Summer 2012

The 64th anniversary of Al Nakba: Palestinians remember and US students learn
By Ziad Abbas, MECA Associate Director May is the month when Palestinians all over the world commemorate the Nakba—the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians, perpetuated by Zionist militias to create the state of Israel in 1948. This time of year, MECA gets many requests to speak about the history of Palestine to high school, junior high and college classes around the Bay Area and throughout the country. As we commemorate the 64th year since the Nakba, I, once again, find myself here in the United States, thousands of miles away from my homeland, talking to schoolchildren. As always, I expect to have to start with the basics. I talk to students about history, about human rights, about Palestinian refugees and the Right of Return. I explain to them about The 64th Anniversary of Al Nakba, Continued on page 2

Zeineb from Dheisheh Refugee Camp on her first visit to her family’s village Zakariya

Photo: Ziad Abbas

By Barbara Lubin MECA Founder and Director

In January I had an unbelievable trip to Gaza. I met MECA’s Gaza Projects Director Dr. Mona El-Farra in Cairo and we went to the border not knowing if we’d get in. We were in a car accident and suffered only bruises but the family in the other car was badly injured. Almost the whole time I was there it was incredibly windy and cold with pouring rain like I have never seen. Of course, even Dr. Mona who has more than most people in Gaza, only had electricity for a few hours each day. I want to tell you about my visits to projects that MECA has supported in the past and others that we may support at some point, but first I must tell you about the shocking and horrible events of our first few nights in Gaza city. Very early one morning there was a lot of noise outside Dr. Mona’s apartment building so I got out of bed to see what was happening. From the window I could see a group of old homes on the beach where sixty-one families have lived since they were made refugees in 1948. The sea has been their livelihood ever since. Many people remember the early days of the first Intifada when Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to Gaza and demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes to make the roads wide enough for the Israeli tanks to enter the cities. Imagine the shock the families felt to see about 100 Palestinian police officers ar-

Photo: S. Smith Patrick

My visit to Gaza, Continued on page 3

The 64th Anniversary of Al Nakba, Continued from page 1 what happened to my family, how I came to live in a refugee camp, and how thoughts of my village have been in the front of my mind, every day of my life since I was a young child. I explain to them that it is not just me. No matter where Palestinian refugees live—in refugee camps, in “Israel,” the Arab world, Europe, America, or anywhere else—they still feel their refugee status because they are not free to go back and live in their original villages, on their family’s land. These conversations are not easy. When I talk about my own family’s village near Jerusalem called Zakariya, they ask me, “Does Zakariya village exist right now?” I explain yes, it exists, but only in history books, on maps before 1948, in Palestinian or Arab maps, and referred to by people in solidarity with Palestine. The name has been changed to the Hebrew “Kfar Zakharia,” and only Jewish Israeli families who came from Poland, Germany, Russia, and other countries, are allowed to live there now. The mosque still exists, but it is abandoned and almost collapsing. The school building still exists, but it has become a supermarket. Zakariya is a broken place, an occupied place, a place stripped of its story, a place that longs for its people to return and bring it to life. In many ways, Zakariya lives in everyone: in the Nakba generation, and in the generations after, like me. Although, I am usually forbidden from going there, my roots are in Zakariya. I usually expect the students to know very little about Palestine. But recently something has changed. I am surprised to hear students use words related to the Palestinian struggle like Nakba and Intifada (uprising). They know the meaning of these words and they have some understanding of Palestinian history. When I ask students “Why do you think Israelis worked really hard to plant trees after the Nakba?” some answer, “because they don’t want refugees to come back,” or “to erase history.” Some say, “to change everything on the ground.” Others say “to make it beautiful.” Students know more than in the past. They are more interested and they have immediate access to more information than ever before. Sometimes when I am speaking about Palestine, students are looking things up on their computers or smart phones, in some cases adding things I have left out. Once, the Palestinian perspective was silenced. Now, information is accessible, and all we need is the desire for people to learn. Schools are also more supportive than ever before. I recently spoke at a middle school where children study a curriculum on the Middle East for four to six weeks, and in the end present different peace proposals for Palestine. I was amazed at how deep they were going into issues such as water, walls, statehood, Apartheid, and even questioning what they have been told about the history of the region. They raised many critical questions about the official peace proposals that ignored international human rights and rights of Palestinians as indigenous people. One girl declared, “What is going on there is messed up!” The growing awareness and, in many cases, activism of young people here is inspired by young people in the Arab world. Along with the Arab Spring, we are seeing the blooming of a Palestinian Spring. The creativity of Palestinian resistance has expanded to different forms using art, music, dance, media, technology and social media. Rejuvenating this struggle is the creativity of individuals who are taking it upon themselves to challenge the entire system of Israeli oppression. We saw political prisoners Adnan Khader and Hana Shalabi confront the Israeli policy of administrative detention (indefinite arrest without charges or trial) and now more thana thousand of other Palestinian political prisoners following them on hunger strike. Even schoolchildren in the United States know that what Israel is doing cannot be justified. Israeli propaganda used to justify atrocities is beginning to lose momentum. People realize that no matter what happens to the Palestinian people, they will continue insisting on their own basic rights, especially the right of return. More and more people around the world are inspired by the strength and commitment Palestinians have shown towards the global struggle for truth and justice. At the Middle East Children’s Alliance we are committed to working with people living in refugee camps, and grassroots organizations and movements. We support people’s lives in Palestine by building playgrounds, water purification systems, finding scholarships for students, sending medical aid, and supporting programs for children to visit their original villages. We do this because we stand by the Palestinian right to return, and we continue to be inspired by the new generation’s commitment, both in and out of school, to learn and bring new energy to the struggle for justice in Palestine.

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My visit to Gaza, Continued from page 1 rive to tell the families that they had one hour to get all their belongings out of their homes because their own government was going to demolish the houses. I had met the families a few days before when a young woman, Ibtisam, came to see Dr. Mona. Dr. Mona El-Farra is the person you go to in Gaza if you have a problem or need help. She knows everyone. Ibtisam was very upset and she asked us to come and speak with her father. The problem was that the Gaza government was demanding that all 61 families move out of their homes in 3 days. The families refused, saying that they had lived there for more than sixty years. But they were willing to consider moving if the government found housing for all of them near the sea so they could continue to fish and earn a living. They all believed there would be some kind of agreement soon. The morning the police arrived, Dr. Mona and I ran down to the homes. People were screaming and crying. Everyone was going into their homes and carrying out whatever they could. An old man probably around my age (70) just sat in front of his candy store staring out in disbelief. Mona and I stayed as long as we could, begging the police to stop this nightmare and let us help with some kind of negotiation; at least to figure out where the families were going to stay. The whole time it was so freezing cold and raining so hard you could hardly see six inches in front of you. The families went to stay at a nearby mosque while Mona and our friends Talal and Mohammad went all over Gaza City, waking up merchants and getting them to open their stores so we could buy 65 warm blankets and pillows, and hundreds of dollars of food. When we arrived with truckloads of supplies, everyone came running, crying and thanking us. After we sent an emergency message about this tragedy to our email list, many people sent money and we were able to provide more help. Three months later, people are still in temporary shelters or living with friends and relatives. Once again, refugees in their own land.

MECA Welcomes New Babies
All of us at the Middle East Children’s Alliance join countless friends and family members in welcoming two new members to the “Extended MECA Family.”

Above: Hiba Yasir Kaheil was born on Friday, January 20, 2012 in Hayward, California. She is the daughter of MECA Communications and Program Coordinator Leena Al-Arian and Yasir Kaheil. Left: Marcel Hazem Sadi Alqassas was born Friday, March 16th, 2012 in Bethlehem, Palestine. He is the son of MECA Program Director Josie Shields-Stromsness and Hazem Alqassas.

MECA NEWS 3

Remembering Adrienne Rich
By Penny Rosenwasser, MECA Events Coordinator It is unimaginable to me that my treasured friend Adrienne Rich is gone. I met Adrienne when she gave a benefit reading for MECA and the Rosenberg Fund for Children in 2000 to raise funds to produce “Celebrate the Children of Resistance,” an event that featured the letters of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, including appearances by Ed Asner, Danny Glover, Janice Mirikitani, Utah Phillips, Ani DiFranco, and Holly Near. I got to drive her from Berkeley back to her home with Michelle Cliff in Santa Cruz. “What an excellent driver you are, Penny.” Adrienne told me when we pulled into her driveway. “Please come in and join me and Michelle for dinner.” That salmon was so delicious, exceeded only by the conversation, warmth, generosity, camaraderie. I left that night with the gift of a signed copy of Adrienne’s latest book. “the creation of a society without domination.” For all those worldwide fighting for justice and freedom, we have lost a heroine. Adrienne’s was a life well lived. I will miss her dearly. Adrienne Rich on her decision to endorse the Academic and Cultural boycott of Israel:

I remember, especially, when she called me in 2002, after the Israeli women’s peace movement invited her to come to Tel Aviv; she very much wanted to go, but wasn’t sure her health could handle it. Since I was showing my slideshow “Women Waging Peace in Israel & Palestine” nearby, I offered to come talk more with her about the possible trip. Once I arrived, I suggested: “Why don’t I show you some slides?” So I whipped out More information about the boycott: my slide carousel and projector, and spent the next hour showing www.pacbi.org, Adrienne and Michelle images of anti-occupation work in Israel- www.usacbi.org Palestine—projected onto the refrigerator in their kitchen. Adrienne’s integrity and courage were always a model for me: I was stunned when she refused the National Medal for the Arts from President Clinton in 1997, the highest award given to artists, after he made drastic cuts in welfare. She simply could not, in good conscience, accept an honor from someone who had taken away a program so essential to the nation’s poor. “Art means nothing,” Adrienne wrote in her letter to the Administration, “if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.” In a 1984 speech she summed up her reason for writing—and, by loud unspoken implication, her reason for being—in just seven words. What she and her sisters-in-arms were fighting to achieve, she said, was simply this:

“Israel’s blockading of information, compassionate aid, international witness and free cultural and scholarly expression has become extreme and morally stone-blind… Academic institutions are surely only relative sites of power. But they are, in their funding and governance, implicated with state economic and military power. And US media, institutions and official policy have gone along with all this.”

Poets (L to R) Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur, Adrienne Rich, 1980 Photo: K. Kendall

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MECA is proud to announce the publication of a new book by Dr. Mona El-Farra, MECA Director of Gaza Projects. I woke up this morning to hear the shocking news of my mother’s house demolition. The Israeli bulldozers demolished the well adjacent to the house, as well as dozens of houses in the area. They also uprooted vast areas of bountiful agricultural land that includes orange, olive, and guava groves. Many families in the area are homeless, with the Red Cross just recently supplying them with tents. I cannot explain to you how bad I feel. All my childhood memories ... I still remember my late father’s rare photos, the minute I first drank that water from our well out of his hands. I still remember the joy of the relatives, friends, and neighbors coming to celebrate this moment with us. The olive, orange, and guava trees, and many other trees, do not carry symbolic value only; they also have great economic value. They are lifelines for many families in the area. Agriculture is these people’s only income. The Israelis aim to decimate our already annihilated economy, to uproot us, to destroy our culture and to deny our very existence on this land for thousands of years. It is worth telling you that the Israeli army did not give any warning. The houses were demolished with the furniture inside. As you know, my mother lives in that house, but recently I invited her to stay with me because of the difficult times. My mother feels so bad about what happened. Our thoughts are with our neighbors, who are very poor and have no alternative homes. Besides everything else I have mentioned, these demolitions are a huge blow to the environment. Some of the trees, especially the tall beautiful trees we call Jumaiz, are very rare species. What is happening is a major violation of human rights, a blow to the economy, environment, and peace. I feel angry, helpless, devastated, abandoned. The sad fact is that despite all these crimes against humanity, most Israelis do not care.

During these difficult moments, I remember a very touching poem, by the most gifted Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish:

I came back from the dead, To live I represent an uncompromising wound, The brutality of my executor has taught me, To bite the bullet, And carry on, And sing, I will sing, I will resist, I will resist.

MECA is offering a complimentary copy of From Gaza, with Love as a special thank-you for all gifts of $50 or more between through August 31st, 2012. If you’d like to get the book, please let us know and send your shipping address with your contribution or in an email to meca@mecaforpeace.org. Thank you for your support!

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Rebuilding and Celebration in Silwan, East Jerusalem
In the early morning of February 13th, Israeli forces bulldozed the cultural café and the adjacent sports field that MECA supporters helped build in Silwan, East Jerusalem. Dozens of people responded to MECA’s emergency appeal and a temporary structure was built in just a few weeks. MECA Supporter Cathy Shields was in Silwan for the celebration and sent this report: Mothers’ Day is celebrated in March in Palestine. On March 22, Madaa Silwan Creative Center held a special Mothers’ Day program. About 200 people, mainly children and their mothers, showed up for the program which included music, singing, and even drama—all performed by the children who participate in the community center’s amazing after school programs. The children played a wide range of instruments from the piano, to guitars, to the oud. Child after child stood up before the microphone to sing solo parts with such poise and confidence. It was a wonderful program and all the more moving because the performance was held on the site of the recently destroyed cultural cafe. So, here we were in a crowd of people from Silwan with the kids performing where the cultural cafe once stood, where once the wonderful murals were displayed that artists from the U.S. painted with the children from the community, and where ping pong and foosball games for children were housed. Now they have a temporary structure, children’s paintings are attached to the surrounding fence, the foosball and other items are repaired, though outside to make room for the stage erected for today’s celebration, and one of the soccer goals survived as a reminder of what once was a field for the kids to play.

Jawad Siyam, Director of Madaa Center, took the stage to rousing applause from the audience. He thanked everyone for coming, acknowledged the music teacher and event coordinator and praised the children for their great performance. Besides coming together and acknowledging mothers, it was also an opportunity for the community to make visible that they will continue to peacefully resist the violent and illegal activities orchestrated by the Israeli Authorities against the Palestinians in Silwan.

Photos: Cathy Sheilds

Sports under occupation with Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin talks with fans at MECA event
Photo: Penny Rosenwasser

culture, especially one that involves so much money, power discrepancies, and public attention is political in lots of ways. Speaking about sports under occupation and apartheid in Palestine, Dave described the ways Palestinian athletes are prevented, by Israeli policies, from being able to fulfill their athletic potential—from lack of access to equipment to travel prohibitions to exclusion from teams and leagues to the destruction of sports facilities and the confiscation of land. He also talked about the potential for sports figures to strengthen public concern about Palestinian rights by speaking out and boycotting Israeli sporting events, just as athletes did in the movement to end racial Apartheid in South Africa. Check out Dave Zirin’s website: www.edgeofsports.com. Even if you couldn’t care less about sports, you’ll appreciate his insight, wit and commitment to justice.

In March MECA held the first of what we hope will be many events with Dave Zirin who writes and talks about the interconnection of sports and politics. “What interconnection?” many people ask. Dave makes the case that every aspect of popular

After 26 months of waiting for a nongovernmental organization permit that normally takes just a few weeks, a new organization in Dheisheh Refugee Camp called Shorooq—sunrise in Arabic—will soon open its doors. While the organization is technically new, MECA has been connected to Shorooq’s leadership and programs for more than fifteen years. In fact, MECA’s Associate Director Ziad Abbas is one of the founders of Shorooq’s predeccesor the Ibdaa Cultural Center. If you are a long-time supporter, if you’ve been on a MECA delegation, or if you attended a performance of the youth dance troupe from Dheisheh, you’re probably familiar with the Ibdaa Cultural Center. Ibdaa was for many years MECA’s closest Palestinian partner. Three times we brought their youth dance troupe to the U.S. for national tours that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for facilities, equipment and programs in Dheisheh, at the same time giving the young people the chance to tell their stories and those of their families and community through dance. Sadly, in November 2009 a small group of people hijacked Ibdaa’s board elections and took over the organization. The people MECA had worked with for so many years—young people who had essentially come of age within the organization and had become the new leadership—were forced out. Other staff and volunteers left as they saw programs dismantled as the new board shifted the organization’s priorities.
Photo: calmintheholylands.blogspot.com

Those who left Ibdaa were determined to continue to provide a place where the leadership of women and youth was respected and programs were developed based on the needs of the community. When they decided to start a new organization they didn’t expect it to take two years to get a permit but they were not deterred by the long wait. Shorooq now has an official permit, a building, a large base of dedicated volunteers and strong, committed leadership. Soon children and youth from all over Dheisheh Refugee Camp will be coming to the center for its innovative programming. All of us at MECA are thrilled that our long-time partners in Dheisheh Refugee Camp have a new home.

A Life-Saving Gift for the Children
YES! I want to help meet the basic needs of children in the Middle East and give
them opportunities to learn, play, and envision a better future.
Here is my special contribution to help MECA:

Install water purification systems in Gaza schools • Support community arts, sports, and media programs Deliver medical aid to Palestine and Iraq • Provide scholarships for Palestinian students
[ ] $250 [ ] $100 [ ] $50 [ ] $25 [ ] $ ____________ [ ] My check payable to MECA is enclosed. [ ] Please charge my credit card in the amount indicated above. Card #: ____________________________Exp: ____________Security Code_________ Signature: _____________________________________________________________ Name: ________________________________________________________________ Address: ______________________________________________________________ City, ST, Zip: ____________________________________________________________ Email: _________________________________________________________________
MECA is a 501(c)3 exempt organization. Your gift is tax-deductible as a charitable contribution.

New Book!

A Child’s View from Gaza: Palestinian Children’s Art and the Fight Against Censorship

The Middle East Children’s Alliance published our first book last fall. A Child’s View from Gaza: Palestinian Children’s Art and the Fight Against Censorship is a collection of drawings by children from the Gaza Strip—art that was censored by the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland, California. With beautiful, high-resolution print images of the exhibit, the book also features a special foreword by celebrated author, Alice Walker, as well as an essay by MECA Executive Director, Barbara Lubin, describing the struggle against the censorship.