By Julie Webb-Pullman
Source: Gaza SCOOP
With the help of New Zealanders the Palestinian Family Charitable Association in Beit Hanoun has done it again – provided warm winter clothes and blankets for some of the neediest children in Gaza as the wintry weather begins to bite.
Not that there are very many children in Beit Hanoun who are not needy – 1,500 apartment blocks were destroyed in this town during the 51 day Israeli offensive in July-August, leaving many thousands homeless and their schools full of displaced families. (more…)
On the other side of the world from Palestine, in New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington, several members of the local Muslim community braved the freezing cold on Friday night to hold a vigil in Civic Square calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. (more…)
In a desperate attempt to stem the tsunami of international public support for boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israel for its illegal activities in Palestine, an Israeli Rent-a-Crowd from a local evangelical church turned up to try to counter a picket by Kiwi anti-Zionist protestors of a performance by Israeli government-funded dance company Batsheva at the St James Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand on Saturday night.
The NZ performance was under the auspices of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, and partially sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Wellington.
Despite numerous kiwi appeals to organisers to cancel the troupe’s invitation, and to the government to refuse them visas, both the festival organisers and the NZ government turned a deaf ear.
Not so the audience, who were left in no doubt as to the implications of their attendance at the event.
Two groups of protestors, one a combined network of Palestinian solidarity organisations in New Zealand and the other a group of pro-Zionists, were divided by security personnel to stand each side of the entrance way.
Waving placards and banners, the anti-Zionist protestors pointed out that The Batsheva Dance Company is part of the Israeli propaganda effort to deflect criticism of its policies towards Palestinians and other Arab countries. As the troupe is largely funded by the Israeli Ministry of Culture & Sport, the City of Tel Aviv and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who praise the troupe as “ambassadors of Israeli culture,” the NZ protestors said that supporting the performance is tantamount to supporting the oppressive – and illegal – practices of the Zionist regime.
To cheers from the crowd, some 15 people decided to forgo their tickets, saying they had no idea it was an Israeli-government sponsored event, and would never have bought them if they had been aware.
Shouts of “Shame” accompanied those who continued through the doors.
Meanwhile, in what is the clearest evidence yet that Israel’s propaganda campaign is an abject failure, the Rent-a-Crowd in the front line of the pro-Zionist group demonstrated not only their ignorance of the issues at stake, but also their general ignorance.
Waving placards with personal jibes at one of the anti-Zionist protestors, yelling personal abuse at the picketers, and merely screaming “lies” without providing any supporting evidence, this pro-Israel frontline showed none of the usual slick hasbara, but instead publicly displayed an appalling lack of personal respect and diplomacy, as well as a paucity of any arguments in Israel’s defence – quite possibly because there are none. Israel must surely be desperate to resort to such ‘supporters.’
As the anti-Zionist protesters said loud and clear, in a message which obviously rang true for many of the audience, “For the same reasons New Zealanders called for the end to rugby links with apartheid South Africa, we are calling for the cutting of ties with apartheid Israel.”
They also had a message for those who make the spurious claim that dance has no place in politics. Quoting University of Auckland Dance Studies Associate Professor Nicholas Rowe:
“If Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company would have the courage to refuse to offer their bodies up to the Israeli Defense Forces for annual military service, if they would have the courage to publicly condemn the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing theft of land and property by the government that pays them to tour in the name of Israel, if they would have the courage to publicly state that they do not judge people by their religion or ethnicity and so would welcome the return of non-Jewish refugees back to their homes inside what is now Israel, then they would be touring to New Zealand as dance artists, and not just as political puppets.”
Israel, by its own efforts, has booked its ticket in history alongside the South African apartheid regime. A Rent-a-Crowd of slogan-shouters hurling personal abuse is not going to save it from admission to a similar fateful performance.
A short video of the picket is here
Norway, Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand have already done it. The United Kingdom, Germany, Greece and Italy are about to.
Activists all around the planet are today presenting Egyptian embassies and consulates with the demands of more than 12,000 people worldwide to permanently open the Rafah crossing, leave the tunnels alone, and allow travel and trade for Gazans trapped by the Israeli siege.
First off the mark was Norway, where Lene Oline Sedolfsen presented the petition to the Egyptian diplomats. Next was Ottowa, where Tyler Levitan and Hassan Husseini made the delivery. Then Washington DC, where Pam Bailey accompanied Medea Benjamin and Gael Murphy to the Egyptian consulate presented the demands to Dr. Yasser Elwy. In Sydney James Godfrey and Michael Coleman from Free Gaza Australia handed it over to consular official Ahmed Morsy, while in New Zealand Egyptian embassy official Mahmoud Zayed received it from Julie Webb-Pullman in Wellington.
The petition, an initiative of the #OpenRafahBorder International Campaign, a grassroots organisation of students and activists from Gaza who deceided to do something about the suffering caused by the Rafah border closures, was accepted by all of the diplomats with courtesy and respect, and promises to forward them to their superiors in Cairo.
The activists reported the diplomats also made the same points:
• While Egypt is concerned about the situation in Gaza, it is primarily an issue for Israel as the occupying power. Thus, for example, Egypt does not want to formalize or legalize the tunnels — which would let Israel off the hook, while also jeopardizing Egypt’s security.
• Egypt has a right to deal with security issues in the Sinai Peninsular. There is no policy calling for, or a desire to impose, collective punishment. Its restrictions on traffic in and out of Rafah come only when there is terrorist activity in the Sinai. Egypt must also worry about its population there, so there is an inevitable, unavoidable trade-off.
• Egypt is working to end the occupation by supporting John Kerry’s so-called “peace process.”
• Egypt feels a strong bond with the Palestinians, and always will.
While it is not surprising to hear them all singing from the same songbook, they may find themselves surprised by the increasingly loud chorus from the international community unsatisfied with their libretto.
Nothing any of the Egyptian diplomats said justifies the role of Egypt in the continued closure of Gaza, and the ongoing suffering of 1.7 million people.
“Ultimately, Rafah must be expanded to allow security without closure, as well as the movement of goods, in addition to people,” said Pam Bailey after the meeting in Washington DC.
Is this a realistic prospect?
It certainly is. Earlier this month Israel rejected a donated high-tech container scanner at the Kerem Shalom crossing that Dutch officials consider would provide a solution to Israel’s security concerns about Gazan exports.
If the Egyptians are serious about their bond with Palestinians, avoiding collective punishment, and dealing with security issues, they and the Netherlands could negotiate the scanner’s relocation to Rafah – and open the border forthwith.