Monday, December 3, 2012

Ceasefire in Gaza: Vancouver Responds with Two Voices

On November 2012 a ceasefire was arrived at between Israel and Palestine ending the latest massacre in the ongoing violence that is the occupation and blockade of the Gaza Strip. 162 Palestinians and 6 Israelis were killed during a ferocious, week-long air and sea bombardment. That same evening, two events were taking place in Vancouver. One was billed an emergency meeting at Temple Shalom that was sponsored by the Governments of Canada and Israel, and a Christian Zionist organization , The International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem. The Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the State of Israel, Stockewell Day, and Jason Kenney (via video) were amongst those making the case that "never before has Canada’s support for Israel been so critical. Attend a community-wide emergency briefing this Wednesday evening on the current crisis in Israel." The other event taking place simultaneously was a gathering of local Palestine solidarity activists. They were demonstrating outside the synagogue to protest the arrival of persons implicated in the carnage taking place in Gaza and to demand an end to the violence. One crisis. Two narratives.

After the Netanyahu Government had readied 75,000 soldiers for a ground invasion, the announcement of the ceasefire brokered by Egypt's new President Morsi was very welcome, if not somewhat unanticipated.

By way of self-disclosure, as my political focus embraces international law and upholds universal human rights, when it comes to Palestine-Israel, my position is that ending the illegal military occupation of Palestine is a prerequisite for subsequent negotiations. I was therefor genuinely interested in how a meeting designed to strengthen support for Israel's military assault on Gaza would unfold amidst a call for peace.

To set the stage for the "crisis" that Israel was facing, the evening began with a video filmed in Siderot showing the "devastating effects of Hamas' rockets on the civilian population of Israel". The intended effect of the message was achieved as those in attendance were visibly shocked and angry. What was remarkable was how a shot of a broken car window followed by a scene of someone exhibiting signs of emotional distress, were presented as justification of a massive military assault on the civilian Palestinian population of Gaza. The audience that evening clearly had not seen pictures of the devastation caused by one-ton bombs destroying entire neighborhoods. They hadn't see footage of charred infants being pulled out of destroyed schools and homes. The distorted reality that was created by the carefully prepared propaganda footage was again that Isreal was the victim facing imminent and grave danger. That these events were initiated by Israel within a context of a systematic and institutionalized project of subjugation was entirely missing.

Stockwell Day spoke first. He told how Israel doesn't target civilians. The people nodded approvingly. Some clapped. That he was capable of uttering this lie without mentioning that earlier in the week journalists were willfully targeted and killed, or that ten members of the Dalu family, mainly women and children, were killed by so-called "precision, surgical strikes" was so troubling that I spontaneously stood up and voiced my disagreement. I was afraid to speak out, but I felt I had to, if for nothing else as a way to honor the lives of the innocent children who were discounted by Mr. Day. "Excuse me, Sir, but the well-documented killing of children and journalists are war crimes and these events seriously draw into question your point about Israel avoiding civilian targets." Akin to a school of sardines in the sea, the entire room, like a unified organism, suddenly shifted in their seats and glared at me. I sat down. My heart was pounding with fear and anger. Mr. Day did not skip a beat and the biased misrepresentations continued to gush forth non-stop. The crowd was entranced by his appeal to Jewish pride conveyed in a highly emotive, evangelical tone. I felt disturbed how this holy place of reflection and transcendence was being used to merge blind faith with a fervent and angry Nationalism.

The second time I spoke up was when Mr. Day talked of how the United Nations had agreed on the right of Israel to exist from the time of the State's inception in 1948. As there was no mention that in fact the UN Resolution he was referring to explicitly mandated that the partition of Historic Palestine was to also include a Palestinian State, I mentioned that Palestinians too have a right to exist in their homeland. More glares. More mean-spirited dishonesty. It was intolerable and I decided I had to leave. Someone at about the same time complained about me to security. As I was getting up to depart, two police officers approached me and said that I needed to leave. I told them that I did not need to be "escorted" out, as the information being conveyed was inaccurate and manipulative and I was thus leaving on my own accord. As they were walking me outside, I engaged the two officers in a short conversation. I told them that having been to Palestine on various occasions, I could assure them that the violence committed by the occupying Israeli military was being entirely dismissed this evening. To my surprise, they listened attentively and told me that they understand what I was saying, but as we were out-numbered here, it was best if I took my message outside. I did just that and joined in the chanting, " Viva, viva Palastina!"

I was later told that security personnel checked under my seat after I left. Voicing the truth was explosive enough.

J Max Soos

Friday, August 24, 2012

Afternoon Stroll in Brussels

Global Pilgrim & Global Tintin
Floral Carpet at  Grand Place
Bruxelles ciel
Biscuiterie Dandoy


Monday, August 13, 2012

Fishing in Occupied Gaza's Mediterranean

Fishing in Gaza, Occupied Palestine

Yellow and white fishing boats are moored for the day. Next to the intensely blue sea and brilliant sunshine, the initial colourful impression is one of tradition and familiarity. I am not a fisherman, but living in Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific Coast, I appreciate the many ways in which the sea is of importance to coastal communities. The salt air, sight of the gentle waves rocking the boats, and the hungry screeching of the seagulls pleases me.

Walking closer to the boats, I notice the well-worn patina of years of salt-water damage. Rusted machinery, chipping paint and badly damaged nets reflect the limited resources available for regular maintenance.

I am at the port of Gaza, to meet with Mahfouz Kabariti.  In addition to being the Coordinator of the Fishermen's Solidarity Campaign in the Gaza Strip, Mr. Kabariti is the President of the Palestine Sailing Federation and the President of the Palestine Society for Marine Sports. We talk about the new international solidarity project - Gaza’s Ark. Unlike previous maritime challenges of the Israeli blockade of Gaza that involved ships sailing to Gaza, Gaza’s Ark will build a boat in Gaza and sail out to the world from Gaza– challenging the illegal blockade from within.

As we walked along the pier, we met a group of fishermen. They invited us aboard to have tea. That afternoon I heard stories unlike anything I could ever have imagined. Tales of Israeli war ships attacking fishers at sea. People forced at gunpoint to strip, jump into the sea and swim towards navy vessels to be brutally interrogated for fishing. One man told of his son who was killed by Israeli gunfire while fishing.

While I had read about the naval blockade of Gaza, perused UN charts, it was not until I talked to these men that the horror of this aspect of the blockade crystalized in my mind.

Fishing Threatened by Israel’s Blockade of Gaza

Fishing the Mediterranean waters off the coast of Gaza in Occupied Palestine is dangerous. Very dangerous. The most significant risks confronting the Gazan fishing community are not the forces of nature. The turbulent waters these fishers face on a daily basis are caused by a belligerent navy acting on behalf of Israel’s illegal occupation and crushing blockade.  Naval gunships aggressively enforce an arbitrary three nautical mile fishing limit.  It is this mean-spirited, aggressive practice that prevents the fishers from practicing their traditional profession. The few and small fish inhabiting the shallow waters close to shore cannot sustain their livelihood.

Should the fishers attempt to sail out to deeper waters, they risk being shot at by navy gunboats. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights documented 92 attacks launched by the Israeli Occupation Forces between January and June 2012. Needless to say, it is absolutely prohibited by international law to target civilians. Moreover, even within the ever-shrinking permitted “fishing zone range”, the Israeli Navy continues to deliberately fire on the fishing boats and to harass and arrest its crew.

A Little Context

Gaza is a forty-two-kilometre long and six-kilometre wide strip of land, bordered by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, that is part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (The West Bank and East Jerusalem comprise the rest of Occupied Palestine.)

Unlike one’s customary image of a Mediterranean coastal paradise, Gaza is an impoverished, ecologically damaged, economically destitute and dangerous, humanitarian disaster zone. The inhabitants’ fundamental human rights are completely abridged. Basic freedoms such as freedom of movement, self-determination and the right to life are eclipsed in Gaza – as in the rest of Palestine.

1.6 million people reside in the tiny Gaza Strip, making it one of the most densely populated regions in the world; over 4,500 people per square kilometre. Unemployment in Gaza remains at 34%. The poverty level is 38%. A shortage of basic foods, medicines, fuel and building supplies further undermine quality of life and social cohesion and contributes to chronic medical illnesses and psychological distress.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect to this on-going misery is that these severe living conditions are directly attributable to a purposeful policy of containment and subjugation -  enforced by Israel’s military dictatorship.

People live in deplorable conditions because of wilfully thought-out political decisions aimed at collective punishment and continued colonization.

Impact of the Israeli Blockade on Fishing in Gaza

Following the Oslo Accords, Gazan fishermen were allowed access to waters 20 nautical miles from the shore. In 2002, Israel reduced the permitted fishing zone to 12 nautical miles. In 2006 the allowable zone was further restricted to 6 nautical miles, and since the devastating Operation Cast Lead (December 2008 to January 2009) - and where it stands to date -  fishing is not permitted beyond three nautical miles off the coast.

Thus 85% of fishing waters are now inaccessible to the Gazan fishing community.

Since 2010, the Israeli Navy arrested 66 fishers, including seven children.

Prior to being arrested, often within the sanctioned, militarily enforced fishing zone, fishermen are typically and sadistically ordered to remove their clothing and to swim to the patrol boats. Once on board, they are blindfolded and interrogated. The Palestinians can have their boats seized and they face imprisonment.

The rationale for this aggressive, and increasingly lethal action is that the fishing boats may be carrying weapons intended for coastal Israel. If that was the real concern, why not simply search the boats?

Fishers represent the most impoverished sector of Gazan society. In 2012 90% of fishing folks were at the poverty level. In 2008, there was a 50% poverty rate amongst the fishers. The rate in which the fishing life-style is being destroyed is tragic. In 2009, 53% less fish were caught then just one year earlier.  Today there is 35% less income generated by fishing then there was in 1999. Due to these restrictions, fishing has been reduced by 65% in ten years.

There are now 3, 500 fishermen, and I understand one fishing woman – Go Girl! -  attempting to eke out a living and heroically maintain a traditional way of life that is being destroyed by occupation forces. 65,000 people’s lives are impacted by these maritime closures and 26.5 million dollars in potential revenue has been lost in the last five years.

The human cost? Totally preventable devastation due to an illegal and brutally enforced closure policy.

This outrage must be stopped!

Oliva – An International Civil Response to the Unfolding Catastrophe

One courageous civil response to this humanitarian catastrophe is the work done by people sailing out on the small boat, The Oliva. Oliva started its work in April 2011. The international crew escorts the Gazan fishers while working within the permitted waters. By documenting the inevitable violent incursions by the Navy, they are able to limit the Navy’s aggressive behaviour and furnish valuable data to human rights organizations. The ultimate aim is of course to end the illegal assault on Gazan fishers. Fishing is a time-honoured profession. It is a way of life; a way to sustain a family, a community and indeed a culture. It certainly is not a crime, nor is it a threat to Israel’s security. State-sanctioned attempts at destroying a vital aspect of Palestinian maritime culture must therefore be resisted.

What We Are Doing

Recently the Oliva has come under fierce naval attack and has sustained damage. We were asked by the Gazan activists working with the Oliva to raise $600 to replace the boat’s radio as it suffered irreparable salt-water damage. People reading this may have been amongst those generous individuals who responded to the need. I am delighted to report that to date $760 was raised.  I have wired the money for replacement of the radio to the Palestinian Association for Fishing and Marine Sports. They are in close contact with the crew of the Oliva. This new radio is essential and it will ensure that the solidarity workers can continue their valuable mission of ensuring that the Military Occupation and Blockade of Gaza does not destroy a traditional fishing-based lifestyle.

Thank you kindly.

In solidarity,


John Max Soos, PhD
Clinical Psychologist, Peace and Social Justice Advocate
Vancouver, BC Canada
V6G 1N2

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Wall is Lethal not Inconvenient

A traveller wrote a letter to the Globe and Mail newspaper yesterday saying that he had recently returned from Occupied Palestine and unlike a previous letter-writer, who was shocked by the Apartheid reality she encountered  there, this individual wrote that in his view, the "inconvenience" to Palestinians was the price to pay for security, and besides ," one was ever killed by The Wall".

 I became so incensed with this  inaccurate, hurtful, racist dishonesty, that I had to register my huge displeasure immediately; to call the travesty of The Wall an "inconvenience" is profoundly demeaning and a response was essential.

Here is what I wrote:

XY's letter is reflective of the psychological principle that perception is in the eye of the beholder.  Mr. Y refers to the Separation Wall in Israel-Palestine as an "inconvenience"  for Palestinians and states that the "Security Wall" has never "killed anyone".

Both conclusions are woefully inaccurate as attested to by international human rights groups such as  Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B'Tselem, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and most recently, in the July 2012 publication of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Wall kills those who have been denied access to life-saving medical treatment available only on the other, privileged side of The Wall. It kills children whose mothers have been forced to give birth at checkpoints. It kills the spirit of those whose olive groves are inaccessible behind The Barrier. It is soul murder of the 7,500 Palestinians who  now reside  between The Wall and the Green Line and who need military-issued permits to continue living in their own homes. At least they have homes! Many  Palestinians are traumatized by having their homes demolished to make way for the ever-expanding Wall.

I believe most observers would agree that these unethical, illegal and lethal consequences of the Separation Wall cannot be dismissed as mere "inconvenience".

And "Yes" - I have been there too.

Most respectfully,

John G Soos, PhD
Clinical and Peace Psychologist

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Lost Letter from Gaza

On March 11 2012, I sent this message home. Re-reading it three months later, it stirs up troubling memories. In the hope it can galvanize us to push for much needed change, I  am passing it along for those who may have missed it earlier.

My dear Friends,

In the past two days we have seen repeated vicious air strikes by the Israeli military. Fighter jets broke the calm with horrific noise resulting in 12 deaths. One such attack came very close to my hotel causing the building to shake as if we were in an earthquake. Thank God I and the people I have met, are all OK.

Aside from the immediate profound suffering this military strike has caused, I find it especially worrying that the people have over the years become habituated to this type of catastrophic bombing. I am jumpy and find myself reacting to ambient noises, whereas the repeated message I hear - said in an oddly calm and removed voice is " this is normal in Gaza". A kind of acceptance of the inevitability of this extreme violence is very troubling.

The other outrage, is that our Harper Government is at least partly to blame for this deadly assault. Harper and Company's completely uncritical support of Israeli policy emboldens them to act above the law with total disregard for life.  Standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the Netanyahu administration gives tacit support for the misery I am witnessing all around me. This is one message I feel we must convey, as it is lost in all the hyperbole about "security, terrorists, Middle East's only democracy, world's most ethical army, etc."

I am essentially well. May the same be with you.
In Peace, Max

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Amidst Tea and Candlelight

Outside Gaza City's Al-Mataf Hotel I  wait an hour for a taxi. There is very limited fuel I am told. Eventually a car arrives and  I am dropped off at my friend's home. As there is another power cut, it is by now pitch black in the street. I grope my way towards a group of people standing in what appears to be a doorway. Mobile phones light up faces. A few of us  awkwardly shake hands and  exchange Hellos and Marhabas. I recognize no one.  "Is this where Abdel lives?" Our limited grasp of one another's language leaves me uncertain as to how to proceed. Am I in the right neighbourhood?  How do I find my way back? An uneasiness slips into my mind amidst these estranged surroundings.

I recall my recent visit at the Canadian Embassy in Cairo where the diplomat handed me  The Official Warning. "Foreign Affaires and International Trade advises against all travel to the Gaza Strip, as it continues to be affected by serious violence. There has been an increase in the level of military activity in the area recently. Attacks have occurred and have resulted in multiple casualties. The situation could deteriorate further due to inter- factional violence, along with possible military operations in the area. There is a high risk of kidnapping in the Gaza Strip and foreigners may be targeted."

Increased vigilance to my surroundings. Escalation in heart rate. What am I actually doing here? Am I in danger?

"John, are you  there?" Abdel's deep and comforting voice suddenly and  happily  lifts me out of this agony of mind.

 Soon two psychologists  and a psychiatrist are sipping tea, enjoying sweets  - by candlelight -  as the power has yet to be restored. It's natural that we begin to discuss the psychological effects of living not only under an increasingly brutal  military occupation but also the hardship associated with the punishing economic and territorial blockade that touches all aspects of  life in Gaza. 

Suddenly, as if on cue, a deafening, menacing  boom thunders by outside the living room window. The  building and it's inhabitants tremble. "Israeli fighter jets", says the psychiatrist. “They killed four people earlier today.” I am stunned speechless.

Abdel fills my cup and hands me an almond cookie. I find myself once again in the presence of suffering. Palestine is that kind of place. It doesn’t have to be.


Monday, March 12, 2012

A Miserably Shrivelled Peace Tree

As I am driving in a taxi from Gaza City to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, an Israeli air strike explodes four meters from the taxi. Why? Do I need one more reminder before I leave this sad, forgotten and besieged place, that the opressed continue to be subjugated by an out of control occupying power? Let's face it. Israel has erected an ethnically based, inescapable concentration camp and "the world's most ethical army" is again bombing its helpless citizens.

I have since crossed that near-impenetrable border and have thankfully made it safely to Cairo. I am distressed however to read reports from my newly made Gazan friends that indeed the bombing and related carnage have escalated.

The Canadian (and most other Western countries') Government's unethical and uncritical support of Israeli policy is in significant measure responsible for this renewed violence. Standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the Netanyahu administration emboldens that country to act above international law in complete disregard for life. Tacit support of the Harper Government encourages these miserable air strikes and contributes to the escalating cycle of violence. The hyperbole of the one-sided narrative needs to be exposed. "Security, existential threat, terrorists, Middle East's only democracy, measured response" - all these phrases do is intentionally obscure the fact that a massive military arsenal is enforcing a racist, colonial expansionist doctrine that has no place in the 21st century.

This photo courtesy of Mohammed El Majdalawi

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hamed, 12 Year-old Communications Specialist

Why is my friend not calling me, as he said he would to make plans for the day, I wonder? I look at my new mobile phone - tho one I picked up from the dusty little store on Remel Street the other day, and a message pops up, "insert SIM card". Must mean that it's time to find a shop where I can top-up my Jawal cell phone account. As it's the holiday Friday afternoon in Gaza, I'm hoping I can find someplace which is now open. At 3PM, the shutters on all the shops along the main commercial street in Gaza City were still all closed. Walking aimlessly, I noticed one grocery store was slowly opening for business. He points to the computer and then points to the unlit ceiling lights, and shakes his head. By now I am familiar enough with the erratic power supply that I know he is telling me that there is another power outage and he thus can't power up his laptop to in turn reload my cell phone. I nod understandingly, walk out the door and flag down a cab to take me back to my room.

I ask the taxi driver if he might know where to find a shop to recharge my mobile phone. He takes me to a small market. A few boys seem to run the establishment. The chief executive officer is a savvy 12 year old sitting at the front desk with a lap top. As the power has not been restored to boot up his computer, he cannot readily transfer 20 shekels worth of time to my phone.

The little CEO will not be stymied by this fuel crisis, and within moments the entire neighborhood has jumped into action. It's time to do what all Gazans who can afford it do in such circumstances: turn on their own generator to provide electricity to power the computer, which then digitally tops up my phone. The whole process is a somewhat odd, but remarkably effective blend of old and new technology - a small, noisy diesel powered generator powers a computer that wirelessly transfers funds to my mobile phone. This innovative Rube Goldberg contraption works brilliantly.

In face of the catastrophic blockade that's responsible for the humanitarian crisis here - 12 Palestinians were killed in air strikes today - the irrepressible Palestinian spirit again finds a way to resist the occupation. The electricity may be cut off, but their resilience is merely emboldened by inventiveness fueled by an enduring quest for justice and self-determination.

Friday in Gaza

Friday in Gaza.

Sitting under a large yellow umbrella and next to a lovely olive tree in the courtyard of Marna House, it is easy to temporarily forget the daily hardship of life under longstanding military occupation and punitive blockade.

In 2005, the illegal settlements were dismantled and their Jewish-only residents were forcibly removed under Israeli military orders. This was a cynical manoeuver, for in reality the Gaza Strip became a land, sea and air-enclosed cage. Palestinians residing here suffer continual human rights violations including no freedom of movement, and a socially engineered, militarily enforced profound poverty.

With the ongoing blockade, reconstruction efforts following the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead massacre have been seriously undermined. Factories are either in ruins, or those that are intact, remain idle as fuel is restricted and exports are not permitted by Israel. Land theft robs Gazans of their farmland and navy patrols have destroyed the local fishing industry. Moreover, the no-go land and sea zones are strictly, and at times, lethally enforced by the Israeli occupation forces.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Besieged Shores of the Other Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea. Your mind may wander to France's fabled cote d'azur, Monaco's glittering Monte Carlo, or perhaps the old world glamour of the Italian riviera. I have travelled to the other Mediterranean and am writing from the besieged shoreline of Gaza. Carl Jung might have referred to this forgotten piece of the region's geography as the Mediterranean's shadow side.

Instead of traditional folk music streaming out of the cantina or techno music pounding the dance floor, the soundtrack here is the rough and ugly noise of an overhead Israeli helicopter gunship firing a sound bomb to - well, to what end actually? Is it an attempt to try out foreign taxpayer funded new munitions on the civilian population below? Is it to assert social control and political dominance? Is it to re-traumatize those who were brutalized in earlier, more lethal military strikes? What I do know for certainty is that the hotel shook violently as I was having my breakfast. I ran outside, and for a moment I thought the noise was associated with the mosque that was being constructed on the water's edge. Hand held tools don't shake the ground, so I was convinced the source of the bang was far more sinister.

Later on that day I asked people in the street about the loud blast, and the worrying thing was a complete disregard to it. The people of Gaza have years of experience with military incursions, such as the brutal atrocities that took place in the 2009 Operation Cast Lead massacre.

Everyone experiences daily reminders of the colonial subjugation that goes hand in hand with military occupation. Rocket fire is one recurring strand in the soundtrack of the blockade of Gaza. "I like it when they bomb us", said the taxi driver. " I would rather die, and rest in peace, then live like this." As it has become somewhat customary for me in such instances, I am suddenly stunned into a disturbing silence that mirrors his own hopelessness. What does one say to counter his learned helplessness? Can a pithy, psychologically informed comment provide any comfort or measure of hopeful optimism in an attempt to possibly shift his thinking - just ever so slightly?

I pay my fare. He thanks me for visiting Gaza. "I'm glad to be here", and I walk out into the street.