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By Salena Tramel
February 9th, 2009
Former deputy speaker of Israel's Knesset and current president of the New Israel Fund Naomi Chazan described her perspectives on the Gaza war and the state of Israeli politics and the peace process in a recent article published in The Nation. "Reflections of a Troubled Israeli" courageously puts forth the vision of a woman who refuses to give up on a more progressive and just Israel, the country she loves; or a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Twelve days ago the United States, and the world, celebrated the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the country's first African-American president. That the world celebrated as well was evident to many of us even then, but it's even more clear to me here in Belém, in the Brazilian state of Pará, where I am for the World Social Forum, where numerous people from around the world have repeatedly greeted those of us from the United States with a thumbs up sign and shouted "Obama!" celebrating not only his becoming president but, especially, the end of the Bush Administration. Bill Fletcher, Jr., a former Board member of Grassroots International, reflected on this historic moment in the shadow of Gaza - Nikhil Aziz.
By Salena Tramel
January 29th, 2009
Grassroots International's partner, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) has long played a crucial role in defending the Palestinian people's human right to land, water and food. One of their goals is to contribute to the achievment of sustainable and integrated rural development in Palestine, and they have been a key actor in building a secular and democratic civil society. Since 1983, they have worked tirelessly with rural and refugee (from the war of 1948) farmers.
Grassroots currently funds PARC's innovative Urban Agriculture program in Gaza, which encourages food sovereignty and security by establishing networks of rooftop and backyard gardens.
For the most part, Gaza has been quiet for the past 10 days. News coverage from the region has faded from headlines as direct conflict between Hamas and the Israeli military halted in the eve of President Barack Obama's inauguration and the subsequent transitions of power.
The surge in solidarity with Palestinian people in Gaza is still strong. And I hope it will never wind down. My inbox is flooded with op-eds and solidarity messages from all over Latin America. Indigenous communities from Mexico speak about the similarities between the unjust occupation of a sovereign territory and their situation as peoples whose right to land is ignored. Messages from Brazil call on people to increase support to Palestinian farmers.
All morning I have been talking to people in Gaza City while they were helplessly watching the United Nations headquarters and millions of dollars of much needed food and medicine go up in flames. The UN plays a critical role in Gaza as it is the primary vehicle for feeding more than 80% of Gaza's 1.5 million people who depend on food aid. A UN distribution coordinator in Gaza City explained to me that they had allocated scant reserves in three supply warehouses in Gaza City, Karni, and Rafah. All three have been incapacitated by Israeli attacks.
B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) has joined eight other prominent Israeli Human Rights organizations in calling on their government to put an end to their actions in Gaza. B'Tselem is Hebrew for "in the image of" and used as a synonym for human dignity. Since 1989, they have worked tirelessly to educate the Israeli public and policymakers on the reality of human rights violations in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Today-as the death toll in Gaza has just passed 1,000-B'Tselem's voice is needed more than ever to bring an end to the violence.
Grassroots International consultant Safa Joudeh has been reporting on the crisis in Gaza from Gaza City, providing first-hand accounts of the affects of the violence on the civilian population. Two of her accounts were recently published, Living in Gaza, Under Starlight and Bomb Blasts and Displaced and Desperate in Gaza. Both of these stories offer a glimpse of what is taking place behind Gaza's closed doors.
You already know that the news looks grim:
- Both Israel and Hamas have rejected international calls for a cease fire and the violence has escalated
- Gaza's border with Egypt and Israel remains closed
- Humanitarian aid has halted due to attacks on UN and Red Cross/Red Crescent workers.
Direct updates and news make it out of Gaza only in short bursts, when there is sufficient power to feed cell phone batteries and computers. Grassroots International's locally based partner organizations within Gaza continue to send us word as they can about how they are responding to the crisis and facilitating relief and reconstruction. Because of their ongoing commitment to social justice and human rights in the region, their efforts stand the greatest chance of having a lasting impact.
When I talk to people in Gaza these days, two things usually come up. The first, even in the midst of such a devastating war, is sincere gratitude for keeping in touch. The second is the question of why the world - especially the US whose taxpayers are financing the war - is silent. Although our actions have not yet been able to halt the attacks on Gaza, I can honestly tell our Palestinian friends that we are not silent.