Today my team heard from mothers, fathers and children of the Samouni family their story of the Hell on Earth created by Operation Cast Lead. Twenty-nine people were killed in this family: children shot in front of parents, parents shot in front of children, 97 people in one home blasted to bits by rockets and mortars. They were made to live amongst the mutilated and dead for several days; while ambulances were kept away some died slowly over hours and even days.
Ken O’Keefe (Gaza, March 2011)
Samouni Inter-Trade Palestine (SIP) is a social enterprise international trade mission. We endeavour to catalyse the end of Gaza’s charitable dependency through import and export trade. We do not seek simply to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza. Our ultimate objective is to eliminate preventable, blockade-derived suffering. We recognise the loss of dignity that is inherent in compelling a people to live on aid. We are focused on the root of the problem and thus we are committed to replacing aid with trade.
Our motives are humanitarian and non-profit. Our objective is to regularly transport people and cargo through Rafah Crossing without obstruction, which is an essential prerequisite for viable trade. In the long-term, our goal is for Gaza to be rebuilt with its infrastructure functioning to capacity, for an egalitarian economy to develop and a transformation from despair to prosperity to take place.
We will take an international trade convoy from London on July 2, 2011, intending to arrive in Gaza on July 22. Among our drivers will be members of the Samouni family. Our cargo will include raw materials such as textiles and building materials, industrial machinery and equipment geared towards economic development and the rebuilding of Gaza. Upon offloading our cargo we will immediately begin to reload our trucks with ‘Made in Palestine’ products. Our task then will be to export these products to markets abroad.
Aloha Palestine CIC & the Samouni Project
This convoy is comprised of two primary partners, Aloha Palestine CIC and the Samouni Project. Both are EU registered, non-profit companies, with Aloha Palestine being a community interest trading company.
The Samouni Project mission is to provide long-term quality education along with community services to over 200 members of the Samouni family, as well as residents of the surrounding community of Zeitoun in Gaza. To date the Samouni Project has planted an olive tree orchard, built a playground, procured our classroom/community centre, and recruited teaching staff who are currently developing the curriculum. In addition, we have painted the classroom and collected textbooks, computers, arts and crafts, school supplies, a microscope, telescope, globe, screen projector, and musical instruments in order to create a welcoming and well-supplied classroom. Our next essential task is to transport all these materials from London and to secure running costs for teaching staff and administration of approximately £2400 a month.
The aims of the Samouni Project complement and empower the mission of Aloha Palestine, whose function is to transport the cargo in order to complete the classroom and begin classes. Any attempt to block Aloha Palestine will be publicised as highly injurious to the Samouni family, and tantamount to denying this family and its children the education they deserve.
Trade Not Aid
Many people do not appreciate the damage caused to a society when citizens are compelled to live long-term on hand-outs as opposed to being able to provide for themselves. Normally aid is provided to people in the aftermath of a natural disaster. But in the case of Gaza it is political corruption and the failure to defeat this corruption that has resulted in the people of Gaza enduring more than four years as a charitable dependency. The result of this is devastating. In simple terms the parents are not only unable to protect their children from Israeli aggression, but are also incapable of providing even the bare essentials without aid. Children become both witnesses to and victims of this reality. Many begin to lose respect for their parents, which in turn causes parents to suffer from diminishing self-respect and depression. If no other options exist and aid becomes institutionalised, as it has become in Gaza, people begin to see it as their only means to live. Dignity is stolen from the recipients, and an insidiously destructive weapon becomes self-feeding, destroying a society from within.
At the root of this all is the blockade and the inability to conduct trade. At a certain point, it becomes arguably criminal to relegate people to living on hand-outs. SIP’s position is that Palestinians are more than capable of standing on their own two feet, but our collective failure to direct our energy at the root of the problem has relegated them to the status of beggars. Doctors and engineers are picking up trash in Gaza today because it is the only job they can find. And they are the lucky ones who at least have a job. SIP intends to confront the problem head-on, to strike at the heart of the problem and eliminate this injustice by proactive, as opposed to reactive, means.
Samouni Inter-Trade Palestine is a social enterprise collaboration. The nature of a social enterprise is to confront social problems and effect solutions through intelligent business models. Contrary to the standard business model, financial profits are not “the bottom line”. The key here is self-sufficiency and social impact. Social Enterprises do not rely upon donations for survival; this makes them much less susceptible to coercion from large donors.
Most of all, success for a social enterprise is measured by it’s impact on society.
SIP’s success will translate to the creation of jobs in Egypt, Europe and Palestine and intrinsically, stimulating the economies of each nation. Among the Palestinian jobs created in Gaza, 10 positions for teachers, counsellors and administrators for the Samouni Project’s education program, 2 positions for truck drivers, both to be filled by men of the Samouni family. Within our business model we work with the Palestinians as partners, as equals, not benefactors.
As the Managing Director of the Samouni Project I answer to the members of the company, who happen to be the Samouni family, if I do not carry out their will, they have the power to remove me.
We are not a charity; we are a partnership of Palestinians and internationals working together for common and mutually agreeable goals. Together we have the wisdom of Palestinian culture, the understanding of the Western market and mind-set. We are young and old, we are Internet and social media savvy, and we have significant backing from around the globe.
Make no mistake, the people of Palestine have determined SIP’s priorities and they are the primary stakeholders in our mission. As a social enterprise our success will not be measured by profits. It will be measured by the ability of the people of Gaza to work in dignified jobs, create and run their own businesses, rebuild their homes and factories, conduct international trade profitably, and develop their economy in order to shed their charitable dependency status. That is our ultimate mission.
All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
We are committed to manifesting the transformation of the world’s largest open-air prison into a thriving Mediterranean metropolis. We will not celebrate the ‘breaking of the siege’ upon arrival in Gaza; instead we will offload our cargo, reload our trucks with cargo ‘Made in Palestine’, and then set off to export these products to markets abroad. Then we will repeat the cycle.
Ultimately this is a matter of the people of Gaza being able to exercise self-determination, which inherently includes the ability to conduct viable international trade and commerce.
The declaration is intended to establish a comprehensive Euro-Mediterranean partnership in order to turn the Mediterranean into a common area of peace, stability and prosperity through the reinforcement of political dialogue and security, an economic and financial partnership and a social, cultural and human partnership.
Reading the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) agreements reveals continuous proclamations compelling respect for “human rights”, “democracy”, “free-trade” and “shared prosperity”.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership claims to focus on three key objectives:
· fostering “peace and stability”
· “promote understanding between cultures and exchanges between civil societies”
· and the “creation of an area of shared prosperity” in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
Under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Israel has done extremely well, prospering to the tune of roughly 25bn Euros a year in trade with the EU. Palestinians, on the other hand, conduct a miniscule amount of trade by comparison. Even worse, the people of Gaza are almost completely barred from international trade and have been made to endure a brutal and illegal blockade for over four years.
Adding insult to injury, the Palestinians of Gaza are compelled by lack of choice to increase the profitability of their Israeli oppressors by buying the products Israel exports to Palestine.
EU Obligations with Regard to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership
There are 27 Member States of the European Union who have entered into treaties that mandate a ‘Free Trade Zone’ in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The multi-lateral and bi-lateral treaties are contracts with ‘partner countries’ in the region. These countries include Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, all of which we will travel through en route to Gaza. Importantly, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership includes a treaty between the EU and the Palestinian Authority, identifying the ‘Palestinian Territories’ as a partner country, under this treaty, import/export bans are prohibited and free trade is sacrosanct, at least when it comes to Israel.
Legal precedents have been established to protect against import/export bans. Over the course of two years Aloha Palestine has been committed to due diligence by investing nearly one third of its entire budget on legal advice, with emphasis in public international law, human rights law, and international trade law. We have retained some of the top legal minds in preparation for the trade mission we are set to conduct this June.
Cultural imperialism is domination through policies that exploit the economic and/or technological superiority of one over the other, in this case the West over the Arab world. The EU and Israel are partners in cultural imperialism and the EMP has been one of their primary tools, especially with regard to Palestine. No significant challenge to this injustice has been conducted by trading with Palestine as Israel does with the EU, but that is exactly what SIP intends to do. We shall challenge the cultural imperialism of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership while citing the agreement itself. And we shall expose the hypocrisy of the EU should it not protect the interests of an EU-based trading company.
SIP intends to have top attorneys on retainer, prepared to take legal action should SIP be blocked or unjustly delayed.
Historic Role of the European Union
As an occupying power controlling Gaza’s air, land and sea space, Israel has been in grave breach of its obligations under international law. In addition, Israel has continuously violated the stated principles of the Euro–Mediterranean Partnership. Despite this, the EU has supported Israel without pause, firmly establishing its complicity in the crimes committed against the people of Gaza. Making this particularly reprehensible is the presence of over 800,000 children in Gaza. The reality is that innocent children in the eyes of the EU do not warrant even a fraction of the favour that the EU affords Israel.
The justification for the EU’s complicity in Israeli crimes is the democratic election in which Hamas came to power, since Hamas is listed as a terrorist organisation. A worthwhile comparison to Hamas however would be the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the African National Congress (ANC), both of which were deemed to be terrorist entities, both eventually having the opportunity to utilise politics as an alternative to violent resistance. Hamas, however, has repeatedly been denied this opportunity, despite making repeated offers for a long-term truce and a negotiated settlement.
It bears repeating, the EU has collaborated in collectively punishing the people of Gaza while rewarding the state that is guilty of the crime.
As an EU-based company, Aloha Palestine will demand the right to trade with Palestine just as other EU companies trade with Israel. If the EU fails to do this, we will employ every means possible to expose the EU not just for complicity, but active participation in the collective punishment of the people of Gaza.
Egyptian Blockade of Gaza
It must be said that the Israeli-led blockade of Gaza is in itself useless unless Egypt conducts its own blockade of Gaza. Under Mubarak Egypt did precisely that, justifying the blockade by citing agreements brokered for Israeli/US interests and at a terrible cost to Palestinians. However with the rising of the people of Egypt and the subsequent fall of Hosni Mubarak, the people of Egypt, especially the youth movements, hold the key to Gaza’s future.
Egypt’s new Foreign Minister Nabil al Arabi has stated that the time to end the Egyptian blockade of Gaza is now, and he further clarified that the blockade “is contrary to the rules of international humanitarian law which prohibits the siege of civilians, even in times of war.”
In this context we shall cooperate with the post-Mubarak government so as to ensure the economic and human rights of the people of Palestine are finally respected. On April 28 2011 Egypt formally announced the end of the Egyptian blockade. The stage is set for SIP to conduct a historic mission that should spell the end of a shameful chapter in Egypt’s history.
The timing of our mission could hardly be better.
…it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…
SIP’s position is that respect for human rights, ending of the blockade, normalising trade and the establishment of legitimate security procedures at the Rafah Border Crossing is in the best interest of security for every nation in the region. We argue that by reviving the crippled economy of Gaza/Palestine and boosting the ailing economy of Egypt, stability through prosperity will develop. Stability is a prerequisite for security and we must not ignore the fact that corrupt economic and political systems, inequitable distribution of wealth and the deep poverty that results, are at the heart of the civil unrest reshaping the Middle East at this critical point in human history. Therefore, the development of the Egyptian and Palestinian economies is essential for a just and peaceful Middle East.
Aloha Palestine is committed to enhancing regional security by conducting Safe Trade:
The commercial exchange of non-hazardous items; trade that stimulates economic growth while posing no danger to society. Trade involving transparency, fairness and social responsibility that fosters prosperity while enhancing security in the regions of the world in which it is conducted.
Unlike the free trade that is conducted between Israel, the EU and the United States, there will be no trading of weapons, especially weapons of mass destruction.
… recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…
Samouni Inter-Trade Palestine is indeed a trade mission, but our motives are grounded in humanitarian principles. While the past is characterised by a system of tyranny, concentrated wealth, power in the hands of the most corrupt and violent, and ceaseless suffering and injustice, the future holds great promise for a better world.
Like the mythical phoenix, a symbol of rebirth, immortality, and renewal, we see Gaza/Palestine at the end of its period of fire. From the ashes Gaza will be rebuilt, and the people will rise to claim their inherent right of self-determination. And it will start with connecting Gaza to the world once more with viable international trade.