Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2004, pages 74-78
Imagine Life Without Occupation
IMAGINE-LIFE, an exciting new public awareness campaign, held a fund-raising dinner on April 19 to launch a nationwide effort to raise public awareness of the critical situation in occupied Palestine. More than 600 people, the majority Arab Americans, attended the standing-room-only event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in McLean, Virginia.
Seven stellar speakers were scheduled to address the gathering, including Nur El-Sherif, a world-renowned Egyptian actor who could not attend at the last moment. Fortunately, two other speakers, Congressmen Jim Moran (D-VA) and Nick Rahall (D-WV), who were attending a fund-raising event next door, heard about the campaign and paid a surprise visit—more than compensating for El-Sherif’s absence.
The Imagine-Life organization comprises Americans of different religious and ethnic backgrounds who work tirelessly, and without pay to expose the horrors occurring in the Holy Land. One of these dedicated visionaries is Nina Sahouri Ghannam, who juggles her public relations duties with raising one-year-old twins. This public awareness campaign, she said, is based on her co-workers’ firm belief that “Americans care about human rights. If Americans knew how Palestinians live, they would care. So it’s up to each of us to help them learn.”
These concerned individuals have teamed up with other organizations working to educate Americans and Israelis, including Remember These Children, Jewish Voices for Peace, Israeli Refuser Solidarity Network, the Holy Land Christians Society, Coalition of Women for Peace, and the Network of Arab-American Professionals, to try to raise awareness through advertisements and commercials.
These 30-second commercials ask Americans to “imagine life,” human life, with injustice, death and cruelty—and then to imagine life with peace. Their message shows Americans that Palestinians have faces, names, hopes, and dreams, like every other human being. That is a message not often heard in the U.S. media.
The commercials use footage taken from a gripping new documentary, “Occupation 101.” This soon-to-be-released film presents the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through interviews with Israeli, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, American and Palestinian voices in the U.S., and footage of the realities on the ground in Palestine. If circulated widely, this film is sure to raise public awareness about the realities of daily life under occupation. Trailers are available at the “Occupation 101” Web site: <www.occupation101.com>. Of course, the filmmakers are in dire need of funds to proceed with a heady distribution plan, according to Imagine-Life, which is soliciting help on their behalf.
The commercials were first aired April 19, and will air 4,000 times in the next six months on Fox News, MSNBC, and seven other major networks in the Washington, DC area. The next step is to build a network across the United States to fund advertisements on TV stations throughout the country. The campaign will assist local activists in getting these ready-made commercials aired on stations in their cities. Other organizations can sponsor these ads and place their own contact information at the end of the ad of their choice.
The evening’s first speaker was Cecile Suresky of Jewish Voices for Peace. The recent unilateral agreements between Bush and Sharon had devastated the U.S. Jewish community, she stated, explaining that many Jews do not support the Sharon administration and condemn the turmoil and devastation to which Palestinians are being subjected.
Suresky spoke of moral courage, saying, “courage is being terrified but doing it anyway.” The Palestinian people, the children, define moral courage, she said, by their ordinary actions, just going to work and school and living.
The Imagine-Life campaign, said Ghannam, stays away from politics and focuses on human rights. The commercials it has produced use the actual wording from the 2004 State Department’s Report on “Human Rights Practices” in Israel and the occupied territories. That report states that tens of thousands of Palestinians are faced with as many as 730 barriers restricting travel; that hundreds of Palestinians are subjected to torture; that Israeli authorities physically and verbally abuse Palestinians; that ambulances and medical personnel are delayed by Israeli authorities, resulting in many deaths; and that Palestinian homes and orchards are demolished and destroyed on Palestinian land.
According to Russ Rands, Imagine-Life’s director of community outreach, these problems are not being resolved because Americans lack knowledge and information. Americans are unaware of these horrendous acts “because of three reasons,” Rands said. The first is that reports by foreign journalists must be reviewed by Israelis before they are released. Secondly, journalists are not given travel permits to see what is happening in the occupied territories. And, finally, Israel is waiving any responsibility for deaths or injuries to civilians or journalists.
“Palestinians are human,” International Solidarity Movement co-founder Adam Shapiro tells audiences across the country. That phrase, he said, elicits a great response from everyone who hears it. “There’s something wrong when such a statement affects someone,” Shapiro said with disbelief. “We have to keep reiterating, reclaiming, reasserting this humanity,” he proclaimed. It’s up to each of us to speak out and use media outlets to get the message across to those not aware of the injustices in Palestine, Shapiro concuded, noting that these injustices are happening to Palestinians and Israelis, young and old alike.
Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American peace activist who was killed by an Israel Defense Force bulldozer as she tried to save a Palestinian family from losing their home, was the absent guest of honor for the evening. Her parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, spoke of Rachel’s stay in Palestine, and of their own recent visit. They showed a video interview with Rachel taken just two days before she was brutally murdered. In it Rachel carefully describes the human rights abuses she’d seen, articulating her worries for the future of the children with whom she worked. Her spirit, intelligence and empathy are captured in this moving film. One of the Imagine-Life commercials tells viewers about Rachel Corrie and the coverup following her death.
“How important it is to show the world that while a tank can crush Rachel Corrie’s body, it cannot kill the spirit of what her life is about,” said Congressman Moran. “Her life was about bringing change and justice to an unjust society.”
Moran also told the audience that the call for a congressional investigation into Corrie’s death is going nowhere, and that the only solution is for a grassroots demand for action.
These advertisements will tell the American people what is really happening, added Congressman Rahall. That, of course, is exactly what Imagine-Life and its co-sponsors very much hope will happen. The six commercials already produced can be viewed on the organization’s Web site, <www.imagine-life.org>. The commercials will be aired for only six months unless concerned Americans help now. The $50,000 raised at this event will not go far.
Donations to Imagine-life—not just to support the commercials, but also to support the campaign for human rights and equality in Palestine—can be made online at <www.Imagine-Life.org>, or checks may be mailed to Imagine-Life, #144, 7918 Jones Branch Drive, Suite 600, McLean, Virginia USA 22102.
Rally and Protest at Caterpillar’s Peoria, Illinois Headquarters
The city center of Peoria, IL echoed to shouts of “Caterpillar is a killer” and “Israel murdered Rachel Corrie, U.S. aid is the story” as some 350 chanting and cheering peace and social activists from across the Midwest and beyond marched on Caterpillar’s corporate headquarters April 23.
Carrying signs, banners, and Palestinian flags, they delivered a message of protest to Caterpillar chairman and executive officer James Owens and the board of directors of the heavy-equipment manufacturing giant.
Craig and Cindy Corrie, who lost their daughter, Rachel, when she was killed March 16, 2003 in Gaza by an Israel Defense Force soldier driving an armored Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, have become central figures in a growing campaign.
“My daughter Rachel was passionate about justice,” Cindy Corrie told a receptive audience at a rally in the parking lot of the Peoria Civic Center preceding the protest march on Caterpillar headquarters.“Rachel was an unarmed, nonviolent peace activist trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. She believed that the nonviolent direct action she was doing and supporting would make not only Palestinians, but also Israelis and Americans, more secure.She was supporting Palestinians who practice nonviolent resistance.
“Rachel stood there that day because the United States government and Israel rejected a U.N. proposal to send international human rights monitors to the region,” her mother said.
“We believe that the U.S. government, with our tax dollars, surely purchased the Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer that killed our daughter,” said Craig Corrie.
He told the crowd about his friend Rabbi Arik Ascherman, an activist originally from Erie, PA, who heads Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization of 90 rabbis. Almost all of the Rabbis for Human Rights are immigrants from Western countries who work to bring human rights abuses against the Palestinians to the attention of the Israeli public and authorities. When the Corries visited Israel last year, they accompanied Ascherman to Palestinian East Jerusalem, where he attempted to halt a home demolition.
“Arik, right now, is standing trial for getting in front of a bulldozer to keep it from destroying a home,” Corrie said. “What I would like to tell [Caterpillar’s] James Owens today is what Arik told us when we asked him why he did this.He said, ”˜You know, I have two little kids. My kids are going to grow up, and one day one of them is going to ask me, Dad, what did you do when all this was going on?’ So,” Corrie explained, “Arik is constructing the answer for his daughter when that question comes.”
“I wish James Owens some of the joy I’ve had raising kids,” he continued, “and the joy that I hope to have some day with a grandchild. And I wish him an intelligent, lively, inquisitive, lovely child, who will one day come up and ask him, ”˜Dad (or Granddad), what did you do when all of that was going on?’ And I pray, for his sake, that he can find a better answer than, ”˜I made the stock go up.’ So, let’s pray for him,” said Corrie to sustained applause and cheers from the crowd.
Andrea Shapiro, representing Not in My Name, a predominantly Jewish organization based in Chicago, also addressed the rally.
“Not in My Name sees the only road to peace as the evacuation of all of the settlements from Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem,” Shapiro said, “and the removal of all Israeli troops to behind the 1967 borders of Israel.”
Shapiro expressed sympathy for Caterpillar workers, whose dignity, she said, is diminished by the sale of Caterpillar bulldozers to Israel, where they are used destructively. She also spoke movingly of Rachel Corrie’s sacrifice for the cause of justice for the Palestinian people. Her daughter was also a student at Evergreen State College, Shapiro said, and worked with Rachel on some projects. She shared with Rachel a passion for justice, and has considered going to Palestine.“So, in a very real sense, my daughter could have been Rachel Corrie,” Shapiro noted.
“We who are here must remind ourselves of the seriousness of this situation. We must remind ourselves that Rachel is our daughter or our sister, that Tom Hurndall is our son or our brother, and every Palestinian refugee and every child who can’t play in the street, every body riddled with shrapnel, every mother, both Palestinian and Israeli, who is grieving a lost child, is our family. And we must fight for their survival,” Shapiro told the cheering crowd.
Speaking over the applause for Shapiro, rally and protest leader Kevin Clark told the Washington Report that a group of some 50 organizations had come together to form the Stop Cat Coalition.
“Most of the groups are from the Chicago area,” Clark said, “along with two groups from the Peoria area, the Peoria Area Peace Network and the Bradly Peace Network.
“This is only the start,” he added. “The divestment campaign against companies doing business in South Africa started small and it grew. I think Mr. Owens needs to have a chat with the folks at Coca-Cola and Polaroid to find out just how effective these campaigns can be.”
Following the rally, the crowd formed up for the march to Caterpillar headquarters, where the law enforcement presence was substantial.
Hundreds of Caterpillar workers stood at the windows of the eight-story building to watch the protest in the street below. As 300 protesters marched up and down the 100 block of Northeast Adams Street chanting anti-Caterpillar slogans, International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists re-enacted the death of Rachel Corrie beneath the blade and massive bulk of a plywood mock-up of an armored Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer. Rachel had gone to Gaza as an ISM volunteer.
A delegation of Stop Cat Coalition activists, including the Corries and Kevin Clark, attempted to enter the building to meet with Caterpillar officials but were rebuffed by Peoria police officers. Standing in the middle of the street, surrounded by hundreds of their supporters, Craig and Cindy Corrie made a brief statement to Owens and other Caterpillar executives using a portable sound system:
“Mr. Owens, if you’re in there, I’m Craig Corrie and this is my wife, Cindy. You can see us here; we’re not all that threatening. We’d like to talk to you about corporate responsibility.We know you can’t help what has happened in the past. We’d like to ask you to stop similar things from happening in the future,” said Corrie, looking up at the building.
“We want you to stop the demolition of homes happening with your bulldozers, with your equipment. We want you to know that thousands of families are losing their homes, their olives groves, their families through the use of your equipment. I can’t believe that’s the corporate image that you want. We’re still here, and we’ll be happy to talk with you at any time. Thank you,” said Corrie.
Later, Cindy Corrie said she was encouraged by the protest. “We were here for many, many people,” she said, “for the Palestinians who are suffering so badly. All the people standing at the Caterpillar windows know about us, and I think we’ve made it pretty clear that this is only the beginning of the effort to encourage Caterpillar to make some changes. I hope everybody in the country looks for ways to do that.”
Panelists Discuss Israel’s Wall
The Islamic Legal Forum and the Jewish Law Students Association of American University held a panel discussion March 25 to discuss the dividing wall and its effect on future Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Panelists included Lewis Roth, assistant executive director and media liaison of Americans for Peace Now, and Nino Kader, communications director of the American Task Force on Palestine.
Roth called the wall a “security barrier,” noting that the electrified fence that is being built is not really a fence. He claimed the barrier is being built for “security reasons” to protect Israelis from the intifada, suicide bombings, and terrorist attacks.
The barrier’s route was supposed to be the Green Line, Roth maintained, but it has caused controvery because its path has now deviated, growing longer, snatching Palestinian land, increasing its cost, and requiring more troops to police it.
“Suicide attacks have gone way down in the north and not shockingly, the suicide bombers have moved south,” said Roth, who claimed that this is due to the fact that the northern section of the barrier is finished.
The first and second stages of the route are about 160 miles long, he said, while the third and fourth stages are about 150 miles. The route will enable Israel to annex around 50 percent of the land.
This wall will affect the Palestinians economically, yet they will still be “allowed to go to schools and work,” Roth assured listeners. There will be “some discomfort for Palestinians,” he acknowledged, “but it’s for the greater good of Israelis.”
Kader used slides to illustrate his points and show that the wall will take up to 50 percent of Palestinian land. This wall will prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, reduce Palestinians’ water supply by one billion gallons, and close down about 650 Palestinian stores. In addition, Kader said, this wall will surround 100,000 people in 42 towns, and confiscate thousands of acres of Palestinian land. The wall, which only follows the Green Line for about 11 percent of its route, has caused the cost of shipping Palestinian goods to triple.
At about 25 feet tall, the wall is twice the size of the Berlin Wall, and skirts around buildings to leave the farm land on the Israeli side, according to Kader, who emphasized that 235,000 acres of land will be confiscated from the Palestinian people.
Israel’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is $117.4 billion, compared to a Palestinian GDP of only $2.4 billion. Israeli per capita income is $19,500, versus $700 for Palestine. Compared to an annual Israeli budget of $45.1 billion, Palestine’s annual budget is only a pitiful $1.2 billion.
According to Kader, ending the occupation is the “only formula that works.” Citing the examples of Lebanon and Egypt, Kader noted that when the occupation ended there, the attacks and violence decreased vastly.
The discussion was moderated by Nathan Funk, a professor at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He described his suggestion for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the “National Nightmare Association.” According to this scenerio, both sides would discuss their fundamental fears, which, Funk believed, could create empathy. In the end, Funk argued, in order “to make peace, leaders need to take risks and be willing to pay a price.”
Gaza First...and Last?
Ghaleb Darabya described Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s so-called “disengagement” plan for a partial Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a “great gift to the Palestinian radicals,” in a March 17 briefing at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC. Darabya, counselor for political and congressional affairs with the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, DC, insisted that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is opposed to any unilateral Israeli actions in the occupied territories. “Peace can only be made by two parties,” Darabya pointed out, adding that Sharon appears ready to implement his plan alone, without consulting his Palestinian counterparts. Although the PA will welcome “any liberation of Palestinian land,” Darabya said, it has not been informed of any of the details of Sharon’s plan.
By going behind the back of the legitimate central government of Palestine, Darabya said, Sharon has strengthened the hand of those who believe that armed resistance, and not negotiation, is the only path to independence. Thus Sharon’s plan will serve to build support for Hamas at the expense of the PA. Darabya noted that Sharon recently had provided a similar boost in popularity to Hezbollah with his massive prisoner swap deal, making Hezbollah “the heroes of Lebanon,” Darabya said. But he questioned why Sharon refused to conclude a similar deal with former Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas). A deal like that, or consideration of a withdrawal from Gaza, the PLO counselor pointed out, would have helped Abbas negotiate peace and given the Palestinian people confidence in him.
Despite Sharon’s efforts to undermine the PA in Gaza, Darabya asserted that the Authority is “ready to take control” after any Israeli withdrawal. More importantly, he revealed, mechanisms are in place to avoid any inter-Palestinian conflict. The PA has established two committees, including all the national and Islamic forces, to coordinate with the various Palestinian factions and pre-empt a deadly power struggle.
Hamas, the strongest Palestinian faction in Gaza after the PA, has stated many times that it would not fight the PA in the event of an Israeli withdrawal, and that it would lend assistance administrating Gaza. “No matter what Sharon’s intention is,” Darabya affirmed, “this [withdrawal] will not lead to a war between Palestinians.”
In Darabya’s opinion, Sharon expects Palestinian factions to start fighting one another, at which point he will claim that Palestinians do not deserve a state because they cannot govern themselves. The PA, Darabya said, is “trying not to allow this scenario to happen.”
Darabya accused Sharon of putting forward his plan so as to replace the road map, which the Bush administration had supported for several months. According to Darabya, Sharon already had undermined the road map by refusing to cease Israeli operations targeted against Palestinian civilians (e.g., home demolitions), as the plan required. Moreover, the Israeli prime minister ignored repeated calls from Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to implement a comprehensive cease-fire.
Sharon’s current withdrawal plan resembles the earlier “Gaza-first” initiative put forward by Israel’s Labor Party but, in Darabya’s opinion, differs in that the former proposal was not meant also to be “Gaza last.” Darabya believes Sharon intends any Gaza withdrawal to be not a first step, but rather a final settlement.
Until Sharon’s April 14 meeting with President George W. Bush, the road map’s sponsors, including the United States, had refrained from lending unqualified support to Sharon’s plan. At the beginning of February, prior to Sharon’s visit, a high-level U.S. delegation including White House neocons Eliot Abrams and Steven Hadley, and William Burns from the State Department, traveled to Israel to discuss the plan but issued no public statements after returning to Washington. The Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv published a leaked copy of Sharon’s plan, and Israel’s left-wing Meretz party “dragged Sharon in front of the Knesset” to divulge details of his plan, Darabya said, but Sharon refused to reveal any more information until his meeting with President Bush.
Noting that Egypt has been involved in the talks on a Gaza withdrawal, Darabya said that Sharon supports the idea of an Egyptian takeover of the Gaza-Egypt border after the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers. Cairo, however, has vowed that no Egyptian soldiers will set foot in Palestine. Neither Egypt nor any other international interlocutor has taken up the idea of participating in security measures for Gaza or to replace an occupation army. The Israeli security services (Mossad and Shin Bet) are opposed to turning over the border to Egypt. They want to maintain some Israeli control, while, in Darabya’s analysis, Sharon is hoping to “draw the final borders” of a Palestinian state.
The Wall being built in the West Bank will encircle 56 percent of the land there, and Israel will deem that area, together with a Gaza Strip (mostly) emptied of Israeli soldiers, a Palestinian state. All further Palestinian claims for justice will be denied.
The new Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala’ (Ahmed Qurei), drawing lessons from the short career of his predecessor, will not meet with Sharon unless there is a purpose to the meeting. Former Prime Minister Abbas spent too much time “giving gifts to Sharon,” in Darabya’s opinion, and gained nothing in return. Under Qurei’s administration, reforms of the Palestinian government are proceeding apace—including in the financial sphere, where all members of the Palestinian security forces now draw their salaries from the same source.
Darabya pointed to the March 14 suicide attack on the Israeli port of Ashdod as an indicator that the fences, buffer zones and obstacles surrounding Gaza have not produced safety for Israel. The only answer for Israel, he said, is to pursue negotiations with the legitimate government of the Palestinian people, and to grant them a state “like everybody else in the world.”
—Courtesy the Palestine Center
Armenian Genocide Commemorations in L.A.
April 24 is a day of commemoration for Armenians all over the globe as they pay homage to the estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed during a genocide they say the Turks waged against them from 1915 to 1922.
The Los Angeles area is reputed to be home to the largest concentration of Armenians outside of Armenia, and each year their April 24 observance grows larger.
Launching this year’s event was a somber ceremony at the multi-columned memorial in Montebello. Here, several hundred families placed flowers beneath the towering monument where Los Angeles Mayor Kenneth Hahn and City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa expressed sentiments of encouragement to the throng.
East Hollywood is designated Little Armenia, and at noon several blocks of Hollywood Boulevard were filled with honking cars decorated with orange, blue and red bunting while passengers waved Armenian flags of the same colors. At one point, a green fire truck entered the parade, its horn blaring and men clad in black hanging onto the vehicle brandishing massive orange, blue and red flags.
All Armenian shops were closed in East Hollywood, Glendale and Montebello—which may account for the enormous turnout at 4 p.m. in front of the Los Angeles Turkish Consulate. Police guarded the fenced consulate on busy Wilshire Boulevard, as demonstrators waved signs to passersby.
“1915 Never Again” read one poster. Stated another placard, “We’ve had enough. Stop denying the Armenian Genocide.” One demonstrator in a black T-shirt held a sign proclaiming, “Eastern Turkey is Western Armenia.”
Commented Galust Mkrtchyan, “Our numbers increase every year.”
The day of commemoration was capped with a rock concert at the Greek Theater, where the Armenian-American group “System of a Down” performed.
—Pat McDonnell Twair
Jordanian Princess Hopes to Raise Funds to Benefit Cancer Center
Princess Ghida Talal of Jordan, chairperson of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation, was the guest of honor at an April 9 luncheon hosted by Luma Kawar, wife of the Jordanian ambassador, at the Georgetown home of Isabel de la Cruz. The luncheon featured a presentation describing the partnership between St. Jude Research Hospital and the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman, Jordan. A hundred attendees heard about this special partnership and its united effort to save more children’s lives, wherever they may live.
St. Jude, in Memphis, TN, is recognized as one of the world’s premier centers for the study and treatment of catastrophic diseases in children. The KHCC is a non-governmental, not-for-profit, specialized cancer center that treats more than 2,000 new patients, both adult and children, each year from all over the Middle East. It brings state-of-the-art comprehensive cancer care to the children of Jordan and the Middle East.
Attendees learned more about the upcoming Hope Gala, a dinner and cocktails event which will raise funds for children with cancer in the U.S. and Jordan. Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan will preside over the gala, scheduled to be held on June 14, at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC.
—Delinda C. Hanley
Palestinian Losses Since October 2000, as Cited by Ghaleb Darabya
”¢ Almost 3,000 Palestinians killed, of whom 534 children were under 18
• 40,000 injured; 2,500 with permanent disabilities
• 103 Palestinians died at checkpoints due to delay in receiving medical care
• 87 Palestinian women gave birth at checkpoints
• 29 medical workers killed on duty
• 5,135 homes demolished
• 55,000 homes damaged or partially destroyed
• 700 checkpoints: 670 in the West Bank, 30 in Gaza
• 320 schools damaged; 43 turned into military posts
• 412 Palestinian police posts destroyed
• 60 percent of Palestinians live below official poverty level of less than $2 a day
• 982,000 trees uprooted
• 43 percent overall unemployment
• 1,000 lakes, reservoirs and water carriers destroyed
• $9.92 billion loss to the Palestinian economy
The Separation Wall will take 43 percent of Palestinian land, leaving the remaining 56 percent enclosed, and Qalqilya completely surrounded, with 40,000 residents and one gate 8 meters wide for all traffic.
[See Palestine Monitor for citations: <www.palestinemonitor.org>]