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A Mother Under Occupation: Palestinian Journalist Laila El-Haddad on Life in the Occupied Territories

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We speak with Palestinian journalist and mother, Laila El-Haddad about life in the Occupied Territories. El-Haddad writes for Aljazeera.net and maintains her own blog titled “Raising Yousuf: A Diary of a Mother Under Occupation.” She lives in Gaza and the U.S. [includes rush transcript]

A senior member of the Hamas government was assassinated in an Israeli air strike in the Gaza town of Rafah on Thursday. Three of his bodyguards were also killed in the attack. The government official, Interior Ministry general director Jamal Abu Samhadana, was also a founding member of the Popular Resistance Committees who had been accused of plotting attacks inside Israel. Samhadana had narrowly escaped four previous assassination attempts.

Earlier that day three Palestinians were shot dead near a border crossing in the Gaza Strip. Israel said its troops had opened fire on “three suspect silhouettes” moving towards the border. Palestinians said the dead were policemen on patrol.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials are having talks over a peace plan by the Palestinian Authority president that implicitly recognizes Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas has given Hamas until Saturday to accept the 18-point plan or he will put it to a referendum.

This comes as the Bush administration has cancelled international talks that were expected to lead to emergency payments of salaries for Palestinian workers. Thousands of Palestinian government employees have gone without pay following an international aid-freeze on the Hamas-led government. A European diplomat told the Independent of London the cancellation is stoking fears the US government is committed to “regime change” in the Occupied Territories.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We welcome you to Democracy Now! Your response to the latest killings.

LAILA EL-HADDAD: I mean, it’s just unreal to me that, given the current situation and given the tension and given everything that’s going on in the continued closures and asphyxiation of the economy that Israel again would go to these lengths to assassinate, you know — Samhadana, in addition to being the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, was the new P.A. security chief, and it was sort of seen as an effort to rein in all the different armed groups, because he was a very influential figure, and it was seen that he could, you know, kind of bring them all under his umbrella. So, you know, this is just going to further escalate tensions within Gaza, and the security situation is going to further deteriorate. And, of course, that being directly linked with the humanitarian situation.

AMY GOODMAN: And Israel saying that he was responsible for attacks inside Israel.

LAILA EL-HADDAD: Right, as the head of the Popular Resistance Committee, he is considered to be someone who spearheaded a lot of resistance attacks.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happening in Gaza right now?

LAILA EL-HADDAD: The situation is very, very difficult, you know, and it pre-dates the current government. It’s important to remind that since the disengagement from Gaza in the summer of 2006 when Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza, the situation has been continuously deteriorating, because everything continues to be under Israeli control. We’ve heard it time and again, but Gaza literally has become more of a prison than it was before, very much an open-air prison with the skies, and the air, and the borders, and the permit registry system, very significantly, still controlled by Israel. That means that no one can leave or come into Gaza unless they have an Israeli-issued Palestinian ID card. So many families, including my own, not able to unite within Gaza because one or the other lacks the ID card and doesn’t have the family reunification. And more significantly, we can’t go to the West Bank. Before, it was very difficult to obtain a permit. Now it’s pretty much next to impossible for Palestinians to commute between Gaza and the West Bank. So really, just Gaza completely now cut off from the world and from the West Bank and from Israel, and with the continued economic closures, as you mentioned, of the Karni and then [unintelligible] crossing, which has been close to 50% of the year, completely fixating the economy, hundreds of thousands of tons of vegetables and fruits, that were supposed to be exported and help the economy stay afloat, rotted.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you get around? Are you together with your family?

LAILA EL-HADDAD: My husband is a refugee from — a Palestinian refugee who lives in Lebanon. He’s also a physician. He works in this country. He still has a refuge permit. He can’t come join me in Gaza, so I commute with our 2-year-old son, Yousuf, after which my blog is named, back and forth between Gaza and the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And how hard or easy is it for you to get in and out?

LAILA EL-HADDAD: I’m just like any other Palestinian, I have a Palestinian Authority passport. And that’s significant — we always say it’s not a Palestinian passport, because we’re still not recognized, you know, as a people, as a state, as a nationality, and it’s significant because of all the talk about referendum and recognizing Israel, and I go on that Palestinian authority passport and on my Israeli-issued ID card. I’ve added my son to that ID card so that he can have that right to go back and forth with me. We travel through the Rafah crossing, which is the only exit and entry point into or out of the Gaza strip and continues to be effectively controlled by Israel. While they no longer physically man it, they still control who goes in and out and monitor it by video surveillance.

AMY GOODMAN: You were in Rafah during the first and second Israeli incursions there?

LAILA EL-HADDAD: Yes, yes, in the fall of 2003 and then again in the spring of 2004. Both times I was just arriving. Once I was pregnant, and the second time my son was just 2 months old, and, you know, Israel had just raided the camp for several days, put it under complete lockdown. Very few journalists, I should add, were actually there or even bothered to go and just do the aftermath color shot. It’s difficult to give any kind of snap shot of the devastation that was there. And, you know, it was all the more senseless because a lot of the house demolition that occurred there — you know, 2/3 of the houses that were demolished in Palestine were done so in Rafah. 16,000 people lost their homes, just to give you a sense of the enormity of the destruction. Much of it happened just prior to the disengagement, which made it all the more senseless.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think this all is being conveyed in the media, and especially since you’ve got your feet in both worlds, there and here, how it’s covered here?

LAILA EL-HADDAD: Very poorly, to put it bluntly. I mean, it’s — I’m constantly surprised. People tell me 'You shouldn't be,’ but I am, at how little people know about — I know it’s difficult to get a grasp of all these details, but they’re so significant, because I call them part of the Israeli “matrix of control” that fall under this rubric of occupation that really just invades the very private lives of Palestinians and destroys everything. And it’s not conveyed. I mean, the focus is — you know, I can sum it up, I call it copy and paste journalism done by parachute journalists. It’s Hamas, the militant group that’s dedicated to the destruction of Israel. And that’s all we hear, or gunmen have been fighting, or rockets has been fired. You don’t hear anything about Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians that are just under lockdown now. The fact that the closures — the crossings have been closed 50% of the year. The fact that as you mentioned, 150,000 government employees, they’re not getting their salaries. They support 1/3 of the Palestinian population.

LAILA EL-HADDAD: And you as a woman?

LAILA EL-HADDAD: It’s much more difficult being a journalist as a woman, and also being a mother, and also being a Palestinian. That’s all in one package, and someone once asked me, how can you be objective, you know, being Palestinian, and that it affects you so personally? I’d like to draw on the wonderful Amira Hass — someone one once asked her that, and she said, “there’s a difference between being objective and being fair.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Laila El-Haddad. She keeps a blog called Raising Yousuf: A Diary of a Mother Under Occupation and works for AlJazeera.net. Your response to Abbas’ proposal for a referendum.

LAILA EL-HADDAD: I mean, the timing isn’t the greatest, to kind of force this referendum, in such a difficult time and situation. And when there is no acknowledgment of Palestinian rights, of Palestinian rights that exist, and there never has been, and no such, you know, absolutely unheard of conditions imposed on Israel for denying Palestinian rights and continuing the occupation. I think it’s a mistake for him to do it at this time, especially do it so publicly, especially since the current government has indicated, you know, that it’s not its decision to make this decision to recognize Israel’s right to exist. It’s a decision for all the people, implying that referendum would be answered, but it’s a matter of timing. You know, recently I did a photo story speaking with nine Palestinians about this issue of recognition, and time and again, what I heard from them was just this — that, you know, look what 10 years of negotiation has brought us. Yes after yes after yes, and this will just be another yes that’s going to result in nothing but more devastation. And, you know, they said in the context of a extensive and just solution with reciprocated rights, it makes sense, but now it just doesn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s proposal for redrawing the borders, a unilateral proposal.

LAILA EL-HADDAD: We were joking about how — what’s the new phrase he’s come up with? Convergence? But I mean I call it “the annexation plan”, because that’s what it is, it’s destroying the West Bank, it’s chopping it into three parts and annexing large portions of it. And within those three parts, nine separate cantons just divided and riddled with check points and all sorts of other things that just really destroy Palestinian life in every way, and it’s also going to destroy any hope of any kind of just solution or negotiated settlement and render a Palestinian state completely impossible.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll have to leave it there. Laila El-Haddad, I want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian journalist and mother living in Gaza and here. She writes for Al-Jazeera.net and maintains her own blog, Raising Yousuf: A Diary of a Mother Under Occupation.

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