GAZA ATROCITIES BY ISRAEL — TESTIMONY OF A JOURNALIST WHO SAW IT FIRST HAND FOR 3+ YEARS
Eva Bartlett on Gaza in Crisis – An Eyewitness Report
Called Canada’s Rachel Corrie, Eva Bartlett is an activist and journalist living in Gaza since 2008. Her eyewitness accounts from Occupied Palestine have been published in the Electronic Intifada, Inter Press Service, Countercurrents and her own blog http://ingaza.wordpress.com./ or at http://www.gazaark.org/tag/eva-bartlett/
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Eva Bartlett, born in the USA but raised in Canada, is a journalist and activist who’s lived in Gaza for around three years. She lived in Gaza starting in 2008 for three years as a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, based in the Palestine occupied territories. How did you come to live in Palestine?
BARTLETT: I grew up in a great family, very loving and humane and compassionate, but we didn’t discuss politics, and maybe that was one reason why I never really consciously looked for it. My world was kind of absorbed in classical music, and both my parents were musicians.
BARTLETT: After college I lived in South Korea five years teaching English to pay off my student debts. It was a great way to travel and see more of the world, and and it was through traveling that I started wanting to know more about the world and started looking at online programs. And at the time (2005), I was looking at news every day, whereas before I had been completely disinterested and I had no reason to be interested in news — there was quite a bit of coverage of what was happening in Palestine but I knew absolutely nothing about Palestine, not even the name, and then suddenly was hit with a barrage of information which was very disturbing, it really affected me and made me want to learn more. And the more I learned, the more I wanted to become active in some way in justice for Palestine. Israel was never on my horizon growing. Didn’t know about it. I was a blank page.
BARTLETT: I always say, I wish I had known much earlier about Palestine. Perhaps it’s the way information is presented or not presented. But in Korea I did stumble across some non-corporate media news sites, and I began to see some of the truth about Palestine.
JAY: Why does Palestine resonate with you?
BARTLETT: I came across a old 1980s YouTube at the time of the first intifada, for example, a campaign called the bone-breaking campaign, when Israeli soldiers would systematically take large boulders and just smash the bones–arms, legs–of Palestinians that appeared to be the Israeli way of quashing dissent. So seeing something like that when you came from a very sheltered background, it really affected me — I learned more and more on the issue of a people being oppressed and expelled from their land and a creeping genocide, an ethnic cleansing. And was shocked the USA and Canadian governments are complicit in the oppression of Palestinians.
BARTLETT: I was also learning about Tibet, which was another kind of blank spot in my mind. And since I was already in Korea and it’s close enough to China, I took a ferry and a number of trains and buses and went and visited Tibet, and later did some English teaching with Tibetan refugees, got involved with the Tibetan movement for a little while, but at the same time was learning about Palestine.
2006 Summer: Israel was bombing Lebanon and Gaza. And at that point I was consciously aware of Palestine, I was horrified and just made a decision that I wanted to go see Palestine and see for myself what life was like under occupation. So I went there in 2007, via Jordan and entered the West Bank, and then took nonviolence training with the International Solidarity Movement, and then for the next eight months was all around the West Bank, witnessing army incursions and lockdowns of towns and cities, including shootings and abductions of any Palestinians who happen to be on the street when the army imposed a curfew. We also saw the violence at the hands of the illegal colonist, during popular nonviolent demonstrations in places like Bil’in, which later grew to other areas around the West Bank. So I saw quite a bit in those eight months in the West Bank. When I was in the West Bank, I went to Tel Aviv mainly for visa purposes, because you have to get Israeli permission to enter and to exit the West Bank. I got to know some very good Israeli activists who participated in the demonstrations in Bil’in — compassionate and strong activists.
2008, I planned on entering Gaza by way of the Rafah Egyptian Crossing, at that time it officially was open to Palestinians, but it was very difficult for any Palestinian to enter or to exit. To enter Palestine in the first place is difficult, because Israel does control all the borders. So if you look like you might be a solidarity activist, it becomes very difficult for you to enter.
2008 I because of the siege on Gaza ended up entering by boat. By then Israel had pulled its settlers out of Gaza and said that it no longer controls Gaza. But nonetheless, freedom of movement is almost impossible. So the idea with the Free Gaza movement was that they would sail from Cyprus to Gaza because they would be sailing through international waters into Palestinian waters, thereby not entering Israeli territory. So that’s how I entered Gaza. After the fifth boat, the Israeli Navy started preventing any boats from reaching Gaza. So in that sense we were lucky to have even made it.
JAY: What’s a solidarity activist look like?
BARTLETT: Well, they come in all shapes and forms and ages. If it is obvious that you sympathize in any way with Palestinians, it is well reported that more likely than not you’ll either not be able to enter in the first place or you’ll be granted a two-week visa or something. I wanted to go there to witness the occupation. And I think that you need to see that if you’re going to go see Palestine. You can’t just avoid it. I was not going to visit, but also I didn’t have any idea how long I would stay, but as it turned out, the first time I went, I stayed for a year and a half, precisely because it is so difficult to enter and to leave. I was a volunteer with the ISM (International Solidarity Movement), but our work in Gaza was of a different nature than it was in the West Bank.
JAY: And how do you support yourself financially?
BARTLETT: Before I went to Palestine the first time I worked and saved money and did some fundraising. But then, when I was in Gaza, I was writing both just for the sake of sharing information and I was also being published in Inter Press Service as a freelance journalist. And, you know, you don’t need a whole lot to live in Gaza.
JAY: So not long after you arrived in Gaza in 2008, there is an Israeli attack. And you are there and live through it. What was it like?
BARTLETT: It was the first time I’d experienced anything that intense. There were bombing attacks, sonic boom campaigns sounding like real bombs, a lot of psychological terror going on. December 27, the Israeli Air Force started bombing throughout the Gaza Strip, targeting police stations, which inevitably also targeted civilians and schools and hospitals around — finally the bombing stopped January 18, 2009 (Just as Obama was being sworn into office) they were relentlessly bombing everywhere in the Gaza Strip. And there was no safe haven. So it’s a pretty phenomenal situation in that the population had no way of fleeing. You know in other situations where a population’s being aggressively bombed you have migration of people. But here they could not flee. They didn’t have bomb shelters. And in many cases they had no notice that their house was going to be bombed. Sometimes the Israelis would say, you have five minutes to get out, or they would do a double-tap kind of thing where they’d knock on the rooftop of the house to say get out — families would run for their lives. But in many cases they didn’t get this warning.
BARTLETT: We were volunteering with the Red Crescent (Medical Service) north of Gaza. We did this both to witness the worst of the atrocities, including the use of chemical weapons and point-blank shootings, and the taking of testimonies from the people who had endured these things, but also because the Israeli army was targeting medics. A couple of medics had already been killed by the time we joined with the Red Crescent. We were riding during the day, during the night, in ill-equipped ambulances that were trying to reach people and in many cases were being prevented by the Israeli army from reaching those who were calling for them.
JAY: You’re putting your own life in danger over and over here. This is risky, and people get killed doing these things. Why?
BARTLETT: Because I can, because Palestinians don’t have an option of leaving where they’re living. They don’t have an option of not being targeted. I just felt it important to stand in solidarity with them, and document what’s happening to them as they have been so largely ignored and their voice has been largely taken away from them. There are, of course, many articulate, talented, and intelligent Palestinians that try to get their voices out, and through some alternative media can. But I believed if some Canadians see a Canadian in Gaza, then maybe they will take it to heart more than if they just see some random person.
JAY: On a mission like this you know you might not come back, and you’ve decided that you can deal with that?
BARTLETT: Yes. That’s I think what many journalists or activists who go to areas where it’s high-risk have to decide — Part of the nature of your beliefs and work.
One medic I was with was shot by an Israeli sniper in his leg during ceasefire hours that the Israelis had declared, and he was shot while wearing his medical uniform and obviously carrying the body of a man who’d been killed–no threat to the Israeli army. And he was pegged off.
Another medic that I worked with was killed by a dart bomb which was fired directly at his ambulance. And had I not gone back to Gaza City, I probably would have been killed with him, because I was accompanying him. I went back to the city to write some reports, and in that absence he was struck with this dart bomb and shredded and went into shock and died.
JAY: But why is it your fight to have to potentially give your life for?
BARTLETT: It’s all of our fights — We all need to stand in solidarity with them, because the world powers–the Canadian prime minister, the U.S., Europe–they all stand with Israel regardless of what Israel does to the Palestinians. When Gaza was being bombed, my own prime minister had no qualms with Israel so-called defending itself by bombing the civilian population of Gaza. The U.S. sends billions of dollars to Israel to do–and weaponry to attack these people.
JAY: But one can agitate at home against those policies, but to go there and potentially lose your life in the course of doing it. What is your attitude?
BARTLETT: When see the atrocities that Palestinians have to endure and you’re met with such love by them and such generosity and friendship, it’s like they become your family — if your own family were being bombed and attacked, would you turn your back and say, no, I’m not going to risk my life for them? Or would you go and do what you could to save them or tell their story? And I think most people would defend their family, defend, would stand with their family.
I’m not the only person that does this and that has felt this way. Most people that I know that have gone to various parts of Palestine, once they see it they don’t turn their backs. And it’s like that expression:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I don’t stand with them because then they might later come back for me; I feel like I take it more from a humanistic perspective that it’s an obligation.
JAY: But this is part of what gives your life meaning.
BARTLETT: Yes. Yes.