The Killing Fields of Gaza

- by Fred Schlomka - - 20th May, 2018 -

Gaza continues to be desperate. Your help is needed.

Imagine a giant prison bounded by the sea on one side, and fences and walls on the other three sides. The original prison guards were thrown out in 1967, and the new prison guards evacuated themselves in 2006, retreating to the prison borders, sealing it off except for a few heavily guarded entrances, fortresses along the prison’s land border, and gunboats patrolling the shoreline. Since then few have been allowed to enter or exit. A bare minimum of goods are permitted to enter, barely enough to allow the subsistence for the inmates. 

One of the prison gangs took over the management of the prison, and terrorised the inmates into compliance with their demands. Rival gangs have sent a some small rockets over the fence, causing little property damage and almost no casualties. This results in remote retaliatory attacks by the prison guards via drones, rockets and bombs. Most of the prison inmates live in fear, from the Israelis, from Hamas, and of destitution and despair. There is little hope for the future

The 2 million inmates of Gaza have no citizenship - no state - no freedom. 

Over the past two months, tens of thousands of people come to the fence every Friday to protest their plight. A few try and approach the fence. Some burn tires and throw stones across the fence. The vast majority stay at a distance. It seems likely that these protests are organised by Hamas. It’s also possible that Hamas is orchestrating and planning for the eventual killings, by managing teams of people who are trained and instructed to approach the fence. And yes, there were a few visible armed protesters.

Israel set up teams of snipers and is playing its part by shooting them down. It’s all very predictable. Just a last week, about 60 people were killed in a calculated manner by these snipers. It’s a turkey shoot. 

Much of the foreign media mirrors the official Israeli use of words like ‘clashes’ or ‘riots, describing the protestors as ‘terrorists’. Terminology is used to imply that Israelis are at risk, and the fence might be breached.  Israel fuels this misconception by massing troops along the Gaza border, backed by teams of paramilitary police. 

CNN International said that the ‘clashes’ resulted in ‘deaths’, as if they were acts of God, yet also allowed that ‘Many of them caused by Israeli fire’. Even Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper called the protest a ‘clash’.

There were no ‘clashes’. Every Palestinian was murdered on their own side of the fence by Israeli snipers on the Israeli side of the fence. No protesters came in close contact with any Israeli soldier, not was there any possibility of this happening. 

Every Palestinian murder was a calculated decision of an Israeli sniper or his/her immediate commander, in accordance with their rules of engagement which allows the killing of unarmed Palestinians who are causing no immediate danger to anyone. 

These tactics are the same as used by colonial empires of bygone eras and other authoritarian regimes of today, which prohibit any actions by disenfranchised people protesting their rule. The British likewise conducted lethal reprisals against protests by their subject peoples in India and Africa. China has more recently followed suit. Israel has learned well. 

Non-violent protests are especially feared by the state of Israel, and every effort is made to ensure that violence ensues, thus justifying the killings, at least in Israel’s worldview.

Make no mistake. If Israel wanted to use non-lethal means to drive back the few hundred protesters that approach the fence, then it has sufficient means at it’s disposal, notably water cannon and tear gas. However it also serves Israel’s purpose to conduct these killings.

Israel also needs to learn that murderous repression of protest never has the desired results in the long term. Palestinian steadfastness will not be contained by murder and slaughter. Ultimately the likes of Hamas and the Zionist regime will be tossed in the dustbin of history, and the liberation of the people of Palestine and Israel will be realised. In the meanwhile people are being killed.

Your support is critical at this time. Here’s what you can do:
  • Contact the nearest Israeli Embassy to protest the actions of the IDF
  • Organise a protest outside your nearest Israeli consulate or Embassy
  • Join an organisation in your locale that is active in these issues
  • Contact your political representatives to exert pressure on the Israeli government. 
  • Encourage your friends and relatives to come and visit Israel/Palestine, and bear witness to the events that are unfolding.
  • Organise a group to come on a study tour.
In Peace,
Fred Schlomka
CEO, Green Olive Collective


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of Genocide and Redemption

- by Fred Schlomka - 
Holocaust Memorial Day, 12th April 2018

Michael Schlomka
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. My father, Michael Schlomka was an early survivor, and escaped from Nazi Germany in 1934, eventually making his way to mandate Palestine.  - May his memory be a blessing - He had been tortured and abused by the German regime, contributing to his early death in the 1950s when I was just a child. 

Remembering him is painful. His life and death defined my early years.  He passed suddenly when I was three years old, resulting in my mother’s psychological breakdown and hospitalisation shortly thereafter. My father, mother and brother had fled Palestine in 1948 and settled in Edinburgh, Scotland, where my sister and I were born. 

We became wards of the state after father’s death, passing through a series of orphanages and foster parents, leading to my brother Connie’s suicide when he was just fourteen years old - May his memory be a blessing - . My mother was confined to an institution until I was fifteen, by which time we were so traumatised and estranged as a family that there was no recovering from it, at least not for me while I remained in Scotland.

Hannah and Conny Schlomka
I left the country at seventeen years old, became a wandering hippie for many years, settling first in the USA, then finally back in Israel with my dear wife Sunita, and our two wonderful children, Mikhael (Muki) and Maya. It has also been a blessing that after serious estrangement in our early years, my sister Helen and I have managed to build a close relationship over the past few decades. My mother passed away several years ago after a lengthy period of deteriorating dementia, likely caused by the primitive electric shock treatments she received at the institution.  - May her memory be a blessing - We returned mother to Israel where she now rests in a beautiful spot in the Judean hills.

Such is the legacy of the Nazi Holocaust, which ravaged the Jews and non-Jews of Europe in a manner the world had never seen, and hopefully never will again. Have we learned much from their evil legacy? On the whole, I think not, given the various genocides perpetrated since the 1940s, and the ongoing dehumanisation of the Palestinian population under Israel’s control. 

My mother’s family were indigenous to Palestine for generations before the advent of Zionism. Like many devout Jews an ancestor of mine settled there for religious reasons under the Ottoman Empire and became part of the mosaic of ethnic and religious groups, some of whom date back many centuries, even millennia. I now have over a thousand living relatives in Israel, who are part of the revival and renaissance of Jewish life, reborn in the shadow of the holocaust.

Yet the trauma has not left us, and will not for another few generations, until the survivors, and their children, myself included, are long gone. Many second and third generation Israelis sadly continue to instil xenophobic notions of humanity into their children, resulting the type of narrow religious nationalism that is prevalent in Israel today, and growing stronger.

Michael Schlomka was a socialist and an activist in the political opposition against the Nazis in Germany, which was why he was among the first to be taken. Shortly after the Nazis were elected to power in the early 1930s, they consolidated their power by eliminating all opposition, torturing and imprisoning the leadership, my father among them. Eventually in 1934 he escaped Germany with his wife.

Father was probably shocked after his arrival in Palestine, at the excesses of the terrorist pre-state Jewish militias, and by the attitudes of many immigrant Zionists towards the non-Jewish population. His imagined Zionist-socialist utopia melted in front of him, even as it was emerging into a state, strident and authoritarian from the beginning. 

I can only imagine what he might have thought of today’s scenario in Israel/Palestine - the colonisation of the West Bank - the encapsulation and blockade of Gaza - the dehumanisation of human life - the wanton killing of Arabs - the degeneration of Zionism into a twisted effigy of the founders’ dreams.

What have we become? Have we learned nothing from the Holocaust? Does ‘Never Again’ really mean that in order to be strong we have to degrade most of the non-Jews in the so-called Holy Land? The soul of Jewish life in Israel is slipping away and being replaced by an ugly and deformed parody of the Zionist Dream. 

Worst of all, the nation can’t see it. The Jewish people in Israel are so bedazzled by their ‘Start-up Nation’ status and Neo-riche lifestyles, that they have come to accept the daily atrocities as somehow a normal and necessary part of our development as a state - Much like the European immigrants to the colonial regimes of the Americas accepted the genocide of the native population. 

I cried last night after watching ‘Shindlers List’. Not for the 6 million who perished. Their tragedy is over. Enough tears have been shed in their memory. My tears were for us, the descendants of the survivors, who have normalised the barbaric attitudes and behaviours that continue to define the state of Israel. 

Rays of sunshine - Maya and Muki
together with parents Fred and Sunita
Despite the country's descent into a fortress state of religious nationalists, many of third generation have emerged as rays of sunshine. Some of us have beaten the odds, and raised healthy vibrant children who have humane values and are pursuing productive lives. These sons and daughters are the hope of the future, and our ultimate redemption as Jews and human beings.

They will eventually show the world that the legacy of the six million lives that were cruelly taken, will become light amid the darkness, and hope amid despair.

I am counting on them to let my father’s memory and countless others, shine like beacons of possibility, and create a future where all of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, can live together in dignity, equality, and peace

Make no mistake, my fellow Israelis and fellow Jews, Zionists and non-Zionists alike. We are all responsible. Turn your backs if you like. Put your head in the sand. Justify all you want. But when the tally is taken at the end of the road, we will all be found wanting, and you may be asked by your children or grandchildren,  - “What did you do?”. How will you answer?

Dedicated to the memory of the six million. May they rest in peace.
Fred Schlomka is the CEO of Green Olive Tours and currently spends about half the year in Israel/Palestine, and a few months each year in Scotland and the USA, where his grandson Logan came into this world in 2016. 


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Running in Ethiopia

by Benjamin Cousen - 

It occurs to me that one of the main reasons to run (and this is a passing thought not extending to anything like a philosophy), is that the activities of running, and entering races, become the vehicles or excuses to go to places. They provide a legitimacy to travel. I certainly would not have visited to Ethiopia if it hadn’t been for the Green Olive Great Ethiopian Run Running Tour, but at the same time, this tour was always going to be more about an experience of Ethiopia than about running. However running provided the reason to be there and a window into a specific culture.

Ben communing with an Ethiopian Hyena 
The enriching intensity of the whole tour is impossible to convey in the space of this article but running was a theme that threaded through the holistic experiences of history, landscapes, wildlife, NGO work, sign language workshops, dance lessons, market places, food extravaganzas, boat rides, wolves, hippos and Rastafarians. 

In the middle of this myriad (bewildering at times because spontaneity, delay and sudden action to a changed plan are features of Ethiopian existence), we met the greatest of runners Haile Gebreselassie, and at the end we ran the 10k Great Ethiopian Run and throughout, like returning to the breath in meditation, we went running.

Running is what a lot of Ethiopians do. Quite a few of them, relatively speaking, do it better than anyone else in the world. This fact and the potential of attaining almost unimaginable glory and reward, is almost like a haunting presence in itself when running with the Ethiopians. I wonder if it is a problem. I wondered the same thing in 2012 when I went to see the documentary film Town of Runners at the Picturehouse in Brixton London. This film focuses on the small town of Bekoji, south of Addis Ababa, a town of corrugated iron and mud from whence many Olympic and world champions have emerged (think Tulu, Gelana, Bekele, Dibaba to pick out a very few). Gebreselassie in fact doesn’t come from Bekoji - but he’s not from far away.

The documentary has a bittersweet feel, it is narrated by Biruk, who is an endearing small boy at the beginning of the film (“before my voice broke” as he says in the voiceover). It tells the tale of two girls from Bekoji who are promising runners. It also tells the story of the Chinese built road that was coming, linking Bekoji with Addis Ababa, and perhaps symbolising much greater change. It was along this road that we from Green Olive travelled to Bekoji to spend time running with the young people of the town and be afforded a glimpse into their lives. Biruk himself, now a young man with a penchant for occasionally dressing like SnoopDog, was in fact one of the guides for our whole tour and the organiser of the Bekoji trip. 

Just after 7 am seemingly hundreds of young men and women begin training among the trees that cover a small slope at the edge of the town -all under the direction of the legendary coach Sentayu.

I found myself fourth in line in a small ‘train’ of six runners as we wound our way at a steady pace in and out of the trees and up and down the slope, constantly twisting and turning. We’d return to the valley at intervals when Sentayu blew his whistle and then drills would be seamlessly performed before another whistle returned us to the mesmeric parade around and about and through the trees. At one point a young man joined our line one place ahead of me and for the rest of the run I contemplated the fact that he was running in a pair of old converse shoes with no laces and the soles falling off. His t-shirt was filthy and he wore a pair of cut down jeans.

Such observations were reinforced in the afternoon when Biruk had arranged for us to visit the homes of two aspiring athletes. Both these young men were in Bekoji with the aim of making it as athletes under the guidance of Sentayu. Their living conditions were shocking to all of us and I think for many this was the most emotional moment of the whole tour. It is hard to describe it with justice in this blog. What I think was most troubling was the enormity of the stakes in the world these boys were entering. 

The expectations are incredibly intense - it is either everything or nothing. It defies belief in many ways that these people of Ethiopia and Bekoji who rely on gifts of second hand shoes, can so often take on the rest of the world and win. The problem is, of course, that it is a minuscule proportion who actually get there. There are many tales of young athletes being exiled by their families if they fail to ‘make it’. And an athlete could be at a standard where if they would be the best in Europe were they from the UK or Holland, but it still might not be enough to count on a Ethiopian and hence global stage.

It is an unease at the implications of this that I felt when watching Town of Runners and I felt it again when visiting and running with the Ethiopians this time.The question that lingers is what happens to those who are brilliant but maybe not brilliant enough? Two runners on that cusp, Dagiff and Hagdu were our running guides. This, perhaps, is something that can be promoted and can provide a career for these talents- running tourism. I ran particularly with 32 year old Hagdu, often just me and him in the early morning of Addis Ababa. We would duck under a barbed wire fence at the boundary of Millennium Park above the city. Tracks and trails teemed with plastic bottles, rubbish and other runners and the air was thin. “Gebreselassie still trains here in the morning”, Hagdu tells me. “And she who’s stretching over there - that’s Tiki Gelana, she won the Olympic Marathon in London 2012”. I waved and Tiki Gelana, Olympic record holder beamed and waved back.


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