٰكُمۡ وَلَعَلَّڪُمۡ تَشۡكُرُونَ (١٨٥) وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِى عَنِّى فَإِنِّى قَرِيبٌ‌ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعۡوَةَ ٱلدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ‌ۖ فَلۡيَسۡتَجِيبُواْ لِى وَلۡيُؤۡمِنُواْ بِى لَعَلَّهُمۡ يَرۡشُدُونَ

 

The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful. (185) And when My servants question thee concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright. (186)

 

  • Surat Al Qadr

إِنَّآ أَنزَلۡنَـٰهُ فِى لَيۡلَةِ ٱلۡقَدۡرِ (١) وَمَآ أَدۡرَٮٰكَ مَا لَيۡلَةُ ٱلۡقَدۡرِ (٢) لَيۡلَةُ ٱلۡقَدۡرِ خَيۡرٌ۬ مِّنۡ أَلۡفِ شَہۡرٍ۬ (٣) تَنَزَّلُ ٱلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةُ وَٱلرُّوحُ فِيہَا بِإِذۡنِ رَبِّہِم مِّن كُلِّ أَمۡرٍ۬ (٤) سَلَـٰمٌ هِىَ حَتَّىٰ مَطۡلَعِ ٱلۡفَجۡرِ (٥)

 

Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Qadr. (1) Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Night of Qadris! (2)The Night of Qadr is better than a thousand months. (3) The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees. (4) (The night is) Peace until the rising of the dawn. (5)

 

I don’t really have much else to say, except that, no matter how cynical I may be about other people, I feel blessed to know that I can always rely on God. Maybe this is our month — we just can’t see it right now.

As always, there is much to be grateful for. God, please help us to make the most of these last 10 days of Ramadan. Ameen.

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Getting aid while under blockade


Taken from BBC.co.uk

For such a small piece of land, the Gaza Strip sure has seen a lot of heartache.

The 139-square-mile sliver of territory is bordered by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, and, for the last 61 years, has been handed off from one ruling power to another like a hot potato. In 2007, it was Hamas’s turn, and since then the strip has been on lockdown. A blockade, enforced by both Egypt and Israel, has kept goods from going in or coming out of Gaza without Israeli permission, creating a society dependent on humanitarian aid and smuggled goods.

The stated goal of the blockade is to keep weapons from ending up in the hands of Hamas, a vocally anti-Israel group, categorized by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization. This policy, however, has also had a profound impact on 1.6 million citizens of Gaza, almost half of whom are below the age of 14 and 70 percent of whom are refugees under the care of UN agencies.

The effect of the blockade became more profound in December 2008, when the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel fell apart, culminating in a three week Israeli offensive that left 13 Israelis and more than 1,400 Palestinians dead. Palestinian homes, schools, universities and hospitals were destroyed and, because of the inability to import construction materials, have largely remained destroyed.

In May 2010, a coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations organized an aid flotilla which planned to defy the naval blockade and deliver supplies, including the prohibited cement, directly to the Gaza Strip. Instead, Israel Defense Forces boarded the boats at sea, and nine people aboard the Turkish-commissioned Mavi Marmara were killed. Both the IDF and the ship’s passengers claim that the other party instigated the fighting, but either way, what motivated the boat’s passengers to take such a risk? Is there no better way to get supplies into Gaza?

Trucks of Humanitarian Aid

There are three main ways Gaza receives supplies, but only one of which Israel approves. Humanitarian aid, dispatched by the truckload, regularly leaves Jordan for the Gaza Strip, and with Israel’s permission. “We send food, money and medical supplies,” said Abdullah Sarhan, an employee with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization. The JHCO has sent over 300 aid convoys to the Gaza Strip since the end of the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive, the most recent of which was dispatched on May 30 and consisted of 20 trucks of supplies.  Much of the supplies are donated by Jordanian civil societies and charities, but the JHCO has also dispatched goods supplied by other countries, such as Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait.

“We don’t send anything we know is forbidden [to enter the Strip],” Sarhan said, but when it comes to the Gaza blockade, what is forbidden can change from one day to the next. Israeli authorities have not publically declared what items are prohibited from entering the Strip, but, according to a list compiled by Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit, banned goods, which include weapons and construction materials, also include jam, vinegar, fresh meat, fishing rods, newspapers, and A4 paper. “Dates aren’t allowed either,” Sarhan added.

There is “neither rhyme nor reason” to it, said Peter Ford, representative of UNRWA’s commissioner-general in Amman.  UNRWA, the United Nations agency concerned with Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries, is responsible for collecting and distributing the incoming aid in the Gaza Strip.  The JHCO hires a shipping company to drive its convoys from Jordan to Gaza, passing through Israel along the way. “The aid is inspected twice,” said Ford. “First at the Jordan-Israel border and again at Erez crossing prior to entering Gaza.”  Inspections are carried out by Israeli customs and security personnel, who sometimes bar trucks from entering without making the reasons for their decisions known. For example, a Human Rights Watch report states that, as of October 2009, 11 truckloads of stationery had been held up in Israel for more than a year, denied access to the Gaza Strip. The only other way for Gazans to get their hands on basic school supplies that season was to smuggle them in.

Smuggling Tunnels

The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza has been closed for most of the three years that Hamas has been in control of the coastal enclave. That, however, has not been enough to keep Egyptian goods out of Gazan hands. An extensive system of tunnels that used to be used primarily to smuggle weapons has now become the source of at least 80 percent of Gaza’s imports, according to World Bank statistics.

International media, from the Christian Science Monitor to Germany’s Spiegel magazine, have reported that the tunnels are used to smuggle all kinds of goods, such as fuel, light bulbs, rice and even sheep. The tunnels have become so widespread that Hamas has reportedly begun to regulate them, forcing tunnel owners to pay taxes on the goods they bring in. But while owning a tunnel may now be a relatively risk-free enterprise in the Gaza Strip, the fates of those who dig and operate the tunnels are less certain.

Besides the dangers posed by collapsing tunnels, tunnel diggers have also been killed by Israeli air strikes and Egyptian explosions. In April 2010, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri reportedly told ArabNews.com that at least 40 smugglers had been poisoned by toxic gases since the blockade was first established in 2007. In January 2010, Egyptian authorities announced plans to construct a steel wall along the Egyptian-Gaza border that will descend 100 feet below ground. This attempt to shut down the smuggling industry may lead to increased resourcefulness on the part of Gazan smugglers, or it may sever the Gaza Strip’s only dependable lifeline to the outside world.

Aid from Activists

The deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara may have garnered the most international attention, but the passengers aboard the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla were not the first foreign activists to attempt to defy the naval blockade. Eight previous attempts to bring humanitarian aid have occurred since the siege on Gaza began, three of which were organized by Viva Palestina, a registered British charity. In December 2009, Nicholas Hall, a sixty-year-old man from York, departed with the organization’s third convoy to the Gaza Strip. Hall rode with the 150-vehicle convoy in a fully-stocked ambulance across ten countries spanning two continents, ending up in Aqaba, Jordan’s port to the Red Sea.

According to Hall, bringing the aid in this way had three purposes. “One is [raising] political awareness throughout the countries that we were traveling through. The second is actually delivering the aid, and the third is breaking the isolation.” After arriving in Aqaba, Egyptian authorities informed the activists that they would have to enter the Gaza Strip not by sea, but through the Egyptian city of Al Arish. Once all of the people and goods had arrived, Al Arish authorities demanded 59 vehicles be handed over to Israel, which the activists refused. Peaceful demonstrations turned into violent clashes, and, according to convoy members, about 20 activists required hospitalization.

By the time the aid convoy successfully entered the Gaza Strip, Hall had been forced to return to York due to personal obligations. A former town planner and therapeutic gardening enthusiast, Hall has no real ties to Palestine. In fact, part of what has motivated him to get involved in the pro-Palestine movement is the role his British forefathers played in the establishment of Israel in the Middle East. “All of the insecurity we’ve got, all the terrorism that we’ve experienced and all of the loss of civil liberties,” he said. “It’s all traceable back to the injustice of 1948.” He also credits the sense that he had been “conned” for much of his life. “For 30 years, [I was hearing] all this stuff about Israel as the victim when actually they were oppressors and I didn’t know. And that really makes me…” he paused, searching for the right word. “Cross.”

Changes to Come?

Although the Mavi Marmara failed to deliver its cargo directly to Gaza, it has managed to draw attention to the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip. In response to international outcry, Egypt has reopened the Rafah border crossing to some civilian traffic, and Israel has announced its intention to loosen restrictions on the coastal enclave. However, it is easy to remain cynical. “The situation is very fluid,” said Ford of UNRWA. “Speaking from experience, we can’t assume there will be an agreement on easing the blockade or, if there was an agreement, that it would be implemented.”

“We’re not expecting a breakthrough any time soon.”

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Exit to School Concert

Wall art outside the theater, like Palestinian art on the Israeli barrier wall

Huh… it took me longer to sit down and write a second post than I thought it would. What can I say? I guess I have some commitment issues. 😛

So Saturday I went to a benefit concert which was raising money to encourage literacy in Gaza. I tagged along with my sister and two of her friends, both of whom have roots in the Gaza strip, where education (among other things…) has been struggling as a result of the blockade  imposed on the coastal enclave since June 2007. For almost three years, Israel and Egypt have been keeping the area cut-off from neighboring countries, making it hard for even much-needed donations to get in. There was actually a story in the Jordan Times on Sunday about an aid shipment that was sent back at Rafah, so I’m a bit pessimistic about the money raised at the concert reaching its destination. Maybe monetary donations are easier to get in? I hope?

The event was organized under the name “Exit to… School,” which was meant to reference the fact that while most school children around the world would love to cut class and miss school, kids in Gaza are more concerned with finding a way there around the barrier wall set up by Israel. We arrived about 40 minutes late (parking was a bitch) and the place was packed. People were crammed together like sardines around the entrance, and it literally took about 30 minutes of standing around trying not to accidentally inappropriately brush up against strangers before we could even see the stage. Standing in “line” (more like a huddled, sweaty mass), it occurred to me that everyone there was also, ironically, struggling to get into a school, a place where we would usually have absolutely no reason to go. But, as  I overheard the couple pressed up on my right discussing, people love Gaza. The chance to help Gazans out even a little? It draws a crowd.

Psycholas (right) and a back-up rapper

I was too late for the dabkeh by Hanouneh and most of the performance by members of Sharq, but all of the musicians I did see were terrific. There were the slow,   very passionate songs of Sahar Khalifeh (accompanied by a violinst and, I think, a lute player from Signs of Thyme). They put me in a very Arab mood, if that makes sense. Then there was some Arabic rap. I didn’t catch most of the lyrics, but the rappers were pretty good. First there was Nicholas, or Psycho, as he’s known by his intolerable fans. They were this bunch of poser gangster guys huddled up against the stage chanting his name and generally freaking out before and after his performances. I expected him to be cut from the same “trying and failing to be gangsta” cloth, but he was actually really good and a seemingly normal guy who likes to rap. It just goes to show that you really shouldn’t judge an entertainer based on their fans. I liked him.

A member of Murab3

Then there was Sami, another Arabic rapper who I didn’t understand but liked, and THEN! there was Murab3 (which unfortunately translates to Square), who I had never heard of before Saturday and am now completely in love with. I’d never really given Arabic rock a chance, but these guys were INCREDIBLE. Not only was the music amazing, the lyrics (which were slow enough for me to follow) were really beautiful. I was completely captivated by these guys. If anyone is reading this… what? Someone could be reading this! If you know where I can find their music online, please tell me!

Anyway, we had to take off before Autostrad, another rock group, but it was a great evening. According to the Jordan Times, the event more than 4,200 JDs were raised over two days. It may not be enough to completely solve any of Gazas problems, but at the very least it proved that people still care. It’s been over a year since Israel’s offensive on Gaza, and since then, it’s been easy to put Gaza out of our minds. In reality, things haven’t really improved. More than a year on, people have been unable to rebuild their homes because they still can’t get supplies. It’s important to keep them in our minds and in our thoughts. It’s the least (literally, the least) we can do. The sad thing is that it often feels like that’s also the most we can do… Events like this are a great first step.

What's this? A political nerd joke! End task the wall!

~*mia

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