Shedding Light on Injustice in Gaza

February 8, 2010 by  
Filed under 2010, Blog, Front Page, Gaza, Media, Slideshow, UN, War

Children play in the rubble of a bombed building in the Gaza Strip. Photo: Ayman Quader

In the past few months, I have had the privilege of getting to know two significant people, who have made a profound difference in how I see the world. One of these people is Ashie Hirji, co-founder of Heart in Action Enterprises (HIAE), a subsidiary of Asita Informatica, Inc. Ashie and her team are working to provide a secure media platform for young people to get their voices heard in — and from — nations where human rights are not always a given.

The other person who has educated me in profound ways is a young Palestinian college student in the West Bank. From her letters I have learned of the brutality of Israeli soldiers toward her family, friends, and neighbors. As an American living in the insulated world of the Midwest, I was not very aware of the plight of the people of Gaza until my young friend (whose name I want to protect) told me her stories and sent me photographs. The veil has lifted, and now I see ample evidence of the horrors being inflicted on the people of Gaza.

I’ve asked some of my beloved Jewish relatives and  friends here in the US what they think of the situation in Gaza. Without exception, they have told me that the Israeli soldiers are terrorists. Yet I was surprised to hear some say their views are unpopular with other American Jews.

I’ve also learned something about how US government support and military aid has enabled this crisis to continue. I am ashamed to think that my own tax dollars are contributing to the problem.

What follows is an account by Justin Theriault, a Canadian journalist who has seen the destruction in Gaza firsthand. Recently, he has been working with Ashie Hirji at HIAE to spread the word about Ayman Quader, a student in Gaza whose educational future was in doubt until a media blitz raised awareness about his plight.

As you read this post, please consider how all of us are connected. What happens in one part of the world truly does affect those of us in another part. When the Jews were being exterminated in the Holocaust, other nations — including the US — came forward to stop the massacre. Why are we now standing silent while the Israeli government — supported in part by US funds — persecutes the people of Gaza?

—Julia Wasson, Publisher

These shacks serve as homes for people under siege in Gaza. Photo: Ayman Quader

What exactly is injustice? Injustice, put simply, is when a person, or an entire population, is denied their basic human rights — more specifically, the human rights outlined in the Geneva Conventions post World War II.

The Geneva Conventions outline many universal human rights, from the right to education to rules protecting civilians during times of war. An injustice is anything that impedes or denies a person or a population their universal human rights as outlined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

In the spirit of the American Constitution, inalienable rights are those rights bestowed upon you by God, or a Divine Creator. They can neither be neglected, nor taken away by any government, authoritative regime, or institution.

If we look around the world today to countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Palestine, etc., we can see the result of many injustices over long periods of time: poverty, starvation, genocide, ethnic cleansing. We also tend to see religious and sectarian extremism thriving under such conditions of injustice.

The Siege on Gaza

A very clear and brutal example of injustice today can be seen in the Gaza Strip. There, 1.5 million Palestinians have, quite literally, been held hostage by Israel for 43 years, since the end of the Six Day War in 1967, for nothing more than being the non-Jewish, native inhabitants of the Mediterranean lands of Palestine.

Many of the families in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (together comprising the Occupied Palestinian Territories) have lived in these lands for nearly two millennia. In the last three years, since the election of the Hamas Government, the Gaza Strip has been held hostage by Israel through what has come to be popularly termed “the Gaza Siege.”

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The siege on Gaza, which is made possible by the support of the United States of America, in the last three years has resulted in 95 percent of all factories in Gaza being closed as a result of a lack of supplies. Furthermore, very little of the required humanitarian aid is getting through the borders into Gaza, and Israel is actively blocking — or at least attempting to block — all students from leaving Gaza on academic scholarship.

In the recent “war” on Gaza — more accurately described as a massacre — Israel indiscriminately targeted civilian infrastructure for 23 days straight. Amnesty International reported that, during this invasion, between 21,000 and 22,000 structures were destroyed, including 250 schools, 5,300 homes (an additional 52,000 homes were damaged), 700 stores, 200 factories, 26 primary health care clinics, 8 hospitals, the only functioning flour mill and Gaza’s power station. In total, more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, 80 per cent of them civilians, including 342 children. More than 50 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million population is under 15 years of age.

The report of the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, headed by Richard Goldstone — himself a self-proclaimed Zionist with family living in Israel — concluded “[D]eliberate actions of the Israeli forces and the declared policies of the Government of Israel … cumulatively indicate the intention to inflict collective punishment on the people of the Gaza Strip in violation of international humanitarian law.”

Ayman’s Plight

If Ayman Quader is allowed to leave Gaza to study in Spain, he will earn a Master's degree in Peace, Conflict, and Development Sudies. Photo: Courtesy Ayman Quader

Fast forward to the case of Ayman Quader: Ayman Quader is a 23-year-old Palestinian from Gaza City, who was recently accepted on academic scholarship to a program at the Universitat Jaume I (UJI) in Castellón, Spain for the International Masters in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies (PEACE Master). Ayman was also granted a Spanish student visa in order to complete his academic program that begins February 2010 and runs through to May 2012.

Because of the total Israeli and Egyptian border closing around Gaza, Ayman has not yet been able to get out of Gaza, though his program started at the beginning of February. This is a very common scenario in the Gaza Strip, as Ayman is one of nearly a thousand students who are in the very same predicament.

Ayman’s situation was brought to my attention by two colleagues of mine: Eliahi Priest and Ashie Hirji. Ashie Hirji is the director of a new media social enterprise and goodwill humanitarian organization that has been working on a secured multimedia communications project with Ayman. They are working towards strategies and tactics to give children in Palestine, as well as children in other war-torn countries, a platform to have a voice that can be heard around the world. The organization is called Heart in Action Enterprises (HIAE).

Media Blitz

With the combined knowledge of the team at Heart in Action Enterprises, along with the media connections in Spain that Cristina Valenti brought to the table, we were able to create a nationwide media blitz in Spain. Ayman’s picture appeared in nearly every mass media in Spain.

How did we do it? First, we created a manifesto for Ayman that outlined the condition in Gaza, Ayman’s personal situation and the human rights and international law that such practices violate.  From there we created an online petition and accompanying Facebook group to spread the word through existing networks on Facebook. We also sent media packages (manifesto, Facebook group and petition, all in four different languages) to various media outlets here in Spain. Once EFE got wind of the story, their correspondent in East Jerusalem was hot on the case. EFE is the equivalent to Reuters for Spain and Latin America, so an article published by EFE means that the article could appear in hundreds of media outlets.

The rotating EU presidency currently resides in Spain, giving the Spanish government additional international sway. As a consequence of the extensive media coverage generated by Ayman’s plight, Ayman, along with 13 other students stranded in Gaza, are that much closer to realizing their dreams. The media exposure has directly resulted in political and diplomatic actions that are underway in Spain, Israel and Egypt to ensure that these students will make it to Europe to study.

The latest word on Ayman’s case is that he has received official permission from Israel to cross the Erez border into Israel, where he will travel to Jordan via the West Bank and Allenby Bridge, accompanied by a Spanish diplomat. We expect this to occur in the next few days.

This is a very significant success story in the fight for human rights, and it is a clear example that the media can still be used to rally people together in support of human rights and social justice campaigns.

Heart in Action

Heart in Action gives young people a voice with a secure multimedia platform.

This initiative is the first of many that will be implemented by Heart in Action Enterprises, a subsidiary of Asita Informatica. HIAE is currently working on a large-scale communications project that will use the groundbreaking technology produced by Asita Informatica and several Fortune 500 technology partners to take the campaign one step further by providing a platform for people like Ayman to speak directly with media.

HIAE will create collaborative projects with NGOs that are already well positioned within the scope of operations in countries such as Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Burma, and in any other country that requires outside support from the international community to ensure that human rights are reinforced.

The long-term goal of Heart in Action is to be able to provide an industry-compatible, secured platform for these children to use direct channels for education and communications with important media outlets, so that their voices can be heard all over the world. At Heart in Action, we believe that reinforcing the human rights — including educational rights — of our fellow global citizens is the key to a peaceful future, and the most effective strategy in guaranteeing universal human rights is to allow their voices to be heard.

Justin Theriault, Guest Contributor

Heart in Action Enterprises, Inc.