Born in Detroit, Michigan, Huwaida Arraf is the daughter-in-law of one of our WCA members, Doreen. The oldest of five children she attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she obtained degrees in Arabic, Hebrew, and Judaic Studies, as well as political science. As an undergraduate, Arraf co-founded and facilitated an Arab-Jewish dialogue group on her campus and was active in other conflict resolution and co-existence groups. As a junior, she attended the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and studied the Hebrew language on a Kibbutz. After graduating, Arraf worked at the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C., promoting the rights of Arab Americans.
In the spring of 2000, Huwaida traveled to Jerusalem to serve as program coordinator for Seeds of Peace, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that promotes dialogue and interactions between young people in regions of conflict, in her case, Palestinians and Israelis. While working at Seeds of Peace, she met her husband, Adam Shapiro, another co-founder of the ISM. It was during our 2004 trip to Palestine that all of us in WCA met and worked with Huwaida.
In 2004 Huwaida co-edited the book, Peace Under Fire, a collection of personal accounts by ISM volunteers, and is currently co-editing a book about the Palestinian resistance. In 2006, Arraf traveled to Lebanon with her husband to coordinate civilian relief efforts in Lebanon and provide company for refugees returning to the south of Lebanon.
Huwaida received, in 2007, a law degree from the American University’s Washington College of Law. For the past year Huwaida has been coordinator of the law clinic at al-Qids University and has been living in Ramallah. She has taken a short leave to join the Free Gaza campaign. Please read her clear and enlightening report of the situation in Gaza and the hope and promise of the Free Gaza Project.
Dateline: Cyprus, August 2008
Dear friends & family,
As many of you know, the Gaza Strip, in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) is suffering under a brutal siege imposed by the Israeli military — a siege that has been deemed illegal by international, as well as Israeli human rights organizations and legal experts, including the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, John Dugard. Israel, which despite its evacuation of its approximately 9000 illegal settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, still effectively controls Gaza and thus has obligations, as an occupying power, to the residents of Gaza under international humanitarian law. See e.g.:”Disengaged Occupiers, the Legal Status of Gaza”, Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. Yet, instead of complying with these obligations, Israel has imposed a total blockade on Gaza even cutting its fuel and electricity supply.
Over the past year, a reported 200 plus patients have died from a lack of access to adequate medical care, meaning Israel denied these patients the right to leave the Gaza Strip in order to receive the care that they needed. See related recent report by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, “Holding Health to Ransom.” Hundreds of Palestinian students with scholarships or other arrangements to study abroad are trapped in Gaza, unable to pursue their education. Eighty percent of the Gazan population is living on food aid. Gaza’s unemployment rate, currently at 45%, is the highest in the world. The most tragic part of this humanitarian crisis is that it is man-made — a result of deliberate policies by the State of Israel. While various parties have expressed their concern, including the United Nations, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, no body has been willing to take concrete action to break the siege or to hold Israel accountable for Palestinain lives. Not only is Israel being allowed to get away collective punishment of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza, defined as a war crime under international law, but international institutions ate getting away with silence in the face of such atrocity, or with paying mere lip service to Palestinian human rights.
Due to the shameful incompetence of of governments and international institutions tasked with defending and upholding human rights, and because this incompetence is costing lives every day, a small group of civilians from around the world have organized an effort to break the siege of Gaza by boat. Within the next few days, 40 civilians from around the world, including 3 other Palestinians from the Diaspora, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, and 81-year-old Catholic nun, an Israeli peace & justice activist, and over 30 other amazing people will set sail from Cyprus towards the shores of Gaza. Although we will be carrying some medical supplies, such as hearing aids (for children of Gaza going deaf as a result of Israel’s military operations and sonic booms constantly carried out in and over Gaza), ours is not a humanitarian mission. Rather, our mission is a human rights one. We are horrified that such an illegal and immoral siege can be allowed to continue without more of an international outcry about it. We’re saddened for the state of our world when decision-makers can sit back and watch an entire people being slowly and purposefully starved and humiliated.
Everyone participating in this mission is quite aware of the dangers involved. We have taken note of the various scenarious that can play out, from being blockaded, boarded and arrested, to being fired upon or otherwise attacked at sea. Of course, we hope that none of these happen and that we reach Gaza, where we are told that thousands will be awaiting our arrival on the beach.
In a few hours I will leave Cyprus, where I have been for the last 8 days training and working on other preparations for the voyage, and head to meet the boats in Chiana, Crete (press release below). I realize that for those of you in the United States, this email might be the first you are hearing of this effort as the story has not broken through the U.S. media censors. We have been getting very good coverage in the rest of the world though. Please stay with us as we make this voyage, as the eyes of the world are our safety and our goal if we aim to make change. You can get the latest information on the Free Gaza Movement, including watch the voyage in real time (satellite video streaming) on our website: http://www.freegaza.org/.
Yes, we can make change.
In solidarity & struggle,
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