By Susan Schwartz, TMO
The focus of humanitarian concern through out the world is on Palestine. That beleaguered land has been called the worldâ€™s largest outdoor prison as its population continues to suffer under the boot of Israeli oppression. This oppression was qualitatively increased during the recent Operation Cast Lead assault by Israel. Visitors to have invariably been impressed by the courage and grit of the residents who live under conditions that would have destroyed the spirit of many.
Often ideas can be better conveyed by an example than by dealing with a whole. This is tragedy and triumph writ small.
The Samouni family of Palestine lost 29 of its members during Israelâ€™s Operation Cast Lead. Dozens more were injured, many severely. Family members, including young children and the elderly, were forced to survive for days amidst the rubble with medical help forcibly kept away. It is unknown whether many of the initial survivors died slowly awaiting aid.
Ken Oâ€™Keefe is a long time human rights activist. He is one of the survivors of the attack last year by Israeli pirates on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. Recently Ken met the Samouni family, and a magnificent idea was born, not only for the Samouni family, but for all of Palestine.
â€œSpending time with the Samouni family and literally becoming a member of this family is beyond a blessing, their cause is the Palestinian cause and together we are going to shatter this blockade once and for all and the proud people of Palestine will once again stand on their own two feet with dignity and freedom.â€
Herewith their story.
Samouni Intertrade Palestine is a commercial and social enterprise which will present the Palestinian people with an opportunity to end their dependence on the charity of others and the negative psychological impact such dependence confers. It will be trade not aid.
People and goods will be transported through the Rafah crossing going in both directions with the eventual goal of a Palestine that is rebuilt and independently functioning.
On the second day of July a convoy will leave London with the goal of arriving in Rafah three weeks later. Members of the Samouni family will be among the drivers. The convoy will carry raw materials for re building the infrastructure of Palestine; they will also carry industrial equipment necessary to economic development.
There are two primary partners: Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Project. The former was created by Ken Oâ€™Keefe and Lauren Booth (the sister in law of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair) and grew out of their voyage to Gaza in the late summer of 2008 when two boats broke the decades long Israeli siege of coastal Gaza.
The Samouni Project seeks to provide long term quality education to the more than 200 family members as well as to the surrounding community of Zeitun.
The Samouni family has planted 29 olive trees, one for each family member killed during Israelâ€™s Operation Cast Lead. They have obtained a community/classroom center with an adjoining playground. The teaching staff has been assembled and is currently preparing a curriculum. The infrastructure of the classroom is in place, and the Samouni family is awaiting the delivery of educational materials to make the classroom a reality. Aloha Palestine has the task of delivering the relevant classroom materials. The supplies are modest by Western standards. In addition to supplies, teaching and administrative costs must be secured. An investment in education is an investment in the future of Palestine.
Many in the West underestimate the effect of dependence on the mind set of those who are the recipients of charity, when that charity becomes a way of life; when independent action to improve oneâ€™s future is literally forbidden by an occupying power. It is as if the United States government said to the residents of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that the help they received would be permanent, and that the government would act as if there was a devastating hurricane in perpetuity.
Under Israeli occupation parents are helpless to rebuild their devastated homes and the infrastructure of their towns. This causes them to lose self respect and to lose the respect of those dependent on them. The world knows the physical losses suffered by Palestine under the boot of Israel. What the world does not acknowledge is the greatest loss Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians: the loss of dignity.
The goals of Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Project is to transform Palestine from a prison to a thriving Mediterranean city.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, also known as the Barcelona Process, began in 1995 with the stated purpose on the part of the European Union (EU) to â€œstrengthen its relations with the countries in the Mashriq and Maghreb regionsâ€. The Partnership today comprises 44 members. It was created to establish a common area of peace and stability; a zone of shared prosperity, and a rapprochement between peoples on a social, cultural and humanitarian level.
The state of Israel has done remarkably well with its membership in this partnership. Palestine, on the contrary, has conducted a miniscule amount of trade. Palestinians, in addition, are forced to buy the products of their captor.
Free trade is the linch pin of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and surely Israel has benefited greatly from this. Now it is time for Palestine to take its place in the nations of the region by exercising its acknowledged right to free trade through Egypt. Before the forced resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, access between Gaza and Egypt was severely limited. The current Egyptian Foreign Minister has stated that it is time to end the blockade.
Both Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Mission are EU based and will hold the EU to its stated obligation to protect its members when such members are practicing safe trade. Safe trade is defined as follows:
The commercial exchange of non-hazardous items that pose no danger to society. Trade conducted transparently and fairly that develops prosperity while fostering stability and building security in the region where it is conducted.
Should there be an attempt to interfere with this lawful process attorneys for these two groups will be prepared to challenge such attempts with immediate legal action.
A Samouni family web site is in progress, and soon the world will be able to see the rise of a Palestinian nation through this family. Soon we will all be members of the Samouni family.
The head of the Samouni family has consented to answer questions posed by The Muslim Observer. The respondent is called Mukhtar which means head of family.
TMO: We are so impressed by what you have suffered and what you have done to turn tragedy into triumph. To begin with, how did you meet Ken Oâ€™Keefe?
Mukhtar: Ken Oâ€™keefe first came with Noor Al-Harazeen in January 2010, who we already knew as she used to help by giving food-clothes packages, Ken made a video report with us and then he started to come back every week and in order to talk about building a playground and planting an Olive Tree orchard, then we began working together to create the Samouni Project and building a classroom as well.
TMO: Are there NGOâ€™s in Palestine that you will partner with?
Mukhtar: NGOâ€™s no, but we are partnering with Ken Oâ€™Keefe in the Samouni Project. But other Societies have helped us with re-building our homes, like Alkitaab Wl Sunna Society.
TMO: Could you share with our readers the strengths that you and your family possess that permitted you to endure Operation Cast Lead and its aftermath and emerge as strong as you are?
Mukhtar:Sure , What happen to us was one of the biggest Gaza massacres in Operation Cast Lead. During this operation they entered our neighbourhood, shooting at us and taking over our homes, they then put 100 members of our family in one room and started shelling it. We lost our families, kids were murdered, many were lost. How we could not share our story! We want all the world to know what has happened to us and the Palestinians as a whole, we want all the world to know the real Israel.
TMO: Could you tell us some of the proposed curriculum for your school?
Mukhtar: We plan for a full curriculum including Arabic ( Elaab Wa Taalm ), so the kids can read and write, also we will have adult education for the parents who cannot read and write. We will teach the Quran, also English ( Headway ) so our kids have the ability to connect with the world and act as ambassadors of Palestine.
To access more information about this project please use the following sites: For Ken Oâ€™Keefe: firstname.lastname@example.org and http://AlohaPalestine.com.