Interview From Gaza: Walking WIth MECA

The following interview was given by Danny Muller from Gaza, who was traveling with Barbara Lubin in support of MECA's projects in Palestine.  Excerpts of the interview were published in the Portland Phoenix, but the entire interview is below, which provides more context and history.

Can you give a brief synopsis of the two projects you’re working on, and the different ways in which they are important?

While in Gaza, I've been volunteering at a local community organization that basically has a summer camp for children who live in refugee camps.  I came to Gaza with 30 Flip cameras and am working with these wonderful kids to give them the tools to tell their own stories. Living in a refugee camp can be so disheartening and difficult, and it is important to provide space for children to see themselves as something beyond victims.  They have power and they can be artists and tell their stories and those of their families and of their struggles.  It is something I do that brings me a lot of joy and the children really enjoy the opportunity to play with the technology, interview each other and play.

The main work I am conducting is assessing, documenting and implementing water desalination units at UN schools in Gaza. Theorganization I work with has built 38 so far, and we have plans formany more.  There is a global water crisis, created and exacerbated by poverty, population growth, climate change, unsustainable agricultural practices, industrial pollution, regional conflicts, and now the privatization of water itself.  But the water crisis in Gaza is one of the most extreme anywhere on the planet: 40% of Gaza's wells were destroyed by Israel three years ago during Operation Cast Lead, the underground aquifer is heavily depleted and filled with toxins such as pesticides, the Israeli government prevents access to water as a tool
of collective punishment, and more than 90% of all the water consumed does not meet WHO standards.  I could go on, but I highly recommend Amnesty International's report:  Troubled Waters:Palestinians denied fair access to water.

 How did you originally become interested in this issue?

I was living in Chicago in 1999 and my community of new friends were active on a number of international issues, especially working with the East Timor Action Network, underground railroad support forrefugees from US funded wars in Central America, and a campaign called Voices in the Wilderness.  I was bartending and teaching refugees from Nigeria and the former Yugoslavia at the time, but I had lots of spare time, so I became involved with Voices in the Wilderness- I wound up
working with them for about 7 years.  Voices' mission was to break the economic sanctions against Iraq that was causing the deaths of 5,000 children a month under the age of 5 and wrecking any internal resistance to Saddam Hussein.  Many people think of the First and Second Gulf Wars, but in truth it has been a Twenty Year War- the US was bombing Iraq between 1993-2003 every 2-4 days under the no fly zones- I know because I was there during many of the bombings.  It was also illegal for Americans to travel to Iraq, punishable by $250,000 in fines and 12 years in prison for each offense.  I was playing a lot of music at the time and became really pissed off, beyond the travesty of the humanitarian catastrophe created by my own government, that the US would pass laws that restricted my travel, and made it illegal for me to, as an example , buy a musical instrument from Iraq or interact with artists and musicians.  So i traveled to Iraq on my first trip of many to make an audio documentary and break the sanctions by bringing in medicines and bringing out musical instruments- these instruments were eventually used to educate Americans about the US war in Iraq by
everyone from Pete Seeger to Rage Against the Machine.   I was only in Iraq because I fell into the situation through friends, but was so shocked by a US policy I knew nothing about.  I remember one day when a US missile landed in a backyard in Basra and killed six children.  I took one piece of the bomb that said 'made in the USA' on it and tracked the serial number on it to the Raytheon and General Dynamics plants that produced it in four different states in the US, weapons being the #1 export of the US. Anyway, one of the people I traveled with was Barbara Lubin, founder of the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)  and she said to me after many years of working together that I needed to go to Palestine- "if you want to understand the Middle East, you need to know Palestine."  I had no idea what she was talking about, I was a typical kid from Brooklyn who knew nothing about the Middle East and had barely heard the word Palestine.  So I traveled with her in 2003-2004 and was devastated by what I saw.  This was just after a massacre in Jenin in the West Bank and some of the most intense fighting during the second intifada, and I spent weeks traveling and living in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, where I worked with young refugee students who were learning to become journalists and create media to tell their stories of life under occupation.   The humiliation and the indecency of how Palestinians were treated shocked me.  I heard of  a Palestinian woman in labor not allowed through a checkpoint to get to the hospital and she died, along with the baby.  I was there when a child who threw a stone at a tank gotshot.   I thought 'what Israel is doing to  the Palestinians is what
the British did to the Irish."  Later I realized it was also very much like what the US did, and continues to do to the American Indian populations throughout our own homeland.   So I began to educate myself more about the root causes of the issues and have been workingwith MECA since.

What is a common misconception Americans (or maybe even more specifically, Mainers) have about the situation in Gaza?

I think for good reason we just dont think about Gaza.  I mean, I can barely pay my rent most of the time.  Living in Maine is great in so many ways but at least everyone I know is busting their ass so hard just to get by and try and pay their bills.  I mean where the hell can you find work and get a living wage?  So we are busy, or attached to screens and TV's, or just not exposed to Gaza and other places in the world, so we have one dimensional views of other countries if we have any view at all: "Haitians are poor, Arabs are terrorists, Chinese make Iphones etc."  So generally there is no incentive or reason to know about Palestine, and there is so much misinformation that it takes a lot of work to wade through all of the shit to find out what the realities are- for me, any insights I have are from the privilege of lucking out to be able to travel and be exposed to all of the complexities and beauty and struggles that are here.  People here are suffering under the Israeli blockade, the Hamas government, and a US policy that gives our tax dollars to dictators throughout the region. So everyone from the weapons manufacturers to the Israeli government benefits from the status quo, while most people in Gaza are children and stuck in an open air prison and cant do anything about the situation.

What policies and proposals do you support as a potential way to fix/address the situation in Gaza and the West Bank?

This is a tough one. It's not my place to tell the people here what they should do and how they should act. This is the problem with Americans, we think we have all the answers and everyone should fall in line under our empire, answer to our economic hit men,  or suffer the consequences.  So all of this talk about "what THEY should do' is nonsense.  What I should do as an American is recognize that it is my government that is engaged in endless war.  I mean Obama the Nobel
Prize Winner is engaged in warfare in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Colombia, with over 800 military bases all over the world... and for what? Do you feel safer because of this?  I dont. 

Half of all our tax dollars go to military expenses that make our air and water toxic, while our roads crumble, our infrastructure rots, and we dont know how to resist because we suffer from a deep poverty of isolation and apathy in the US.  So we need to focus our energies at home.  We need to stop giving US foreign aid to these fascist governments in places like Saudi Arabia because they are of 'geopolitical importance.'  We need to stop providing the entire world with weapons- over 90% of every bullet or bomb that flies through the air every day is made in the USA. We need to radically change our immigration policy.  We need to provide social services for our own people.  We need to study our own history and recognize what people in the women's movement, suffragists, unions, disability rights and the civil rights movements fought for that is being stolen from us now.  We need to be pissed off enough to take real risks or nothing will change, at home or abroad.
We need to be creative and decentralized and visionary and uncompromising.

Why is this an issue that Mainers should care about?

Mainers should care because if they have any shred of humanity,  you can't be part and parcel of putting bullets into babies.  This may sound harsh or as if I am exaggerating to make a point, but what the hell do people think is happening under America's war on terror?  Over 90% of all deaths in these wars and occupations are civilians.  And civilians is such a hollow word.   These 'civilians' are grandmothers, 4 year olds, university students, people with disabilities, artists, dreamers,  friends, lovers. That is who is on the receiving end of all of it.  The status quo benefits everyone except these people.  The Palestinian/Israeli conflict is not resolved on purpose.   The status quo allows undemocratic governments in the region to blame Israel for their egregious human rights violations against Palestinians instead of having to be responsible for the horrible treatment of their own people.  The lack of a resolution allows Israel to continue to stealthe land and the water- all in gross violation of international law and human decency.  The lack of a resolution is a tool for America to continue the business of selling our weapons to anyone and everyone who will buy them, which in most cases is both sides of any war
anywhere.

But Mainers will be sold the recycled ' better of two evils' argument for our upcoming election cycle, and be swindled into giving our hard earned dollars to two political parties who will give that money to corporate media to buy ads on public airwaves that try and tell us the battle that matters is in November.  The truth is knowing that both political parties have basically the same foreign policy and are also completely committed domestically to making the rich richer and the poor poorer. 

And its about time we got our hands dirty and stopped letting them get away with it.