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There are situations in our lives where old beliefs are confronted and challenged by experiences which impact how we view things, buy voltaren and how we look at the world overall.  Gaza moves a New York City mom from apathy to activism Debbie Mardon (left) and her Palestinian-American husband Mahmoud Bitar (center) attend a demonstration on 31 May demonstration in Times Square against Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Buy voltaren (Ellen Davidson) Alex Kane writing from New York City Last New Year's Eve, buy voltaren Debbie Mardon did not celebrate with noise makers or confetti -- instead, buy voltaren she headed to Cairo's main square to participate in the Gaza Freedom March with her daughter Jenna Bitar, buy voltaren 18, buy voltaren and son Joel, buy voltaren 23. Amid police violence aimed at protesters and Egyptian security forces blockading them inside their hotel, buy voltaren Debbie, buy voltaren 55, buy voltaren a native New Yorker, buy voltaren said that protesting in Cairo "was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life." It was an unlikely place to be for a previously apolitical mother who voted for George W. Buy voltaren Bush and as recently as three years ago relied on right-wing radio hosts Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh to help her make sense of the world. More than 1, buy voltaren300 activists from 43 countries traveled to Cairo to take part in the Gaza Freedom March, buy voltaren a demonstration aimed at bringing attention to the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip. Since 2006, buy voltaren after the Islamist movement Hamas won democratic elections, buy voltaren Israel and Egypt have completely blockaded this besieged coastal strip on the Mediterranean, buy voltaren only allowing in basic humanitarian aid. Buy voltaren The situation worsened in December 2008, buy voltaren when Israel invaded Gaza, buy voltaren eventually killing about 1, buy voltaren400 Palestinians, buy voltaren the majority of them civilians. Debbie and her children, buy voltaren like the rest of the activists who participated in the Gaza Freedom March, buy voltaren were outraged at what many have labeled the "Gaza massacre." The three-year journey for Debbie, buy voltaren her husband Mahmoud and their two children from political indifference to passionate involvement in the Palestine solidarity community has brought them closer together as a family, buy voltaren and they now regularly attend demonstrations together. For Debbie, buy voltaren things came to a head during the attack on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09. Buy voltaren It was a personally harrowing time -- both she and Mahmoud had lost their mothers and a good friend had been placed in a nursing home, buy voltaren and Debbie decided it was time to find out more about what was happening in Palestine. She started attending talks and lectures about Palestine, buy voltaren and one in particular, buy voltaren featuring Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert at Columbia University, buy voltaren left an indelible impression. "It was jaw-dropping. Buy voltaren He showed us photos of dying and maimed children, buy voltaren children burned from the white phosphorous, buy voltaren and the photos had me in tears. Buy voltaren Then he said, buy voltaren this suffering is not caused by a natural disaster, buy voltaren it is political, buy voltaren it is foreign policy and you can no longer be silent while your government supports this. Buy voltaren After that I made an effort to find out how I could get involved, buy voltaren" Debbie said. Native New Yorker Debbie, buy voltaren tall, buy voltaren outgoing and buoyant, buy voltaren can be found in her fifth floor walk-up apartment on the Upper East Side. Buy voltaren She is welcoming and quick to offer dinner and drinks. Buy voltaren The apartment she shares with her Palestinian-American husband and two kids is snug, buy voltaren with enough room to feel comfortable but not enough to avoid each other if everyone's home. There are pictures of Jenna in a Halloween costume in the kitchen, buy voltaren plants around the living room, buy voltaren a comfortable couch and a black cat named Blossom. Buy voltaren Their bookshelf is filled with the works of Noam Chomsky, buy voltaren Chris Hedges and Norman Finkelstein and flyers advertising leftist events in the city are posted near the refrigerator. Three years ago, buy voltaren Debbie would have been on the couch watching Bill O'Reilly and reading conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. Debbie took comfort in Fox News' slant on the world. Buy voltaren "I wanted to know that someone out there was watching so our country wasn't torn apart by unpatriotic voices, buy voltaren" she said. But for most of Debbie's life, buy voltaren politics were not important. Buy voltaren One of five siblings, buy voltaren she grew up in the Bedford Park neighborhood in the Bronx and attended Walton High School. Buy voltaren Her mother was a homemaker and her father worked as an electrician. Debbie went to the City College School of Architecture, buy voltaren where she first met her future husband, buy voltaren Mahmoud Bitar, buy voltaren a Palestinian-American, buy voltaren at the end of their sophomore year. Buy voltaren Mahmoud was taken with Debbie starting with the first time they met. "We talked under a tree in the rain on campus. Buy voltaren I saw her heart and fell in love, buy voltaren" Mahmoud said. When Debbie first met Mahmoud, buy voltaren she did not understand what it meant to be someone from Palestine. Buy voltaren Mahmoud was uncomfortable with his heritage, buy voltaren and he let people, buy voltaren including Debbie when they started dating, buy voltaren think he was Jewish or Italian. Buy voltaren Debbie recalls how "people said things to him like, buy voltaren 'You're not a Palestinian, buy voltaren you're too nice.'" Born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1958, buy voltaren Mahmoud was brought up immersed in the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Buy voltaren He lived in Jericho, buy voltaren a city in the West Bank, buy voltaren for the first ten years of his life after his family moved there because his father had set up a station in Jericho selling fruits and vegetables. Buy voltaren In 1967, buy voltaren when the war broke out, buy voltaren Mahmoud and his family returned to Jerusalem after Israeli bombs killed three of his relatives. As soon as Mahmoud and his two brothers were college-aged, buy voltaren their parents sent them to the United States. Buy voltaren Mahmoud, buy voltaren now a US citizen, buy voltaren arrived in the country in 1977 on a student visa. After getting married in 1980 and graduating from college three years later, buy voltaren Debbie and Mahmoud had their first child, buy voltaren Joel, buy voltaren in 1986, buy voltaren and their second, buy voltaren Jenna, buy voltaren in 1992. Buy voltaren Debbie worked part-time at an architectural firm while raising their children. Mahmoud, buy voltaren who has curly hair and seems to always have a twinkle in his eye, buy voltaren speaks in calm and at times airy tones, buy voltaren a contrast to Debbie's more forward and pointed way of talking. Buy voltaren He currently works as an architect for New York City's Administration for Children's Services. For most of their marriage and while raising Jenna and Joel, buy voltaren Mahmoud rarely talked about his childhood in Palestine. "I never got a greater picture, buy voltaren it was just bad things were happening to the Palestinians, buy voltaren or at least my family that was Palestinian, buy voltaren" Jenna said. Buy voltaren "I visited there before I knew what was going on, buy voltaren for three weeks, buy voltaren with my grandparents when they were alive. Buy voltaren I lived the life they lived for a bit, buy voltaren saw the checkpoints, buy voltaren but I didn't understand." 11 September 2001 The 11 September 2001 attacks jolted Debbie's political perspective, buy voltaren and made Mahmoud more nervous about his background as a Palestinian, buy voltaren especially as thousands of Middle Eastern men were profiled and arrested throughout New York City. Debbie had just dropped Jenna off at school when she returned home and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television. Debbie turned to Fox News for clarity. "That was the first time I started learning about foreign policy, buy voltaren and why someone would attack us, buy voltaren" Debbie said. But Debbie and Mahmoud rarely discussed post-11 September politics. "We didn't discuss it, buy voltaren I just listened. Buy voltaren Debbie's a leader by nature, buy voltaren so she always led with the remote control, buy voltaren" Mahmoud recalled. Buy voltaren "She had the remote control with her so she would pick the information, buy voltaren and I would retreat when I had really had enough of it." Joel was apathetic about politics at the time, buy voltaren and Jenna stayed by her mother's side as she watched Fox. Debbie's close attention to post-11 September politics did not last for too long after the Iraq War started in 2003, buy voltaren though, buy voltaren as her trust in the government slipped when the US did not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. However, buy voltaren a series of events in 2008 would bring politics back into the family's life in a prominent way, buy voltaren and they have not turned back since. Injustice and transformation Debbie's family started attending the Redeemer Presbyterian Church almost twenty years ago. Buy voltaren While they were initially drawn to the church, buy voltaren which met at Hunter College, buy voltaren by a smart and interesting pastor, buy voltaren over the years the congregation became a second family for all of them. However, buy voltaren they were forced to leave this community in March 2008 after Mahmoud, buy voltaren who worked at the church on Sundays, buy voltaren was accused of stealing a CD of a church sermon. Buy voltaren He was arrested by a City University of New York security guard and charged with assaulting an officer, buy voltaren resisting arrest and misdemeanor theft -- charges that Debbie and her family say were ridiculous and were later dropped. "It was a small thing in the larger world, buy voltaren but it happened to us, buy voltaren" Debbie recalled. Buy voltaren "I thought that we would be immune to all this, buy voltaren and that the community we were a part of would care about truth and care about justice being served, buy voltaren but they didn't care about either of those things. Buy voltaren It opened my eyes to greater injustices. Buy voltaren I used to think that people who went to jail were probably guilty. Buy voltaren But now, buy voltaren I thought, buy voltaren 'Oh my goodness! There are all these people in jail that are probably innocent.' Michael could've gone to jail, buy voltaren but he had a private lawyer. Buy voltaren What happens if you're poor?" she said, buy voltaren using the nickname that Mahmoud had used when he first came to the US. Nine months later, buy voltaren on 27 December 2008, buy voltaren Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, buy voltaren beginning what would be a devastating assault. "It was during Gaza that we started to awaken, buy voltaren" said Joel, buy voltaren who at the time was first foraying into politics by joining an antiwar organization at Hunter College and reading books about US foreign policy and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Buy voltaren "Killing civilians indiscriminately with US weapons, buy voltaren paid for with our tax money, buy voltaren seemed to be so hideously wrong." During what Amnesty International called "22 days of death and destruction, buy voltaren" Debbie could not avoid the Gaza conflict, buy voltaren especially because Mahmoud's brother Farid, buy voltaren who was glued to Al-Jazeera's coverage of the assault, buy voltaren was emotionally devastated. Joel, buy voltaren who was reading books like Noam Chomsky's The Fateful Triangle: The United States, buy voltaren Israel and the Palestinians, buy voltaren also started to talk with Debbie about the detrimental impact of US foreign policy on Palestine. After those 22 days were over, buy voltaren Debbie started going to lectures and protests about the conflict and soon found herself enmeshed in the world of Palestine solidarity activism. Buy voltaren Although described as the "leader" of the household, buy voltaren she was the last person to finally call herself an activist. The assault on Gaza also made Mahmoud become more engaged with the Palestine solidarity movement. "It's a natural conclusion to what happened in Gaza, buy voltaren" Mahmoud said. Buy voltaren "Our breath is being taken out of us. Buy voltaren I felt an urgency to start having a voice." In the last two years, buy voltaren the household has been transformed. Buy voltaren Jenna described how sometimes, buy voltaren before she goes to sleep, buy voltaren Debbie will run into her room and "just read me books out loud, buy voltaren" including passages from the work of Chris Hedges and Michael Parenti. Buy voltaren "She'll come and say, buy voltaren 'I have to read you this passage, buy voltaren it's so good' and it'll be something sad and depressing, buy voltaren" Jenna said, buy voltaren laughing. These days, buy voltaren it is nearly impossible to miss Debbie and members of her family at activist events related to Palestine. Buy voltaren The actions they frequent include protesting with Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, buy voltaren in the group's campaign against Lev Leviev. Buy voltaren An Israeli billionaire who owns a jewelry store in Manhattan, buy voltaren Leviev is involved with companies that invest in and construct illegal Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land. "She's really knowledgeable. Buy voltaren She has really educated herself on Palestine, buy voltaren" says Helen Schiff, buy voltaren a New York-based activist who has become close friends with Debbie over the past two years. Buy voltaren "She has a voracious mind, buy voltaren and she's very, buy voltaren very smart." However, buy voltaren her transition into political activism has not come without a cost for Debbie and her family. Buy voltaren Her passion for politics has "caused a lot of stress on our relationship, buy voltaren" said Mahmoud. Buy voltaren "There's always a cost to anything, buy voltaren and it's drawing from our reservoir." Some of her friends worry she is on the "wrong political track." One friend, buy voltaren Debbie said, buy voltaren told her, buy voltaren "I'm worried for your children." Debbie believes that this kind of reaction stems from the fact that the life she and her family have chosen to live is unconventional. "We're looking at the world from a whole different perspective, buy voltaren and it's a harder way to live. Buy voltaren Most people that I know would not want that -- they would want a pretty status quo type of life, buy voltaren" Debbie said. While some of Debbie's friends avoid discussing Mideast politics with her, buy voltaren Debbie is eager to talk with friends who are interested in learning more about Israel's occupation of Palestine. In 2009 Debbie took her brother to a talk by scholar Norman Finkelstein at the Brecht Forum, buy voltaren a political and social educational center on Manhattan's west side. Buy voltaren Her brother, buy voltaren a Democrat and strong supporter of Barack Obama, buy voltaren said he was "shocked" by the realities of the situation in Gaza. But for Debbie, buy voltaren knowledge is just the first step of many -- she helped raise money for students participating in the Gaza Freedom March in 2009, buy voltaren and helped organize a protest outside a Friends of the IDF fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria earlier this spring. With Jenna attending college in the fall and Joel working as a doorman in the Upper East Side, buy voltaren Debbie plans to continue her part-time job, buy voltaren as well as her involvement in the Palestine solidarity movement. "It is essential that the movement continue to grow. Buy voltaren Hopefully, buy voltaren in this economic climate, buy voltaren Americans will decide that there are better uses for their money besides supporting unending wars that will fuel terrorism, buy voltaren not end it, buy voltaren" Debbie said. She used to think individuals could not change anything in the world. Buy voltaren And she still thinks that. "Over a long time you can change [the world], buy voltaren but personally, buy voltaren me? Coming along and changing anything, buy voltaren it's unlikely, buy voltaren" Debbie said. "But I can have a part ... Buy voltaren I want to change things badly, buy voltaren but that's not even the thing that motivates me any longer, buy voltaren" she said. Buy voltaren "It's just that I can no longer sit by and watch things happen and not speak out and at least be a voice shouting out there." Alex Kane is a 21-year-old college student, buy voltaren journalist and blogger based in New York City. Buy voltaren He is a reporter for the Indypendent, buy voltaren and a frequent contributor to Mondoweiss. Buy voltaren His articles have also appeared in Common Dreams, buy voltaren Red Pepper (UK), buy voltaren and Palestine Chronicle. Buy voltaren Original article can be found at: