Thursday, May 19, 2011

After 63 Years of Forced Exile Palestinians Storm Israel's Borders


Palestinians storm Israel’s borders

Unarmed marchers shot demanding right to return

By Joyce Chediac
Published May 18, 2011 3:55 PM

Thousands of Palestinian refugees from Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza surged across fenced off borders and into Israel on May 15, asserting their right to return home. The unarmed protesters were fired upon by Israeli soldiers, killing 16 and wounding hundreds.

These brave, coordinated, “Return to Palestine” marches by the Palestinian people marked “al Nakba,” the Catastrophe, the anniversary of the expulsion by force and terror of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes by Zionists in 1948, and the establishment of Israel in its place.

Inspired by protests in much of the Arab world, this was the first time in 63 years that Palestinian refugees marked their expulsion by going to the border in the tens of thousands and calling for their right to go home. It electrified the Arab world and showed that, no matter what forces are arrayed against them, the Palestinian people will not abandon their right to return.

Palestinians marching from Jordan were attacked and stopped by Jordanian soldiers before they reached the border. The Egyptian military fired into crowds to repress them after three days of actions in solidarity with Palestine in Egypt, culminating in a protest in front of the Israeli Embassy. Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab countries that have signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Coordinated actions reflect Hamas-Fatah agreement

Speaking from Gaza, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haneyya said that Palestinian and Arab blood spilt during Nakba marches suggests that Nakba is being marked with a new spirit and that the Palestinians have begun to “bury the Nakba” for good. He said that the situation marked the “first application” of the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation practiced on the ground, as differences were set aside for the greater national interest.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah lauded those Palestinians mowed down as “martyrs” killed by “the Israeli occupation while they were in a demonstration commemorating the Nakba inside the nation.”

No Western governments condemn Israeli killings

The Israeli government responded with deadly force against the unarmed protesters, who certainly posed no physical danger. This bloody response made clear who the terrorists are in this continuing struggle. But neither the U.S. government nor its European allies have issued even one word condemning the murder of Palestinians by Tel Aviv. In fact, while Palestinians mourn their dead, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be greeted by President Barack Obama in Washington on May 20, and Netanyahu has been asked to address a joint session of Congress!

Meanwhile, on May 16 the Israeli and Egyptian navies together opened fire in international waters on a Gaza freedom flotilla ship, the Spirit of Rachel Corrie, carrying plastic sewage pipes to help restore the devastated sewerage system in Gaza. None of the anti-war activists and journalists, from Malaysia, Ireland, India and Canada, were harmed. The vessel is now anchored in Egyptian waters, about 30 nautical miles from Gaza.

Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt

In Lebanon on May 15, thousands of women and men, young and old, secular and religious, gathered in the mountain-top border town of Maroun al Ras, which has a panoramic view of occupied Palestine. For many it was the first time they saw their country, which previously they had only heard described by their elders.

Soon after speakers began addressing the crowds, thousands headed down the opposite side of the mountain — though it was littered with Israeli landmines — towards the border fence. Calling for their right to return, they climbed and placed Palestinian flags on the fence. Some began throwing stones at soldiers so far off they could barely be seen.

The soldiers opened fire, and 11 people were killed and about 100 wounded. Participating in the action were the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, Abdallah Abdallah, and representatives from Hezbollah, and the Future Movement, which is aligned with it.

Four people were killed and four others critically hurt by Israeli gunfire after hundreds of protesters from a Syrian-held part of the Golan breached the fence and entered the part of the Heights annexed by Israel. Syrians and Palestinians broke through the fence from both sides, greeting relatives arbitrarily separated by the border. Israeli troops fired live rounds and tear gas at the protesters.

In Jordan, police intercepted and stopped several thousand Palestinians from marching to the border with Israel, injuring at least 25. “The people want to liberate Palestine,” was one of the slogans the young people chanted earlier near the Israeli Embassy in Amman. “We are ready to die for Jerusalem. The right of return is sacred.” (AFP, May 15)

In Egypt, a huge crowd gathered in support of Palestine on May 13 in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Many had intentions of traveling to the border crossing with Gaza on May 15, to demand that the blockade of Gaza be broken. The Egyptian government, however, set up checkpoints and closed the bridge and tunnel into the Sinai Peninsula to stop this from happening.

As an alternative, Egyptian and Palestinian protesters gathered for hours at the Egyptian Embassy in Cairo on May 16, waving Palestinian flags and burning an Israeli flag. They demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the closing of the embassy. At least 350 pro-Palestinian demonstrators were injured, and over 150 were arrested when Egyptian police and military violently crushed this protest, firing live ammunition, tear gas grenades and rubber bullets at the crowd.

Spirits remained high, however, with youth grabbing the tear gas canisters and throwing them back at the army. Men and women raised a chant that is now well known in Egypt: “We are not afraid! We will not bow down! We have gotten used to bullets!”

A day of mourning and determination

There are now more than 4.8 million Palestinian refugees officially registered with UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, throughout the Arab world, including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian refugees are the longest-lasting and largest refugee population in the world. They live in limbo, a stateless people denied their human rights both internationally and in the countries where they live. Conditions for Palestinians are by far the worst in Lebanon.

May 16 was declared a day of mourning in all 12 Palestinian camps across Lebanon as families of the 11 people killed prepared to bury their dead.

All work stopped in Lebanon’s southern Palestinian camps to make way for mourners who gathered in their thousands to bid farewell to Imad Abu Shakra, 18; Abdel Rahman Said Sobhi, 20; and Mohammad Abu Shleeh, 28, three of those killed. Similar funerals were held in Al-Bass and Burj Al-Shamali camps near the southern port city of Tyre.

“In Ain el-Helwi, the bodies of Abu Shakra, Sobhi and Shleeh were held up high by procession members, who also carried banners and chanted slogans reflecting their deep longing for their loved Palestine.” The men had “sacrificed their lives for the right to return,” read one banner. “We will fight, we will die, we will return to Palestine,” read another. (Beirut Daily Star, May 16)
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Creative Resistance in Palestine’s Juliano Mer Khamis

By Dolores Cox
New York
Published May 18, 2011 3:44 PM

The life of a beloved freedom fighter, Juliano Mer Khamis, was ended by five bullets on April 4. He was assassinated as he was leaving the Jenin Freedom Theatre, which he co-founded with his mother, Arna Mer Khamis.

Juliano Mer Khamis was a fearless artist and human being. His legacy speaks of the role artistic creation and culture can play as a weapon against oppression, even amidst the most horrible depths of injustice.

The Freedom Theatre is a community-based theater in the city of Jenin in Palestine’s northern West Bank. Its refugee camp is home to 16,000 people, 50 percent of whom are under the age of 20. The camp, surrounded by electric fences, is one of the most deprived areas of Occupied Palestine. Its youth live in poverty and isolation under a repressive occupation, with the constant menace of military incursions.

When the Israeli military invaded Jenin in 2002, part of the refugee camp was reduced to rubble, with almost every child traumatized by fear, frustration and violence after witnessing first-hand or threatened death and destruction. The Freedom Theatre was established to offer a safe space where youth could be free to dream, play, hope and express themselves. Its aim is to heal, help capture lost childhood and provide skills for healthy development.

Juliano Mer Khamis was born in Nazareth to a Palestinian father and a Jewish Israeli mother. He self-identified as 100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish. His father, Saliba Khamis, was at one time secretary of the Israeli Communist Party. His mother, also a communist, became an anti-Zionist activist and fearless fighter for peace, justice and human rights.

During her pregnancy, at a protest in Israel against the racist imposition of martial law on Palestinian villages, she went into labor. She was rushed to a hospital, but doctors refused to treat her because she was married to an Arab, and she nearly bled to death.

When Mer Khamis grew up, he joined an elite fighting unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. In 1978, while stationed in Jenin, he refused an order to forcibly remove an elderly Palestinian man from his car. He ended up in a fight with his commanding officer and was subsequently imprisoned. He then left the army.

Beginning in the 1980s he worked as a film, TV and stage actor. The original Freedom Theatre Project was his mother’s vision, and Mer Khamis worked with her on the project, which was partly funded by prize money awarded to her for winning the Alternative Nobel Prize. She died in 1994.

The original Freedom Theatre was destroyed during Israel’s 2002 invasion. But in 2006 it was rebuilt and expanded and now offers various programs, workshops and filmmaking training.

Eight years ago Mer Khamis collaborated to produce and direct a documentary called “Arna’s Children,” which documents the theater’s work, the lives and deaths of the children who participated in the plays and theater workshops, and the 2002 unspeakable tragedy of the Israeli invasion. The film won the Best Documentary Feature prize at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival.

On May 4 a commemoration celebrating the life and work of Juliano Mer Khanis was held in New York City’s Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Musical tributes and video slides of Mer Khamis in various settings were shown throughout the evening. Among those present who gave tributes were poet Remi Kanazi; filmmaker Udi Aloni; civil rights attorney Abdeen Jabara; actress Kathleen Chalfant, who read a statement from playwright Eve Ensler; Linda Chapman, representing the New York Theatre Workshop; and playwright Tony Kusher, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner. A quote from Che Guevara was also included.

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