THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Acting for peace
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Jan. 10-16, 2010
During the New Year's holiday the attention of people throughout Europe and the Middle East was focused on the Gaza Freedom March. The March, organized by more than 1000 people from 43 different countries, began with arriving in Egypt with the aim of crossing the border into Gaza to walk with Palestinians to mark the one year anniversary of the Israeli military assault on Gaza.
The 2007 22 day military assault had left 1400 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, and 100,000 Gaza residents homeless. Thirteen Israelis were killed.
It has been investigated by the United Nations which issued the Goldstone Report, calling on both Israel and Hamas to investigate accusations of war crimes. Israel has been the primary focus for criticism because of its overwhelming military strength and the huge differences in the death tolls. The Goldstone Report concluded that Israel had used disproportionate force and had deliberately targeted Gaza civilians, using them as human shields, while destroying the infrastructure of their communities.
Over the last year international activists have been attempting to challenge the Israeli blockade, sending in boats loaded with supplies. The demonstration over New Year's was designed to bring world attention to the plight of Palestinians.
Human Rights groups have universally condemned the Gaza blockade by Israel and Egypt. Amnesty International called it a "form of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, a flagrant violation of Israel's obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention." Human Rights Watch calls it a "serious violation of international law" and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights condemned the siege as a "crime against humanity."
Of the 1300 activists gathered in Cairo, only about 90 were actually allowed to make crossing from Egypt into Gaza which has been closed since the summer of 2007. At first the decision by the Egyptian government to allow 100 people through the Rafah crossing seemed like a victory because it was the result of pressures on the Egyptian government through protests at the French Embassy, civil disobedience and a hunger strike on the steps of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate.
Only the hunger strike drew much attention in the U.S. because one of the strikers was 85 year old Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor. She said she was on the March because she wanted "world governments to wake up and treat Israel like they treat any other country and not to be afraid to reprimand and criticize Israel for its violent policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians."
The Gaza Freedom Marchers were not able to achieve their goal of walking and bearing witness in Gaza. But their resolve is shifting the attention of the world toward Palestine. Already Egypt has agreed to open the Rafah crossing, at least for a few days. Organizers of the March are committed to developing a campaign, including speaking tours of Palestinian and South African activists, to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. They are also creating citizen's arrest bureaus to prosecute war crimes committed during the invasion.
At a final New Year's Day meeting in Tahrir Square, delegates summed up the accomplishments of the New Year's struggles. Ehab Lotayef, one of the organizers, said, "We are here because we worked really hard for something we really believed in. … Our work will not end tonight. It will not end tomorrow or this week. It is our responsibility to carry the energy that we created from the time we came here with the goal of lifting the blockade of Gaza. But that's only a partial goal. The goal is justice and freedom for the people of Palestine!"
Direct actions such as these, taken by people committed to creating peace, are making our world anew.