What Do Iraqi Protesters Want?

By Raed Jarrar (@raedjarrar)

During the last 6 weeks, over 300 Iraqis have been killed and over 15,000 injured in a bloody uprising that has been absent from US headlines. 

Inspired by the uprising in Lebanon and demonstrations in Egypt, in October Iraqis took to the streets to protest their own government. Most of the protesters are a new generation of young Iraqis who came to age after the US-led invasion of Baghdad in 2003. 

After the invasion, the new Iraqi regime adopted a narrative that justified its flaws by comparing them to Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian government. But for the Iraqi youth who never lived under Saddam’s reign, that narrative hasn’t held any weight and certainly hasn’t excused the corruption and dysfunctionality of the current government. Fed up, the youth have shocked the political class by sparking a new wave of protests that is challenging the foundation of the political process.

The protests were initially sparked by everyday frustrations: widespread unemployment, lack of access to public services, and rampant government corruption. Iraqi protesters know these issues cannot be resolved without system-wide change — and as a result, their demands have focused on two main themes: ending foreign interventions, and abolishing ethno-sectarian governance.

These demands pose an existential threat to the entirety of the political class in Iraq installed after the 2003 invasion, and more importantly, they are also a threat to foreign powers that are invested in the current regime — mainly the United States and Iran. 

An End to Foreign Interventions 

Unlike how the US and Iran have typically had proxy wars in the Middle East where they are on opposing “sides,” Iraq has curiously been an exception to that. Iran and the United States have supported the exact same political parties in Iraq since 2003. It just so happens that, for geopolitical reasons, dividing Iraq into sectarian and ethnic enclaves and supporting those Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other ethnic-based parties was aligned with both the interests of the US and Iran.

Both countries have been supporting the current regime in Iraq politically, but more importantly, supporting it by supplying it with all the weapons, training, and personnel it needs to survive. The US has sent over $2 billion to the Iraqi regime since 2012 as a part of the annual Foreign Military Financing package. The US has also sold the Iraq regime over $23 billion worth of weapons since 2003. To protect the Iraqi regime from its own people, Iranian-backed militias have participated in killing demonstrators. Amnesty International recently reported that Iran is the main supplier of tear gas canisters that are being used to kill Iraqi protesters every day.

The Iraqi regime’s corruption and dysfunctionality are symptoms of it being reliant upon foreign powers like the US and Iran. Iraqi government officials don’t care if Iraqis approve of their performance, nor do they care about the fact that the majority of Iraqis lack basic services, because that’s not the foundation of their existence.  

Iraqi protesters – regardless of their sectarian or ethnic background — are fed up with living in a client state that has no sovereignty and is one of the most corrupt, dysfunctional governments in the world. They’re calling for all interventions to end, whether it be from the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or Israel. Iraqis want to live in a country that is ruled by a government that is reliant on its people, not foreign powers. 

Abolitioning Ethnic and Sectarian Governance

In 2003 the US set up a political governance structure in Iraq which was based on ethno-sectarian quotas (the president is Kurdish, the Prime Minister is Shia, the President of Parliament is Sunni, etc.). This imposed system has only created and entrenched divisions within the country (which were minimal before the US-led invasion), and led to the creation of ethno-sectarian militias and destruction of a unified national armed force. Within this structure, politicians are appointed not based on qualification, but rather their ethinc and sectarian background. As a result, Iraqis have been displaced to ethnic and sectarian enclaves, and the country is led by ethnic and sectarian armed militias and warlords (ISIS was one example of this). The current political class has only ever operated in this way, and the youth have organized and risen up all across sectarian backgrounds to demand an end to it. 

Iraqi protesters want to live in a unified country that is ruled by a functional government where officials are elected based on their qualifications– not their affiliation with a sectarian political party. Furthermore, the way the electoral system in Iraq works now is that Iraqis mostly vote for parties, not for individual members of Parliament. Most parties are divided along sectarian lines. Iraqis want to change the system to voting for individuals who are held accountable for ruling the country. 

What can US Americans do?

In a way, what Iraqi youth are revolting against now is a regime that was built by the US and blessed by Iran in 2003. This is a revolution against the US legacy in Iraq that continues to kill Iraqis and destroy their country.

The US has an awful record in Iraq. US crimes that started with the first Gulf War in 1991 and intensified during the 2003 invasion and occupation continue today through the military and political support given to the Iraqi regime. There are many ways to stand in solidarity and support Iraqis today – but for those of us who are US taxpayers, we should start by holding the US government accountable. The US government is using our tax dollars to subsidize a brutal and dysfunctional regime in Iraq that could not stand on its own — so while Iraqis are revolting against this foreign-subsidized regime in their country, the least we can do is call upon our government to cut its aid to the Iraqi regime, and to stop sponsoring the murder of Iraqis. 

Raed Jarrar (@raedjarrar) is an Arab-American political analyst and human rights activist based in Washington, DC.

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Congressional progressive leader on caucus’s commitment to Palestine

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) recently told an audience in his Madison WI district that the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), of which he is co-chair, is planning (depending how Israel’s government-forming works out) to send a delegation to Palestine.

“But,” he noted to applause, “the permission has to include Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.” The two first-term members are both members of the CPC.

Pocan added, “We’re also saying we have to go into Gaza. And we have some commitments from our leadership, who say they’re going to help us do this– which we never had when Paul Ryan was Speaker.”

Pocan made these comments during the introduction he gave to Gaza-Palestinian Yousef Aljamal, who was the featured speaker at a late-October event “Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Youth Under Siege and Occupation.”

The event was held at Christ Presbyterian Church in Madison, WI. The primary organizer was the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and it had several other co-sponsors. This event was part of the nationwide speaking tour for Aljamal that Just World Ed organized under the title “Crisis in Palestine.”

Rep. Pocan, discussing his support for Palestinian rights

Christ Presbyterian kindly made and posted a great video of the afternoon’s proceedings, which can be viewed in full here. (The images in the main part of this blogpost are all stills from the video.)

Rep. Pocan’s introductory remarks take up the first seven minutes of the video. They provide an informative indication of the degree to which support for the rights of all Palestinians is growing within the 98-member-strong CPC.

Pocan prefaced his remarks by noting that, “We get so little information out of Gaza! And under this administration, our government has caused so much damage there.”

He recalled, “Three years ago, I led the first congressional delegation ‘to Palestine’– that’s what we called it! We had five members that went with us and we saw everything we could see. And on the final day, we were set to meet up with UNRWA and go into Gaza for a day. But the night before, we had a phone call, telling us we were not allowed to go in… “

He said that he and some of the other members of the delegation decided to go to the Gaza crossing-point anyway, since their notification had not come in writing… “And while we sat there we saw some of the bulldozers and things going through to take out some of the cropland… Eventually we got our official ‘No’. But to me, an official no just means we want to go even more!”

He recalled that it had been more than a decade since Keith Ellison was the last member of congress allowed by the Israelis to visit Gaza. (Ellison, who had been the first Muslim member of congress, is now the Attorney General of Minnesota.)

Pocan made a point of noting a couple of positive developments. One was the CPC’s plan to organize another– probably bigger?– delegation to Palestine than the one he had led back in 2016. The other was a plan that he said is projected to launch later this month for a series of Skype sessions between members of congress and various groups of citizens inside Gaza.

He recalled the strong impression the 2016 visit had made on him: “It really was alarming to go into downtown Hebron and other areas… But in Gaza, we don’t even have people getting in!”

He stressed that, “Conditions there are so bad. So many of us refer to it as an open-air prison. We can’t let this White House just continue to push things like the defunding of UNRWA.”

He gave full-throated support to the project the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project is pursuing, to win official support from the Madison City Council for their city-twinning program. “I truly believe nothing is more powerful than to have a sister-city relation with [a city in] Gaza,” he said. “I’ve talked to the new mayor about it and she’s open to the conversation.” He referred to the very real contribution he felt that Madison’s twinning programs with cities in Colombia and El Salvador had made to the situation of the people in those cities– also, amidst conditions of intense inter-group conflict.

“I am committed to doing this,” he said, of the Madison-Rafah twinning project.

The congressman sat very attentively as Yousef Aljamal gave a presentation that covered both the acute humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the crisis caused by the Israeli military’s detention of hundreds of Palestinian youths in the West Bank, every year.

Rep. Pocan (right) listening as Aljamal speaks

Aljamal, who has many close family ties with the West Bank, was the translator of the recently published book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak. Earlier in October, he presented copies of the book to Members and congressional staffers he met with on Capitol Hill.

When meeting Rep. Pocan, Aljamal made a point of thanking him for the early support he gave to H.R. 2407, a still-pending House Bill that seeks to hold Israel (and all other recipients of U.S. military aid) accountable for any violations member of aid-receiving military units commit against the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

——

After the events he spoke at in Madison, Aljamal traveled to Portland OR (as reported on here) and then to two islands in Hawai’i, where he spoke to community groups and participated in a panel discussion on Palestine at the annual conference of the American Studies Association. We are still organizing the photos and reports we received from Hawai’i, but here are a few teasers:

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Yousef Aljamal completes tour of mainland USA

At the end of October, our star speaker from Gaza, Palestine, Yousef Aljamal, wrapped up his hectic speaking tour of the mainland USA. Now, he is Hawai’i– where he also has a full speaking schedule.

Yousef with an appreciative audience at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA

Yousef spoke to audiences and classrooms across the continent, focusing on two main issues: the plight of Gaza’s two million residents after suffering 13 years of tight Israeli siege and the plight of Palestinian children caught up in the harsh detention system that the Israeli military has run in the occupied West Bank for the past 52 years.

In an earlier post on this blog we reported on some of his early activities on the tour, including the very valuable visits he made to various Congressional offices– including face-to-face meetings he had four Members of Congress.

We have put a photo album of the tour up onto our Facebook page, containing photos the numerous event hosts and attendees sent us from around the country. In case you’re not on Facebook, we’ll put some of the best of those photos in a gallery here. Scroll on down to see it.

Yousef in Portland OR

A few of the events Yousef spoke at were videotaped. So if you were not able to get to any of his events, do make a point of watching this excellent 33-minute video that we received from our friends in Portland OR. It contains the basic presentation that Yousef gave, in different versions, throughout the tour.

We want to thank the many organizations and individuals around the country whose commitment and dedication made this tour possible.We were particularly pleased that Yousef was able to speak to a number of college classrooms and even, in Madison WI, a high-school class. We are all deeply committed to expanding the discourse in the United States on the Question of Palestine as effectively as we can!

Yousef spoke to a dozen sizeable live audiences on the US mainland, from White Plains NY through Washington DC, Richmond and Williamsburg VA, Atlanta GA, Milwaukee and Madison WI, and Portland OR. Now, in Hawai’i, he has been able to connect with the indigenous activists resisting plans for “White” encroachment on the sacred mountain at Maunakea. He will also be speaking on a panel on Palestine to be held at the American Studies Association’s annual conference, due to be held in Honolulu November 7.

So now, here is the short version of our photo gallery:

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Yousef Aljamal brings his Palestinian witness to U.S. Congress members, public

Writer, translator, and social activist Yousef Aljamal brought his witness as a Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp in Israeli-occupied Gaza and has spent most of his life there, and as someone with many deep family ties to 1948 Israel and to the occupied West Bank, to Capitol Hill and to communities and classrooms in several places on the eastern seaboard of the United States over the past ten days.

While in Washington DC, Aljamal was able to meet in person with Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley, Andre Carson, and Hank Johnson, and with ranking staff members for another 18 Members of Congress. McCollum was the author of H.R. 2407, a still-pending House Bill that seeks to hold Israel (and all other recipients of U.S. military aid) accountable for any violations members of recipient military units commit against the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

In the photo above (kindly supplied by Rep. McCollum’s office), the Member is shown flanked by (l. to r.) Josh Ruebner of Progress Up Consulting, Yousef Aljamal, and JWE Executive Pres. Helena Cobban.

Here are a few other photos from the group’s time on Capitol Hill:

In his meetings on Capitol Hill and in well-attended community gatherings and college classrooms in– thus far– White Plains NY, Washington DC, Richmond VA, and Williamsburg VA, Aljamal talked about the privations he and all his neighbors in Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp have endured as a result of the violent, oppressive policies the Israeli military has pursued toward all two million residents of the Gaza Strip.

Stressing that the stories he told about his own family’s suffering were representative of what all Gaza Palestinians have had to endure, he told of a brother killed by Israeli military in 2004, of his sister Zainab’s death because the Israelis would not give her a permit to travel to Jerusalem for vitally needed medical care, and of his mother’s inability to visit her birth family in the West Bank for 12 years– also because of Israel’s denial of permits.

Aljamal also retold some of the searing personal accounts of Palestinian children in the West Bank who are survivors of the detention system that the Israeli military runs– including for Palestinian minors– in the West Bank. He was the translator from Arabic of a collection of these stories, Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak, copies of which he presented to the Members and staffers he met with on Capitol Hill.

In addition to his meetings in Congress, Aljamal has taken his witness about the realities of the lives of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation to several community events and college classrooms already, in the first half of a U.S. speaking tour that will also include events in Milwaukee and Madison WI, Portland OR, and a couple of locations in Hawai’i, as listed here.

Members of Facebook can see a wonderful collection of photos from Aljamal’s event thus far, here.

Among the highlights of his tour so far was an event he did at the Palestine center in Washington DC, October 21, alongside the Israeli-American peace activist Miko Peled. A very informative, one-hour videotape of that event can be viewed here.

Miko Peled appearing with Yousef Aljamal at the Palestine Center

Peled prefaced his remarks by noting that he had previously spoken alongside Aljamal in several different countries, including Malaysia, New Zealand, and Turkey, adding– “but the one country in which we cannot now meet together is Palestine, because of the Zionists’ absurd apartheid laws there!”

We hope to share additional reports from Yousef Aljamal’s current U.S. speaking tour over the coming weeks.

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U.S. tour of Gaza-Palestinian Yousef Aljamal starts soon!

We’re pleased to share the following details of the speaking tour that Gaza-Palestinian Yousef Aljamal is undertaking of the United States, October 14 through November 2. Please be aware that numerous additional events/locations are close to being confirmed. As they are confirmed, we will update this page, so please check back often!

Yousef Aljamal

More details about Yousef Aljamal and the tour can be found here.

** Oct. 15, White Plains, NY — 6:30 pm: “Dreaming of Freedom: An evening with Yousef Aljamal”, at Wespac, 77 Tarrytown Rd., White Plains. Details at https://wespac.org/event/dreaming-of-freedom/

** Oct. 20, Washington DC — 1:30 pm: “Palestine in Crisis” featuring Yousef Aljamal and Miko Peled. Hosted by Rev. Graylan Hagler at Plymouth UCC church, 5301 N Capitol St NE (in the undercroft.)

** Oct. 21, Washington DC — 12:30 pm: “Palestine in Crisis: Yousef Aljamal and Miko Peled on the Detention of Palestinian Children”, at The Palestine center, 2425 Virginia Ave NW. Details at https://www.thejerusalemfund.org/events/upcoming/palestine-in-crisis-yousef-aljamal-and-miko-peled-on-the-detention-of-palestinian-children.

** Oct. 21, Richmond, VA, 7:00 pm — “Palestine in Crisis”, at the Pace Center, 700 W. Franklin St. Sponsored by the Pace Center and the ME & Islamic Studies Program at VCU. Pace Center details at https://www.thepacecenter.com/.

** Oct. 22, Williamsburg, VA, 7:00 pm — “Palestinian Child Detainees” at Blow Hall #332, The College of William and Mary. Sponsored by The Wesley Foundation (United Methodist campus ministry), Williamsburg United Methodist Church’s “Church in the World” committee, W&M’s Students for Justice in Palestine, and W&M’s Decolonizing Humanities Project.

** Oct. 27, Madison, WI, 2:00 pm — “Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Youth Under Siege and Occupation”, at Christ Presbyterian, 944 E. Gorham Street.

** Oct. 31, Honolulu, HI, 3:00 pm — “Translating Palestine”, at UH-Manoa Dept. of English, a colloquium for University of Hawai’i English Dept., cosponsored by UH-Students and Faculty for Justice in Palestine.

** Nov. 1, Honolulu, HI, 7:00 pm — “Palestine through the Generations: Stories of the Nakba as Resistance”, at Church of the Crossroads, 1212 University Ave.

Here are the two books to which Yousef has contributed:

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Algeria’s popular-democracy movement gains new energy

We’ve been following Algeria’s popular-democracy movement almost since its weekly Friday mass demonstrations– known collectively as “the Hirak”– erupted onto the streets of the country’s numerous cities and towns back in late February. So we were delighted to learn that the latest round of demonstrations, Sept. 20, were some of the largest and most spirited the country had seen for a while.

This, despite the fact that the country’s interim (and de-facto) ruler, Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaïd Salah had decreed just days before that no non-residents of the capital, Algiers, could enter the city on Friday.

There are two good French-language news sites from Algeria that we’ve been following. One is TSA-Algerie, which had this great (reverse-chrono) roundup of many of the demonstrations that happened, all around the country, along with handheld video from some of them. The other is Algerie360, which had this informative short article (and great photo spread) from just Algiers, of different parts of the demonstrations that erupted there as a strong popular answer to Gaïd Salah’s ban.

The photo above, showing some the Hirak’s staunch supporters– one in traditional Amazigh dress and carrying a Palestinian flag– comes from the Algerie360 photo spread.

Here’s our best quick translation into English of the Algerie360 article:

The power embodied by the chief of staff, Ahmed Gaïd Salah, has suffered a new setback. He lost the “Battle of Algiers”–the city that he had wanted to close to protesters as a first step toward imposing his electoral plan by force.

Algiers, the capital, was closed to the other Algerians but it was full of people. The demonstrators braved all the threats and foiled all the plots of the powers-that-be by keeping the unique character of this Hirak: Silmia, peaceful nonviolence… They took to the streets in all the arteries of Algiers without exception. They came from Bab El-Oued, El Harrach, and the heights of Algiers, to gather between Didouche Mourad, Hassiba Ben Bouali Street and the central post office …

This thirty-first Friday was specially dedicated to the chief of staff, who who was squarely targeted by the action. All the slogans converged against him.

You can relive the demonstration of the 31st Friday, in Algiers, in photos by our dear friend Yacine Aouli, who wants to share these moments of nationalism with his Algerian brothers and sisters.

And now, here’s a small sample of Aouli’s photos:

Placards stressing the need to keep things peaceful
The crowd in front of the Central Post Office
Squad from the Red Crescent, ready for action
Some slogans of the Hirak, including a call to release jailed grassroots leader Karim Tabbou
A central slogan: “Elections will not take place without the agreement of the Algerian people”
More staunch old ladies: “No to the rule of the generals’ clique!”, etc

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Preparing for 2020: Advocating for justice for Palestine and beyond

We’re delighted to crosspost this account that our board member Alice Rothchild wrote, of a great training workshop for Palestinian-rights activists from around the United States, that the American Friends Service Committee held in DC in early September. This is crossposted from AFSC’s “Acting in Faith” blog. The photos here are all by Matthew Paul D’Agostino, for AFSC.

by Alice Rothchild

The American Friends Service Committee conference in DC, September 7-8, Preparing for 2020: Advocating for Rights, Justice, and Freedom, was an excellent antidote to the stormy and frightening times in which we live. It is a measure of our failure to be more outraged than we already are that Netanyahu’s pledge to annex much of the West Bank to Israel (as if there was not already one apartheid state) barely caused a flutter of protest. Between Trump and Netanyahu we are all suffering from shock fatigue and a good dose of gloom about the future of the planet. I lie awake at night wondering, will it be forest fires, drought, floods, and wars over water, or maybe an old fashioned nuclear war that will finish us off. For folks with children and grandchildren, this is not a theoretical concern. 

But there I was sitting in the calming simplicity of a Quaker meeting room at the Sidwell Friends School, listening and talking with a wide range of activists, organizers, and policy experts, and brainstorming about grassroots advocacy, at town hall meetings, primary caucuses, and party conventions. The positive energy, humor, honesty, and commitment were infectious and uplifting. 

I had a number of important insights. When the “No Way to Treat a Child Campaign” started four years ago as a joint project of AFSC and Defense of Children International – Palestine, it was difficult to have a conversation on The Hill about the rights of arrested, detained, and imprisoned Palestinian children. Now, Bill HR 2407, sponsored by Betty McCollum, has 22 cosponsors. The bill requires “that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children…” Organizations like Human Rights Watch, B’tselem, UNICEF, and even the “Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories (“Annual Report”) published by the Department of State noted that Israeli security services continued to abuse, and in some cases torture, minors, frequently arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing, in order to coerce confessions. The torture tactics used included threats, intimidation, long-term handcuffing, beatings, and solitary confinement.” 

We are well aware of the impact of “The Squad” on discourse about Israel/Palestine. We are seeing Palestine, and especially Palestinian children, being brought into the discussion of human rights in the US congress, in the Jewish community, with younger generations, and with African Americans whose empathy and activism is heightened because of parallel concerns for their own children. 

Nadia Ben Yousef talks about de-exceptionalizing Palestine

Which brings us to the topic of intersectionality. Intersectionality is about understanding who is closest to the pain and letting that be the guide for the vision of whom should be closest to the power. A number of speakers were clear that Palestine advocates need to step out for other causes like indigenous rights, anti-racism work, and protesting policies at the US/Mexican border. While activists once decried the phenomenon of PEPS (people who are Progressive Except Palestine), it is now clear that to be effective, we must be involved in a universal struggle for human rights. We need a collective liberation, which also means, by the way, no POOPS (Progressive Only On Palestine). 

We were urged that if get out of our silos, the empire will lose; complexity is the tool of the empire. Understanding our own complicity and being able to challenge the oppressor within is critical. This means, for example, when organizing, avoiding panels that focus only on Palestine, always bring in other issues. There are no exceptions on progressive politics, especially if we benefit from that exception. As one speaker said, we must be PIPS (Progressive Including Palestine). 

There was much discussion about what Israelis call “The BDS,” the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign that began with a call from Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005. “The BDS” is viewed by some as an anti-Semitic, anti-American monster, and legislation both on the state and national levels has been passed to condemn and criminalize the campaign, a reflection of the power of AIPAC and Christian Zionists. If you want to stay up to date, Palestine Legal tracks local and national anti-BDS legislation. While the call to boycott is actually protected by the First Amendment, it is a form of nonviolent political speech, we were urged to be strategic. If you are in a community where the word itself is toxic, then talk about human rights and companies that violate human rights. Talk about investing responsibly and avoiding conflict zones like Western Sahara, Crimera, and, oh yes, Israel. BDS is a strategy. Tell the story. Are you in favor of what is happening in Gaza or the continued growth of settlements in the West Bank? Do you not want to make money off of other people’s suffering? BDS urges people to move beyond words to action, and that is why it is so scary. And so effective. 

The bottom line is that Palestine is about global justice, campaign designs are rooted in solidarity, in de-exceptionalizing Palestine. The issues in Israel/Palestine are about settler colonialism, racism, global military industrial corporations, multi-national surveillance and prison systems. These are universal issues. 

The session that was actually fun (yes activists can have fun) was about bird dogging: confronting officials in public to raise awareness, get a photo op, a statement on the record, something that can be put out on social media. The advice was very sensible: Spread out in the crowd, dress like a supporter, look friendly, raise your hand fast, get in the Q&A line early, read the room, figure out how to connect your issue to other issues being raised. Then, get in line for a hand shake or selfie. When you shake the candidate’s hand, place your hand on the top of their palm, wrap your thumb firmly around their wrist and hold on for dear life. Disarm the politician by praising first or making your ask very personal. Then we all got to practice and role play while AFSC staff pretended to be the glad handing candidates we most want to hold accountable to take positions for justice in Palestine. And we were good. 

If you want more information and inspiration:

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Yousef Aljamal to speak on Gaza, detention of Palestinian kids, in USA, October

Just World Ed is delighted that October 13-29 we will be hosting Palestinian rights activist Yousef Aljamal on a speaking tour that will take him to the Greater NYC area, the Washington DC area, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Madison (WI), and Portland (OR). From Portland he’ll travel to Honolulu where he has another whole program arranged.

This is Yousef’s second time touring the United States. In 2014, he was part of a team that toured the country under the auspices of Just World Books and the American Friends Service Committee. They were launching the anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza Palestine, to which Yousef contributed a very moving story.

More recently, he has contributed several great pieces of writing to our blog, that explore various aspects of Palestinian life. (1, 2, 3…)

Yousef’s October tour will be very timely, because he has a wealth of information about the situation of Palestinian children incarcerated, sometimes for several years, by the military “justice” system that Israel has run in the occupied West Bank since 1967. He was the translator into English of the recent book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak (which is now newly available in North America as a paperback, as well as a Kindle e-book.)

Earlier this year, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced into the House of Representatives a path-breaking bill, H.R. 2407, the “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”, that seeks to hold Israel accountable for that portion of the military aid the U.S. government provides to it which is used to maintain the brutal military courts and incarceration systems that are used to violate the rights of Palestinian minors.

The campaign to win support for H.R. 2407 will continue until early Fall 2020. (You can learn more about it, here.) So we’re delighted that Yousef Aljamal’s speaking tour can help to inform broad sections of the U.S. public about this crucial issue.

As someone who grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza and lived through the three major assaults that Israel launched on the Strip in 2008, 2012, and 2014, Yousef also has a lot to share about the situation of Gaza’s 2-million-strong population under Israel’s relentless, 13-year siege of the area.

Yousef’s family was ethnically cleansed in 1948 from Aqer, in the area that became Israel that year. He grew up in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in southern Gaza, attending schools run by UNRWA. He won his B.A. from the Islamic University of Gaza and his M.A. from a university in Malaysia. For several years he ran the Hashim Yeop Sani Library in Gaza’s Center for Political and Development Studies. He is currently working on a Ph.D. in International Relations at Sekarya University in Turkey.

Here are some resources you can use to learn more about Yousef:

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Selling corn-on-the-cob in Gaza: A summer job by the sea

Yousef M. Aljamal*

Growing up in Gaza, I developed a special relationship with street vendors. I used to enjoy the chants they used– mostly self-invented lyrics– to entice children to buy items such as corn-on-the-cob, Barrad (Gaza’s exclusively-made splashed yellow ice) and candies. I would wait for them to come over during summer, when all Gaza schoolchildren are home, so that they could sell their offerings and return back home with some money enough to feed their own children. I made friends with some of them, such as Kamal, who used to sell orchids, and who later passed away due to cancer in my Gaza refugee camp.

I indelibly remember how each of them would promote his items to the children. Once, when I was in a Māori village in Aotearoa/New Zealand with my Gaza-born friend Billy, I imitated the Gaza vendors by singing out: “Yala ya doura, maslouqa ya doura,” (‘Corn-on-the-cob! Boiled corn-on-the-cob!’) That hit his nostalgia nerve. But despite being boiled in hot water on the top of a dead volcano, the Aotearoa corn never tasted as good as Gaza’s.

Over the past 13 years, as tens of thousands of young Palestinians became unemployed thanks to the ongoing siege, the consecutive Israeli offensives, and the Palestinian political division, a growing number of them sought work as street vendors, selling new items that were not sold before, such as coffee, tea and cigarettes. The number of people working as street vendors doubled, and they could be seen at every corner selling what they could to those who could afford it.

Corn-cobs have always been sold at Gaza’s streets, everywhere, especially by the sea, where Palestinians seek to get some fresh air and to release their stress, by swimming at the sea and watching Gaza’s mesmerizing sunset. As gas is not always available and due to the fact that many of them can’t afford it, Gaza’s vendors use an open fire to boil and cook their corn, giving it a special taste. Some vendors sear their corn-cobs sending some delicious smells to Palestinians sitting by the beach just down the cliff.

Ibrahim Abu Zureik (Photo by Mustapha Aljamal)

Ibrahim Abu Zureik, a 47-year-old refugee from Al-Nuseirat, works at a chicken shop during the year and does an extra job of selling corn during the summer to bring food to the table of his family. He notes that “In light of the tight economic situation in Gaza, I had to sell corn, because my job has become insufficient for me and my family. I have seven children and I need money to feed them and make them happy, especially now that my oldest child is 20.”

Speaking of people’s demand of corn during the summer, he adds: “People’s economic situation is difficult. They buy the basics, and there are a few who buy corn. I make 15 NIS (almost 4 dollars) a day.” Many people come to the beach, he continues, as they seek to escape the insufferable heat of the houses in the refugee camp, made much worse by the lengthy electricity cuts.”

The story of Abu Zureik is similar to that of the Kali brothers, Ahmed and Saud, whose father died five years ago after a battle with cancer. Before passing away, he taught them how to cultivate a piece of land they inherited from him, and today, they cultivate the land, harvest corn in the summer and sell them by the Gaza beach.

“In this season in particular, things are going well for us, because we do not buy corn but plant them ourselves. We do not pay rent for cars to transfer our produce as we have built our own vehicle. People come to the beach in droves. The impact of all of this is good on our sales and we see our efforts are paying off,” they said as they stood behind their stalls.

Mahmoud al-Omari (Photo by Mustapha Aljamal)

By the beach, 20-year old Mahmoud al-Omari works at a small cafeteria, where he makes hot drinks during the winter and sells corn during the summer. From his cafeteria at the Gaza Corniche that is overlooking the sea, he brags about the high sales he makes, “because of my extended network of people from all over the Gaza Strip.”

He dreams of being able to buy a smart-phone one day noting that he has been working in this cafeteria since he was 14. “I dropped out of school and started working in this café. I am in the same place with the same ambitions that I have not achieved yet, but I hope I will be able to one day,” he concludes.

Suliman Suliman al-Hazeen (Photo by Mustapha Aljamal)

Suliman al-Hazeen is a 16-year old boy from Gaza, who sells corn during the summer at the Gaza beach. His five brothers do the same too, as all of them work collectively to save enough money for the family after their father, who used to work in construction, fell down from the third floor at one of his sites. They boil the corn at their family home that is located hundreds of meters away from the beach, put the boiled cobs in buckets and carry them to the beach. Suliman does other jobs during the year, too, such as selling cigarettes and vegetables, as well as cleaning farms so he can help his family year-round.

Today, as hope becomes a rare coin in Gaza, young people do their best to survive, even by selling corn, so they can put a smile on a face of Palestinians enjoying the Gaza beach or running away from the heat of houses in the refugee camps. They make some money that would save them the pain of hunger. But the voices of young people selling corn is no longer comforting and does not draw the attention of many as it used to. Now, it reminds them of the suffering of these people who can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. These vendors live and work under siege, beyond the Gaza sea, hoping that someone might hear their chants and screams on the other side of the Mediterranean. They sell corn and see a mockery in their foes who block their way to the world just a few miles away in the Mediterranean. It is as if by selling corn, they dance the Haka, the traditional Māori dance of defiance in the face of enemies… just like the Māori did in the performance in Aotearoa that Billy and I once enjoyed, eating corn far from Gaza.

Yousef M.
Aljamal is a Palestinian refugee who grew up in Al-Nuseirat refugee camp in the
Gaza Strip. He is a PhD candidate at the Middle East Institute at Sakarya
University in Turkey.

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US peace activists retrace steps to Vietnam, 50 years later

Last month, five longtime peace activists from the United States retraced steps to Vietnam that four of them first trod back during the US-Vietnam War. Led by “Ong” (grandfather) Frank Joyce, shown at right above, the group’s visit marked the launch of the Vietnamese-language edition of The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement, a volume of memoirs of their activism that Joyce co-edited along with Karín Aguilar-San Juan.

The two versions of the book

Shortly after his return to Michigan, Joyce reported that:

The launch of the Vietnamese edition of THE PEOPLE MAKE THE PEACE—LESSONS FROM THE VIETNAM ANTIWAR MOVEMENT was a huge success.  The room was packed with students,  dignitaries and more.  They had to send out for more books.  Karin and I participated in a salon-style discussion about the book.  There was extensive media coverage.  

Joyce was accompanied on the delegation by his co-editor, Karín Aguilar-San Juan, a professor at Macalester College in Minnesota; his wife Mary Anne Barnet; and book contributors Judy Gumbo Albert from Berkeley, California, and Alex Hing from New York.

On July 11, the five– along with their colleague Doug Hostetter, who was unable to make the trip– were awarded the “For peace and friendship among nations” medal by the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organisations (VUFO) in recognition of their contributions to peace and friendship between the two countries.

Addressing the ceremony, Ambassador Nguyen Tam Chien, Vice Chairman of VUFO and President of the Vietnam-US Society, said the activists had devoted their youth to protesting the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s: “They participated in and mobilized many others to join demonstrations and activities to show solidarity with Vietnam and demand the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. After the end of the war, they continue to work for the friendship and cooperation between the two countries.”

The ambassador stressed that the Vietnamese people always remember with gratitude the U.S. friends who stood side-by-side with Vietnam to struggle for the end of the war and the return of peace in Vietnam.

In response, Joyce said the group would continue to work for the development of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

The little delegation also had several meetings to gather information on some of the lasting physical/physiological legacies of the war, especially the longlasting effects of UXO (unexploded ordinance) and the U.S. military’s very widespread use of Agent Orange. These meetings included:

  • a visit with Chuck Searcy,  a veteran of the US-Vietnam war who later became an antiwar activist and was a co-founder of Project RENEW, a project to clean up unexploded ordnance and provide medical assistance, rehabilitation, and income generation for UXO victims in Quang Tri Province; and
One shocking slide from the Power Point

Joyce reported that at the Defense Ministry, the group viewed Power Point presentation that clearly and concisely explains the history and current situation regarding these outrageous legacies of the war. (You can download the whole of this 2.7 MB file in PDF form, here.)

After the delegation finished its work, Joyce reflected on why it was that its members had received such a warm welcome and strong recognition from the people they met with. He wrote this:

My view is that the movement that opposed the U.S. invasion of Viet Nam has an inferiority complex.  Many—actually most,  I think—of those who participated in the antiwar movement have drunk gallon after gallon of the Kool-Aid served up by Forrest Gump, Ken Burns,  the NYT,  the Pentagon and others that “the movement didn’t really mean much of anything. ”

The Vietnamese know better.  Which is why they continue to honor and uplift the antiwar movement. And why they published THE PEOPLE MAKE THE PEACE LESSONS FROM THE VIETNAM ANITWAR MOVEMENT in Vietnamese.  And why there is an extensive exhibit at the Hoa Lo Prison Museum (known to many as the Hanoi Hilton) about the antiwar movement that is drawing large crowds. And why they want US Americans,  especially those who opposed to the war to come to Viet Nam in 2020 to observe three significant anniversaries. (See below for more on that.)  And why,  in addition to daily news coverage of our delegation,  the TV network followed and interviewed all of us extensively for a documentary that will come later. 

The Vietnamese genuinely appreciate the role the antiwar movement played in helping them defend their country and want young Vietnamese to know about it. 

The events planned for 2020 that Joyce referred to have been described by one of their Vietnamese hosts in the following terms:

As you know, in 2020, there will be special year for the Vietnam-US relations: the 45th Anniversary of the end of war and celebration of peace and national reunification of Vietnam (April 30, 1975-2020); the 25th Anniversary of the Normalization of Vietnam-US diplomatic relations (July 12, 1995-2020); and the 75th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Vietnam-American Friendship Association, now Vietnam-USA Society. (October 17, 1945-2020).

We at VUS/VUFO will organize some grant activities and would like to invite and host many friends/partners as organizations and individuals from the USA to Vietnam, to celebrate and discuss for the current and future activities/programs for enhancing the relations and cooperation between our two people and countries. We will also take the chance to express our thanks to your goodwill, efforts and contribution to Vietnam and the US-Vietnam relations and cooperation in various period of time by many American friends and partners.

We think to invite peace activists during the war, friendship groups, and veterans and their families in many groups and son and daughter generations. On the occasion, we want to confer different kinds of awards to… our friends/partners as individuals and groups.

Joyce notes that the Vietnamese planners of these events are very interested in having U.S. Americans attend and especially those who were in contact with the Vietnamese in Hanoi, Paris, Montreal or other locations during the war.

You can hear a very informative hour-long discussion that Joyce, Judy Gumbo Albert, and Jay Craven (who was also a contributor to the book, though he did not go on the latest trip) had last week with David Goodman of “Vermont Conversations”, here.

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