Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Improved CJME web site helps members speak out for Mideast peace

In January 2009 for three agonizing weeks, many of you in the KC area watched the massive slaughter of hundreds of defenseless Palestinians by a US-funded Israeli military. We did what we could to call attention to the massacre – participated in two large protests in January, two successful fundraisers bringing in over $100,000 for humanitarian relief, wrote letters, signed petitions, and visited with US congressional representatives. The destruction stopped in January 2009 yet the blockade continues today.

In response to the growing urgency to focus attention on the Palestinian’s struggle for self-determination and sovereignty, CJME has elected to develop an improved web site for area residents to discuss and organize activities calling for an end to the occupation.

The current site has served its purpose of acting as an electronic brochure and events calendar, but the new site will add more resources – photos, podcasts, plus aggregate all the past activities and events of CJME. Most importantly, the site will allow people to directly contribute to the site. Here’s a link to the current CJME web site – http://www.cjme.org/.

We believe KC area and regional residents would benefit from this web site to help share opinion and organize activities. Sharing information will enhance and spread the dialog on this most crucial issue.

Citizens for Justice in the Middle East invites you visit the web site again and look for the following features:
  • A cleaner look to make it easier to navigate than the old
  • Allows site visitors to comment on articles and stories
  • Provides an enhanced Action Alerts and Campaigns section, allowing individuals to get more involved in influencing local legislators and media outlets
  • Allows group members to contribute articles, stories, photos, blog posts, and calendar events
  • Defines new content such as photos, videos, and audio of local events and programs
  • Integrates CJME social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, and blog sites
The new web site was designed and built using donated labor on the Drupal open-source content management system.


Matt Quinn

Monday, November 9, 2009

A visit to occupied Palestine - "Your destiny is not your own"


Rev. Cindy Howard, an Episcopalian priest serving with St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Lee's Summit, Missouri, spoke November 7 about her meetings with a broad spectrum of Palestinian and Israeli groups affected by the Mideast crisis. She traveled with Interfaith Peace Builders in July and during her presentation described aspects of enduring "a stifling occupation." [photo: Billi Jo Larmore]

The purpose of her participation in the delegation was to see the reality on the ground, visit with ordinary Palestinians and Israeli, and, finally, to contribute to a growing peace movement. This was not Rev. Howard’s first travel experience to a conflict zone. In September the Lee's Summit Journal reported on Rev. Howard's trip: “I was a teacher for many years and I’ve taught in Armenia and Bosnia, so going into a conflict zone wasn’t a new thing to me,” she said. “I always think that travel is a life changing experience and I knew a trip like this wouldn’t come along very often.” [1]

During her presentation at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City she framed several questions on the Israel-Palestine crisis. "What is it like to live in a refugee camp?" set up her description of an overnight stay at the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, where she spoke with the third generation of people that lived in the camp and the difficulty they experience separated from their villages. She described the common experience of spending hours to travel short distances cut off by the Israeli separation wall that splits Bethlehem in two. Despite her short-term stay she was able to understand the strict constraints and dehumanizing experience living under Israeli occupation, leaving her to reflect how "your destiny is not your own."

"What does it mean to live in an occupied territory?" For Cindy’s church parishioners these questions allowed her to discuss the challenges that Palestinians face daily on their way to work, school, or business. During the delegation’s visit to Bi’lin, she stayed with a family forced to separate from the male household head because of constant threat of arrest due to his leadership in the non-violent resistance to the Israeli separation wall. Bi’lin represents both the strong example of the Palestinian non-violent resistance movement, as well as the focus of severe repression by Israeli forces.

The Interfaith Peace Builder delegation also traveled to Sderot, Israel on the border with Gaza. The group heard from Naomi Zion, an Israeli woman with a Sderot-based peace group, who wrote her thoughts about the rocket attacks in Sderot, as well as the massive Israeli attacks on Gaza. [2]

Rev. Howard also described a common incident experienced by the delegation. A delegation member of Canadian-Palestinian descent was held for six hours. During this time Israeli customs officials repeatedly asked questions about her family.

A young Palestinian-American girl attending the November 7 talk described her family’s humiliating experience being detained for 6 1/2 hours traveling to the West Bank in the summer of 2009: “they [the Israelis] don’t want us to come back.” Her father described how people had lost their lives seeking treatment for common ailments like diabetes and delivering babies while waiting to cross checkpoints or the separation fence. He “commended you [Rev. Howard] for what you have done” by traveling to the Mideast.

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[1] “A life changing experience: Local priest travels to Israel, Palestine,” Lee's Summit Journal, http://www.lsjournal.com/100/story/36005.html

[2] “A Sderot Woman Speaks out Against Gaza Operation,” Daily Kos, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/1/10/11281/4229/984/682450

Friday, November 6, 2009

Palestinian-American discovered Gaza trip "would change his life"


Report Back from Viva Palestina was a "persuasive argument" for more support
Two Palestinian-Americans, Mohamed El-Housiny and Thaer Ahmad, gave emotional accounts of their participation in the "Viva Palestina" delegation to Gaza in July 2009 to a packed auditorium at the University of Missouri--Kansas City on Thursday, November 5. The talk sponsored by the UMKC Muslim Student Association also featured a brief presentation by Rev. Cindy Howard, who participated in an Interfaith Peace Builders delegation to Palestine and Israel in August. Rev. Howard discussed meeting with representatives from a broad spectrum of Israeli and Palestinian society, including visits to the Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem and Bi'lin, the site in the West Bank famous for weekly protests against the building of the wall deep inside Palestinian territory.

At age three, one of the event speakers, Mohamed El-Housiny, recalled the unforgettable scene watching his grandfather get thrown to the ground by Israeli forces in Gaza. He then mentioned his eyes were open anew following the terrible massacre of Palestinians this past January. He gave an incredibly moving eyewitness account of the scenes of devastation in Gaza, as well as sharing stories told by victimes of the brutal attacks.

How bad is it in Gaza? While the stories retold by Mohamed and Thaer gave a strong personal message, statistics tell a different story of the dire situation. 1300 Palestinians were killed including 400 children, thousands wounded, thousands of homes were destroyed, as were a great number of schools, businesses, hospitals, and mosques. 40,000 Palestinians are still homeless. 13 Israelis were killed. The guest speakers reported that all aid has to go through Israel according to the 2005 Gaza disengagement plan. The recent Israeli attacks caused $4 billion damage in 22 days, which amounts to three times the annual income of Gaza. The UN estimates the need to deliver supplies from 80-90 vehicles per day, yet Israel only allows 5-15 vehicles in per day. The siege of Gaza has reduced the fishing zone from 15 miles offshore to only 3 miles. Israel profits from the transfer and storage of supplies with much of the financing going back to fund the occupation.

Thaer grew up in the West Bank and thought he would only be an observer on the Viva Palestina delegation, but after his first interaction with the Egyptian government he "knew it would change his life." The Egyptian government was reluctant to allow the Viva Palestina vehicle convoy to pass through to Gaza, holding the delegation for thirteen hours at the border. He commented on the strength of the Palestinian spirit to maintain their livelihood despite the crushing siege. He recalled three young girls telling their story, noting one strong-minded ten-year old girl demand to know "what did these girls [her friends] do to deserve this." One of the girls lost 26 family members during the attacks.

He saw the damage to schools and remembered hearing how schools were used as a safe haven from the attacks. He found it difficult to explain how ruthless the attacks were to target schools with civilians hiding inside.

During the question and answer period of the event, one audience member asked how Palestinians in Gaza are living in the devastation. Thaer said he saw storekeepers open their stories and sweep sidewalks despite a lack of customers. He was amazed to see how they found resolve to endure the death and destruction. "The fact that they get up in the morning each day -- that's resistance!," remarked Thaer.

Mohamed reported another humanitarian aid convoy led by Viva Palestina will commence December 5 in London before continuing through Europe, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt before traveling to Gaza. Viva Palestina convoy organizers are seeking individuals to participate in the convoy. See http://www.vivapalestina-us.org for details.