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FreeGaza Movement

Human rights group that sailed 5 times into port of Gaza.

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A New Post

This piece was a diary entry that I wrote in 1971 Greta Berlin

In 1969, we came back from Syria completely regenerated, with a long list of things the Palestinians needed, especially medical. I could still teach and manage the charity we’d set up, PALAID and Ribhi finally realized he could do a lot if he was willing to talk to the media in Chicago. For the rest of 1969 and 1970, we were on TV all the time talking about the Middle East, Palestine and our work.

TV crews would come to our home and set up cameras to capture Ribhi with his American wife and two adorable children. He wasn’t fired from his engineering job. His fellow engineers thought it quite fascinating he was on TV. We organized seminars and invited the Ambassadors from Syria and Iraq to come and speak. The cachet of having a 501c3, a charity, was really helpful. Over those two years, we became one of the major faces in Chicago of the Palestinian quest for recognition and justice.

That all changed in September 1970 when members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked four airliners flying to New York City and London. Three were forced to land at Dawson’s Field, a remote desert airstrip near Zarqa, Jordan which then became the PFLP’s “Revolutionary Airport”. By the time it was all over, one hijacker had been killed and one injury reported. The media was on the phone to us the minute the hijackings occurred. We knew nothing, but I had already taught Ribhi how to use their questions to talk about why these hijackings would occur, the frustration of not being heard by the international community and the desire to return home to Palestine.

But there was a terrible downside to being known. We started getting phone calls from Jewish fanatics. Our phone number was listed, because it was the main contact for PALAID. The calls would come in between 2 and 3 am almost every other night They’d swear at us, call us all kinds of names, then hang up. Then, it got worse.

“If anything happens to any of those people on-board those airplanes, something will happen to your kids.”

“You’d better be ready if something happens. I’d worry about your kids if I were you.”

“You want to sacrifice your kids for a bunch of camel jockies?”

We called the police. They said nothing could be done about the threats unless something happened,so we shouldtake the phone off the hook at night or unplug it from the wall.

(There were no cell phones then, and if we disconnected, what if something happened to us?) One policeman suggested buying a whistle and putting it next to the phone, then blow into the receiver. We might break their eardrums, but they’d probably stop calling. I bought a whistle and did exactly that, waiting for the next callers. blowing the whistle as often as they called. The calls stopped, but when I took my children for a walk to our local beach, someone followed us, threw garbage at us as we crossed Sheridan. THat was enough for me and for Ribhi.

We weren’t afraid for the two of us but we were for our 5 and 3-year-old children. I was suddenly aware of why advocating for a cause could easily be stopped if the advocates had children. My father’s admonition, “When you choose your cause, remember you may have to pay the consequences” rang in my ears for days. We couldn’t walk away from what we were doing, but we were deathly afraid something would happen to our children. I would go into their rooms at night. Ribhi took a hammer and nails and nailed their windows shut, but our daughter’s room had a balcony, and we were on the first floor. Threatening the children we adored was enough to make us completely paranoid.

Fnally, I took a six-week leave of absence from teaching, picked up my children and went to a friend’s house in Rockford, Illinois, hiding there until I thought it would be safe. And even then, we weren’t sure they were absolutely safe.

Later, the little organization that kept terrorizing us, calling us names? They metastasized into The Jewish Defense League, an organization on the US domestic terrorist list. Then, Ribhi and I turned PALAID over to the Holy Land Fund, changed our phone number and worked in the background for most of the 70s. I didn’t return “full-frontal” to justice for Palestine for 17 years.

When we collected names of passengers to go on our first trip to Gaza in 2008, one of the criteria we included is that no one had small children. At the last minute, Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of Tony Blair, asked to join us. Sure enough, her children were threatend, but that’s another story.