Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee

27Jun/10

Summer 2010 in Palestine

By Zehra Hirji '10

It blows my mind that four years ago I was taking off for Israel and Palestine for the very first time. I was off to work on a project in Digital Storytelling with children in the Palestinian Refugee Camps in the West Bank after being inspired by a guest speaker at Harvard in my freshmen year. At that time, I knew absolutely nothing about "the conflict." I didn't understand what occupation meant, I was trapped in this narrative that for decades Muslims and Jews hated each other and just couldn't resign to living with each other. I was a naive outsider, aching to visit the Middle East, test my newly acquired Arabic skills, and lend my perspectives on interfaith cooperation. The trip, five weeks living in Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus and listening to the heart-wrenching stories of Palestinian children, changed my entire life. I was traumatized by how severely wrong I was about this "war" between Jews and Muslims, and found myself overwhelmingly moved, changed, and inspired by the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Since that trip I have returned three times, once to stay for six months in Jerusalem and study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and live with four Israelis in order to feel like I could sincerely grasp "the other side" of this contentious and sensitive political conflict. That trip was my most difficult by far, being the only "Arab" or other, in my program of over 300 American Jewish students, but in many ways also the most rewarding. I now find myself, fortunately or unfortunately I haven't decided yet, ready to embark on yet another trip back there, but this time on official business with the organization One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) as a fresh graduate from Harvard College.

OLPC is an organization that I deeply respect and admire, and I still cannot believe my unbelievable luck in getting to work for them this year. OLPC serves to transform education for the poorest and the most disadvantaged children in the world by providing them with a low-power, rugged, and connected laptop computer in order to facilitate uninterrupted and high-quality education in difficult environments. When I was hired in January, OLPC had just received official approval from the Israeli government to donate thousands of laptops to the children of Gaza, after 11 months of trying to work through Israel's restrictive limitations on goods entering Gaza. For the first time in years children in Gaza were given access to new learning materials, textbooks were on the list of banned items by Israel and OLPC was able to facilitate the digitizing of Palestinian textbooks so that the children could access them on their new laptop computers! Laptop distributions are under way in Gaza and the West Bank, with the sincere hopes that in the very near future every single Palestinian child will have their own localized laptop in order to enhance their learning. My trip next week will be to oversee the trainings of teachers, administrators, children and parents on how to best use the laptops and truly capitalize on this new learning opportunity with our partners in Palestine, UNRWA and the Ministry of Education. Laptops may not change the world and they certainly won't end the occupation, but the education of children is something that I strongly believe should never be on hold, and that is all I hope to be able to work towards with this endeavor.

Despite spending collectively almost a full year living in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I am ashamed to say I am still terrified of going there. Not because I fear for my safety, I have never genuinely feared for my physical well being there, but rather because the whole devastating experience always sits so heavily on my conscience and the tension in the air is constantly palpable. Sometimes I think the weight of the whole world sits on the souls of those in the Holy Lands, and for some reason I cannot seem to stop going back, despite the anxiety it brings. To so intimately witness the suffering of the Palestinians, and have to prove its veracity at home, even at a place like Harvard seemingly full of compassionate intellectuals, is infuriating, exhausting, and frustrating to the point where I wonder constantly, with respect and awe, how the members of the PSC community can find the energy to keep on fighting for such intangible justice. Regardless, I look forward to this new project in this new chapter in my life and hope to provide more updates on the work of OLPC in Palestine!

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26Jun/10

What does “easing the blockade” mean to Israel?

Last week, Israel announced that it would ease the illegal blockade on Gaza by allowing all non-military equipment into the strip.

Today, Israel made clear what it meant by "easing the blockade." According to this Haaretz story, Israel confiscated seven oxygen machines because they "came under the category of possible use for non-medical purposes."

The blockade continues to kill Palestinians who are unable to receive basic medical treatment. The difference is that Israel now claims that the equipment used to treat them is actually "non-medical".

Those defending the illegal blockade now need to defend the refusal to allow oxygen into Gaza. Perhaps Congressmen Peter King, John Boehner, Mark Kirk, Judy Biggert and the other cosponsors of an outrageous resolution defending the siege and supporting the attack on the Freedom Flotilla, could tell us why.

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25Jun/10

Illinois Methodists vote to divest from the occupation

The Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church just voted to divest all holdings in three international corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation. The press release announcing the action says, "this action is in response to a plea by Palestinian Christians for action, not just words."

Read the full story here.

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25Jun/10

Huge outpouring of Oakland picketers stop unloading of Israeli ship

If anyone had any doubts that the movement for justice in Palestine is growing by leaps and bounds, in numbers, breadth, and determination, check out what happened this morning in Oakland, CA:

• somewhere between 700 and 1,000 demonstrators from all over the San Francisco Bay Area made their way at 5:30 on a Sunday morning deep into the Port of Oakland to stage a spirited community-labor picket line in front of a berth where an Israeli freighter, the Zim Shenzhen, was due to dock;

• dock workers from Local 10 of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union refused to cross the picket line;

• under the terms of the ILWU contract, an arbitrator was summoned to the site, he upheld the legality of the dock workers' refusal to cross the line, and the company was compelled to cancel the shift and send the workers home.

Read the full story here.

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24Jun/10

Nicaragua suspends diplomatic ties with Israel

Nicaragua suspended diplomatic ties with Israel on Tuesday in protest at Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed nine people, President Daniel Ortega's office said.

"Nicaragua suspends from today its diplomatic relations with the government of Israel," communications chief Rosario Murillo said in a statement read on Radio Ya.

Managua "underscored the illegal nature of the attack on a humanitarian mission in clear violation of international and humanitarian law," added Murillo, who doubles as poetess and first lady.

Read the full story here.

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24Jun/10

UCU Passes important BDS Resolution

The University and College Union, representing approximately 120,000 teaching and related staff in colleges and universities in the UK, has passed new policies supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The debate took place on Sunday 30th May at the union’s Congress in Manchester.

Motion 30, proposed by the National Executive Committee, condemned “the failure of the international community to confront the Israeli government over the humanitarian disaster it is continuing to perpetrate in Gaza and the continued development of illegal settlements in the West Bank”, voted to work more closely with its Palestinian sister trade union (PFUUPE), and committed the union to working with bodies including Scottish TUC, Amnesty International and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) to support the TUC’s 2009 Congress decisions. The TUC had voted to end arms sales to Israel, seek an EU ban on settlement goods and support suspension of the the EU-Israel Association Agreement which provides preferential trade facilities to Israel.

Read the full story here.

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24Jun/10

Martin Kramer & The Weatherhead Center

At the Herzliya Conference in Israel in February, Martin Kramer, a Visiting Scholar at the National Security Studies Program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, encouraged Israeli leaders to take measures to diminish Palestinian birth rates as a means of population control, suggesting that the siege on Gaza helps "break Gaza's runaway population growth." This statement, which would have drawn immediate condemnation and dismissal from Harvard had it been made against any other group, was instead defended as acceptable free speech by the Weatherhead Center's directors.

The PSC was one of 19 groups to sign a letter asking for Kramer's fellowship to not be renewed and for the Weatherhead Center "to establish a committee of faculty and students to recommend the adoption of a set of vetting practices for incoming fellows that uphold a set of principles unified on non-racism, in concert with Harvard University's own commitment to non-discriminatory practices and diversity of viewpoints."

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23Jun/10

Elvis Costello cancels concerts in Israel in protest at treatment of Palestinians

He said on his website:

It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July...

It is a matter of instinct and conscience.

He joins a list of performers who have decided not to play in Israel, including Gil Scott-Heron and Santana.

Read the full story here.

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23Jun/10

Michael Oren visits…

When Michael Oren, the Israeli army spokesperson during the attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009, was invited to speak at the Harvard Kennedy School in November, students vigorously challenged his attempt to whitewash Israel's brutal attack on Gaza. Oren, who was appointed by Netanyahu to serve as Israel's Ambassador to the United States and who was a Visiting Professor at Harvard in 2006, seemed not to expect his spin to go unchallenged.

The Crimson published an op-ed shortly after which describes the circumstances of Oren's talk:

The devastating impact on Gaza’s schools should be of special concern to an institution dedicated to education such as Harvard. Instead, on November 23 Harvard extended an invitation to Michael B. Oren—the Israeli ambassador to the United States—to speak at the Kennedy School. Fittingly, he was rejected by students who attended the event. Oren is a former officer and paratrooper who served as an Israeli army spokesperson during the unwarranted and illegal attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009.

While the university envisioned a warm reception, it must be recorded that the students took a clear stance against impunity for war crimes. During the question-and-answer session, the vast majority of questions and comments leveled at Oren were critical of his actions and statements on the Gaza invasion and the Goldstone report.

One student read a quote by Oren in which he compared the Goldstone report to the Holocaust. She then asked, “Why do you make such hyperbolic statements? Don’t you think it cheapens the memory of Jews killed?” Oren denied making the statement, which he wrote in an article for The New Republic. Many other questions and statements equally rattled Oren. Students showed that they are unwilling to stay silent when a uniformed spin doctor tries to rewrite recent history.

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23Jun/10

Nakba Week 2008

The PSC played an important role in organizing Nakba Week in Spring 2008. The events throughout the week shed a light on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that began in 1948 and which continues today, especially in East Jerusalem. The week included a panel of Palestinian refugees who told of the tragedies they witnessed and the dispossession they experienced when over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed. Professor Noam Chomsky lectured a packed audience of over 200 during the week. Throughout the week, the PSC sold Palestinian cultural items--including olive oil, clothing and ceramics--outside of the Science Center. The week ended with a celebration of Palestinian culture in Ticknor Lounge, with students enjoying Palestinian food, music and dabka.

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