Report from Gaza: Freedom March, Earlier Today

Hi everyone,
 
I was just out on the road with my class, shooting video and photos of the Gaza Freedom March. It was a very energizing event from my perspective, and that of the class members, but I’m afraid somewhat of a disappointment for the marchers and organizers. The exception to that, I would guess, is the amount of press coverage, which I think was quite good, considering the # of microphones set up where speeches were made, and the huge crunch of TV, video & photo camera people that formed a half circle around the speakers.
 
Among the speakers was a rabbi from New York City, with three or four other rabbis at his side. He talked about the need to end the siege and the occupation, among other things.
 
As you may have heard, only 100 internationals were allowed to pass through Egypt and enter Gaza. This, of course, was a source of enormous frustration for the other 1270 or so machers who were left behind in Cairo.
 
I believe the choices in who was allowed in were based on getting at least one from each country represented. When we first arrived on the scene, outside Beit Hannoun, which is north of Gaza City, there was probably less than 1000 Palestinians present. Far lower than the previously anticipated 50,000. Based on what I heard, this was due to a number of factors. First, three Palestinians were killed near the Erez border last week when Israeli troops opened fire on them. The Israelis believed they were planting mines; the Palestinians said they were collecting scrap metal. Additionally, from what I’ve heard, Hamas got in the middle of things once the 100 internationals arrived, and there may have been internal safety concerns as well. One of the youth organizers here at AFSC-Gaza was wounded early this year when Hamas troops opened fire on a Palestinian unity march he was leading.
 
At any rate, when the freedom marchers started their march into the free zone, most of the Palestinians left. Also, the Palestinians who worked for the media were not allowed to follow along at first, but after awhile, someone must have convinced Hamas troops to let the join the marchers who had stopped 100 meters away on the other side of the zone. Some of the marchers sat down, a few more speeches were made, a couple of songs were sung (including “We Shall Overcome“, AKA “We Shall End the Siege”), and then the marchers turned back and got back on their bus. It is unclear, I think to  them as well as the rest of us, whether that’s the end of it or not.
 
I’ll update when/if there is anything more here. I will say again, the press turnout seemed good. (Three of my students were interviewed by a Venezuelan TV station!) Hopefully the press coverage is just as good in Egypt for the rest of the marchers. I’d be interested to hear from people about coverage in the USA. I wouldn’t expect much from mainstream media, but if any network does cover it, and cover it fairly, I’d be interested to know.
Please write me at joepublicfilms@yahoo.com
 
Peace, Salaam, Shalom, (another song they were singing as they marched)
Tom

Taking the Pulse in Gaza

Joe Public Films founder and producer Tom Jackson is currently in Gaza, teaching a class in basic video production to a Gazan youth group from American Friends Service Committee’s office in Gaza City. He is also attempting to get a clear picture of life in Gaza under siege and occupation. This is the first blog installment from his visit.

If you came to Gaza but only visited Gaza City, you might wonder what the concern is over. Downtown Gaza city is a buzzing area with universities, cabs flying everywhere (and I mean everywhere, including in the wrong lanes), and people going about their business. While unemployment in all of Gaza is well over 50%, it seems that Gaza City has been at least somewhat spared, both in the bombing last year, and in the economic and humanitarian crisis this year.
 
Outside Gaza City, where I have now been a few times, one can see very easily and clearly what the problem is. Two days ago I visited families still living in tents because their homes were destroyed almost a year ago. One family, with several small children, was finding it very hard to feed their youngest child of only a few months. They told me she is under-weight– a fact that was quite visible to me. They could not get enough milk to feed her. When I hear stories like this as I am video taping, knowing that in just a few weeks I can go back to the comfort and relative ease of my life far away, it fills me with a very dark feeling. What on Earth can I say? Certain things come to mind– “I’ll do everything that I can”– but, somehow it just isn’t enough. They don’t want or need words. We wound up telling them that we would contact ANERA, which is an organization that helps refugees with various issues, and if they can’t help we will ask them who can. We’re following up today. 
 
In refugee camps around the Gaza Strip there are many stories like this. Homes destroyed, and no ability to rebuild because the siege keeps rebuilding materials out of the country. Bad water because in some places water treatment plants were damaged or destroyed. The potential for a huge humaintarian catastrophe here is great, if the siege is not lifted soon. H1N1 in a place like this is truly something to be afraid of– Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, conditions are bad and not getting better, and the population is very young, so a large % of the population is in the vulnerable age range. Apparently there are vaccines in Gaza now, but by all accounts that I’ve heard so far, not enough. It is unclear to me why there is not enough. I’ll continue to look into it and write about this again.
 
There are so many issues that I plan to interview people about while I’m here, including the water issue, the challenges faced by farmers (water issues again, and now fertilizer and equipment shortages due to the siege), fishermen (Israel is limiting their range off the coast that is accessible to them), issues mentioned before like unemployment and inability to rebuild.
 
Meanwhile there is talk of the Gaza Freedom March. Gazans I’ve talked to differ widely in their beliefs on whether the marchers will be allowed in. Most are doubtful, because Egypt, they believe, is unlikely to be cooperative (more on that later). Whatever the case, there are two internal marches planned, from inside Gaza to the two borders — Rafah on the Egyptian border, and Erez on the Israeli border. There are probably even fewer Gazans who believe these marches will be allowed to cross the border to leave Gaza. Still, the point will be made.
 
Wherever people are able to hold a vigil or a rally on any of the last days of December or on January 1st, in order to express support for lifting the siege on Gaza, your efforts will be greatly appreciated here. There is a gathering planned in Central Maine, and peace and justice activists here have been glad to hear about it.
 
My apologies for taking awhile to get some description  of life in Gaza out. It takes some time to take the pulse, but I am starting to get a better sense of thinsg here, including politically, which I’ll write more about soon.

Out of Balance a hit in Paraguay

JPF received word from the organizer of the film fest in Paraguay re. the August 14th screening of Out of Balance. The organizer, Hugo Gamarra Etcheverry, refers to “Marisela” at TeleSur Internacional who saved the day by providing a DVD with Spanish captions.

“I want you to know that the DVD arrived to our hands 2 hours before the show ! Thanks so much again Marisela.

The film was shown for a crowd of 120 persons, who applauded spontaneously at the end and during the conversation session afterwards, there were mostly expressions of concern for what the film tells and appreciation for the way it is told. So, Tom, I am very happy for my selection. There is another screening on the 24th.”

The festival’s website is www.pla.net.py/cinefest/festidoc

Autumn trailer for documentary in production

This is the autumn trailer/fundraising video for our current documentary, which is in production. “No Country for Cold Men” is about the home heating oil crisis in Maine. Last year there were reports of people having to choose between food, meds, gas for the car, or home heating oil. This year is likely to be as bad or worse. This documentary is being produced in hopes of raising awareness, concern and action. While we move toward renewables and away from oil, we must help those in need.