Saturday, March 13, 2010

Nine people in the KC area working for Palestinian rights

For many 2009 was a watershed – everyone knows friends or acquaintances who lost jobs -- as the economy slipped further, evidenced by the drastic increase in those seeking services, like food assistance at US food banks. The US continued or expanded war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and in Palestine via Israel. Yet many people in the Kansas City area found ways to resist these wars or work for social justice here and abroad. Several of these people inspired me in new ways that peace and justice activists have done in the past, but with a refreshing, confident, and bold move to learn, share, and agitate.

In recognition of the determined example they provide, I would like to share with you nine people that inspired me in 2009. Each one demonstrates important characteristics of social justice actors, namely, each focused on their cause with a dedication to broad social justice, some with direct experience or relations with those experiencing injustice, all important characteristics of grassroots leadership.

One of the most impressive groups included three individuals -- Marei Spaola, Jodi Voice, and Melissa Franklin – who formed 7thGIV, a grassroots student collective from Haskell Indian Nations University. This group was founded on traditional Native principles, comparing occupation and colonization of Palestinian land with the same practices in the U.S. against Native people. Their work led to their participation in the first ever Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine last year.

Photo from Feb. 15 UMKC event: (from left) Mohamed El-Housiny,
Omar Bayazid, Marei Spaola, Melissa Franklin, Jodi Voice, and Sara Jawhari
Jodi Voice has an Associates of Social Work and is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Indigenous American Indian Studies at Haskell. Her father is a graduate of Haskell. She seeks to “speak for the voiceless and stand up for others that face oppression.” Jodi belongs to the Tsalagi (Cherokee) Nation of Oklahoma, the Mvskoke (Creek) nation of Oklahoma, and the Oglala Lakota Nation of South Dakota.

Marei Spaola, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of South Dakota, traveled to the Southwest and South Dakota in the summer 2009 to work on a documentary film. Marei spoke about the indigenous youth delegation at a Palestinian fundraiser event on July 2. He is a Haskell student and reporter with Haskell News.

Melissa Franklin was president of the American Indian Studies club at Haskell, works at the Jim Thorpe Recreation Center on campus, and served as a mentor with an Upward Bound summer program at Haskell. Melissa gave a report of her background and the delegation at a May 31, 2009 fundraiser dinner. Melissa is Comanche, Wichita, and Sac & Fox of Oklahoma.

Melissa Franklin (left) with Laura
Closson at fundraising event in 2009.
Laura Closson, a Kansas City resident, traveled with a women's delegation to Gaza in March 2009 before completing her undergraduate study at Redlands University (California). The delegation, which included author Alice Walker, contributed to the relief of Palestinian women living in Gaza. She now lives and works in Nablus in the West Bank, teaching English language at An-Najah National University.

Mohammed Atwa
Mohammed Atwa is a Kansas City resident with Palestinian family members in Gaza. His story was featured on a radio program on KKFI-FM 90.1 in January. Mr. Atwa’s mother lives in Gaza, while his brother is a journalist for Ramattan, the only news organization reporting live on events in the Gaza Strip during last year’s attacks on Gaza. Apart from his day job, Mohammed follows a different path as a Palestinian-American working with an Israel environmental group, bridging the divide between Arabs and Israelis in the Mideast.

Emiliano Huet-Vaughn - graduate of Shawnee Mission North High School and graduate student at University of California-Berkeley. He worked on a successful divestment-from-Israel campaign while studying at the London School of Economics, participated in direct action with the Palestine Solidarity Project/International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank last Summer, and is active with ongoing divestment efforts at Berkeley. Most recently Emiliano took time to raise funds for travel to Egypt as part of the Gaza Freedom March in December 2009.

Janet Baker – I have known this woman for several years now and have always admired her patient persistence in getting things done for local events and activities while working for Palestinian rights. Janet exemplifies a simple yet essential trait – her inner spirit clearly drives her to share her whole life. She works to uplift those in need, yet recognizes the importance of joining a struggle against oppression. Janet worked for a time with Heart of America Indian Center, serves as an ambassador for visiting foreign students, traveled to the Mideast, works with Citizens for Justice in the Middle East, as well as working for peace and the environment at Village Presbyterian Church.

Mohamed El-Housiny participated in a July 2009 medical aid convoy to Gaza, then again on a second medical aid convoy in December. He rekindled his memory of growing up at a very early age in Gaza during a talk in November. Few individuals working for Palestinian rights in KC have challenged people so vividly to wake up to the reality of the devastation in Gaza. No one has represented the courage and resilience of Palestinians’ struggle for liberation quite the same as Mohamed.

Tom Klammer tirelessly produces “Tell Somebody,” a weekly public affairs radio program on KKFI. He researches, interviews, hosts, and engineers the program. I’m constantly amazed at the time Tom dedicates to this program, but each time I listen to the program I hear uncommon voices from guests telling crucial stories about conditions in Kansas City and throughout the US. He produced five programs in 2009 focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, several programs on Iraq, Afghanistan, KC nuke plant politics, homelessness, food/agriculture politics, labor history, and on and on. No one else in Kansas City is covering some of these topics at the depth that he is. Tom amplifies the voice of the movement for real social change in Kansas City.

These individuals have worked through a variety of grassroots, educational, and community organizations in Kansas City to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians. Despite the apparent lack of progress towards Palestinian self-determination, many people in KC are more informed and better equipped to support resistance against the Israeli occupation by hearing the stories told by these nine individuals. I am proud to know that there are so many people in Kansas City dedicated to working for Palestinian rights.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

“Tonight We Are All Gaza”

Eyewitness Reports to Gaza Attacks

When four Kansas City area residents traveled to Gaza to deliver medical aid to Palestinians in January, they planned to lift the spirits of Gazans in the besieged land. In turn they were consoled by Palestinians after hearing traumatic stories, like the one where a girl was telling a story of her father being shot in the forehead after surrendering to Israeli military forces. Or the story of the Samouni family, who lost 29 members – a family of farmers with no political ties, mostly women and children. Mohamed El-Housiny, an architect and MBA student on his second aid convoy, thought he was there to give strength, but was overwhelmed with emotion after witnessing the devastation and hearing stories of the trauma.

An event titled “One Year Later: Besieged Gaza Still Standing Tall” attracted 200 people to the Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park on Sunday, February 7. The event included speakers and spirited performances by Dabke folk dancers from Milwaukee and Nahsheed singers. The main speaker Osama Abu Irshaid was unable to attend due to poor weather conditions in the eastern states.

Goldstone Report documents atrocities of Operation Cast Lead

After past attempts to visit his family in Gaza, Palestinian-American Dr. Mohamed Ouda joined the Viva Palestina medical aid convoy and entered Gaza for 48 hours with 250 vehicles and hundreds of participants on January 6, 2010. He gave a presentation of the recent history surrounding Gaza and a full accounting of the impact of the twenty-two day Israeli military campaign Operation Cast Lead. His report drew from the 575-page Goldstone Report released in September 2009.

“Ending occupation is a prerequisite to a return to a dignified life for Palestinians, as well as development and a peaceful solution to the conflict.” – Goldstone Report, September 2009 [1]

Dr. Ouda’s report was a swirl of statistics of the crushing devastation – 60 police stations destroyed, 30 mosques, 280 schools (43% of all schools) destroyed, and 22 university buildings damaged. Sixteen medical personnel killed and 28 ambulances destroyed, forcing emergency responders to transport the injured on donkey carts.

320 workshops were destroyed, destruction of farmland and equipment led to a 50 percent drop in agriculture income, accounting for a 50-75% unemployment rate. The devastation to businesses, farming, and all social life “force [Palestinians] to live in the stone age,” Dr. Ouda reported.

355 children were killed, 2000 children were made orphans after their parents were killed, and tens of thousands of children needed trauma counseling. The Goldstone Report noted “some 30 per cent of children screened at UNRWA schools had mental health problems” and “over 300 women had been widowed as a result of the military operations and had become dependent on food and income assistance.”

Dr. Ouda shared his own memory “as a child living through the shelling” during the 1967 war. He expressed the widespread trauma for children in Gaza today because of the increased power of munitions used during the 22-day offensive.

He wrapped up his presentation by saying that $4.5 billion were pledged by Arab and other nations to rebuild Gaza. None of the funds have been used because of Israel’s blockade. “Gaza is a prison and the jailer does not allow you in,” Ouda underscored.

Eyewitness accounts from participants of the Gaza aid convoy

Mohamed El-Housiny asked the audience to imagine Gaza as he described the surroundings of devastated Gaza and the personal impact of holding a loved one during their last moments of life. These scenes were described to Mohamed and dozens of others as they traveled through Gaza to deliver aid to Palestinians in a symbolic gesture of solidarity.

Mohamed instilled a sense of immediacy in his presentation, building on the difficult stories he heard. He brought the pain and suffering from “over there,” thousands of miles away, challenging us to work harder and envision a free Palestine.

A KC area woman who also joined the aid convoy, connected the ongoing siege of Gaza with the international sanctions on Iraq in the 1990’s, which led to the deaths of 500,000 children. “Why are we letting these things happen again?” she asked.

“Going into Gaza will always be a shock, no matter how many times you’ve been.” – Mohamed El-Housiny during his talk at the Doubletree event.

During her brief stay in Gaza in January to deliver medical aid with the Viva Palestina convoy, the KC area woman watched the sea where Israeli warships were stationed. This reminded her that “Gaza is a prison,” walled off from the outside world. She remarked that Egypt with the help of the US and Israel is building a wall along the Egypt-Gaza border eighteen feet below the surface. The underground wall is intended to cut off the last source of goods flowing into Gaza. “Why are they building a wall? Didn’t we learn from South Africa and Germany?”

Sara Jawhari, a Palestinian-American and broadcast journalist student at Johnson County Community College, stated the intent of the medical aid convoy was to relieve suffering. “It is strictly pro-humanity. We don’t care if you are Israeli, Palestinian, if you are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or atheist. It does not matter,” as Jawhari told a Campus Ledger reporter recently. [2]

The event held on February 7 to commemorate the lives of survivors and those killed during the deadly attacks was one of the more respectful and colorful events seen in Kansas City to reflect on Palestinian life and culture.

Rarely are stories and images portrayed so humbly by trauma witnesses; they brought the struggle and pain home to the event participants, leaving many with the notion that “we are all Gaza.”

American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the main organizer of the event based out of Chicago, has attracted a large following with 12 local chapters through the Midwest and stretching to both coasts. The group is providing fresh energy to the Palestinian rights movement in the US by organizing events with prominent speakers like Alison Weir of and George Galloway of Viva Palestina, as well as producing quality literature, like the 36-page booklet summarizing the Goldstone Report on Gaza. Taking note of the group’s energetic commitment, the group’s director said “Palestine is our life!”

If you were unable to attend the event on February, plan to join students at two upcoming events on area college campuses.

· February 15, 7:30 pm - The Muslim Student Association at UMKC invites you to "Viva Palestina: Report back from Gaza." Kansas City area students will report back on a convoy delivering humanitarian aid and medical supplies into war-torn Gaza. Speakers Mohamed El-Housiny and Sara Jawhari will share their first hand experiences in the Gaza Strip. Guests from 7thGIV, an independent group of students from Haskell Indian Nations University, will speak about their cultural exchange with youth in the West Bank last year. Pizza and refreshments will be served. Admission is free and open to all.

o Location: UMKC Royall Hall 111, 5200 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, Missouri

o For more info, contact -

o Event flyer -

· February 22, 7:00 pm – A "Viva Palestina: Report back from Gaza" event will be held at Johnson County Community College. Featured speakers include Sara Jawhari and Mohamed El-Housiny. Admission is free and open to the public.

o Location: Johnson Co. Community College, Craig Community Auditorium (GEB-238), 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kansas

[1] “HUMAN RIGHTS IN PALESTINE AND OTHER OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES: Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” UN Human Rights Council, September 25, 2009,

[2] “Aiding the "world's largest prison,” by Jason Bennett, Campus Ledger, January 28, 2010,

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Two KC area events mark one year since attacks on Palestinians in Gaza

Events on February 7 and 15 include internationally-known Mideast academic scholar, KC speakers, and Palestinian folklore

Feb. 7 event at Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park features Osama Abu Ishraid, KC area students on Gaza relief convoy, plus Arab singing and dance

American Muslims for Palestine--Kansas City invites you to “One Year Later: Besieged Gaza – Still Standing Tall,” a Palestinian folklore night.

Guest speakers:

  • Osama Abu Irshaid, is completing a Ph.D. at Britain’s Loughborough University, and is the founder and editor in chief of Al-Meezan newspaper, published in Arabic in the United States. He is an internationally-known academic scholar on Mideast affairs.
  • Sara Jawhari and Mohamad El-Housiny are two Kansas City area students and participants in the successful Viva Palestina medical aid convoy to Gaza.
  • Nasheed singing by Munzer Talib and Ismael Alqadi
  • Dabke dancing by Sanabel AlQuds

Feb. 15 event at UMKC provides update on KC area students experience providing medical relief to Palestinians

The Muslim Student Association at UMKC invites you to "Viva Palestina: Report back from Gaza." Local Kansas City students will report back on a life-changing journey through Europe and into Palestine, delivering humanitarian aid and medical supplies into war-torn Gaza.

This aid convoy took place in December 2009 and was led by George Galloway, a member of British Parliament known for his anti-war views. Mohamed El-Housiny and Sara Jawhari will each speak of their first hand-experiences in the impoverished Gaza Strip, and the political resistance they faced along the way. Guests from 7thGIV, an independent group of students from Haskell Indian Nations University, will speak about their cultural exchange with youth in the West Bank last year. Panelists will also answer questions regarding their travels.

  • Please join us for this informative and interactive session to raise awareness about the plight of Gaza.
  • Pizza and refreshments will be served. Admission is free and open to all.
  • Location: UMKC Royall Hall 111, 5200 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, Missouri
  • When: Monday, February 15, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
  • For more info, contact -
  • Event flyer -