Gaza March Puts Spotlight on Civilian Suffering

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Inter Press Service

Gaza March Puts Spotlight on Civilian Suffering

Andrea Bordé

Israel is imposing "collective punishment on the people of Gaza," says CODEPINK's Medea Benjamin. (Credit:Bomoon Lee/IPS)

UNITED NATIONS - More than 50,000
people are expected to take to the streets of Gaza on Dec. 31 for a
mass march designed to send a message to the United States, a key
supporter of Israel's army, that the situation in Gaza violates
international human rights laws.

The idea behind the "Gaza
Freedom March" comes from CODEPINK, a women's peace group committed to
drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis in the occupied
Palestinian territories, among other campaigns.

Organisers say the main catalyst for the mobilisation was the
Goldstone Report, commissioned by the United Nations and written by
renowned South African jurist Richard Goldstone.

The 575-page report, released in September, detailed gross
human rights violations and war crimes committed by both Israel and
Hamas in Gaza during the Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009 conflict.

However, it was particularly critical of Israel, calling the
military campaign "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to
punish, humiliate, and terrorise a civilian population, radically
diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for
itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and

It also described Israel's longstanding economic blockade of
Gaza a form of "collective punishment" against the population and cited
a number of attacks on civilian targets during the operation for which
there was "no justifiable military objective".

"I think we have to recognise that the importance of the Gaza
Freedom March as a way of drawing attention to the blockade is
crucial," said Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center
for Constitutional Rights, at a news conference to announce the march
last week.

"But what really changed here is the world's understanding of
what's really happening in the occupied territories in the West Bank,
and Gaza, and in East Jerusalem," he said.

The three-mile march from Gaza to the Erez Crossing in Israel
intends to bring together 51,350 people from 43 nations, of whom 50,000
are Palestinians. Each participant has signed a code of conduct
committing to non-violence during the march.

Ratner said he plans to attend with his family, who he said
want to show solidarity as Jewish Americans with the people of Gaza.

"I want to break the blockade, I want to see the damage done by the
weapons from my tax dollars, and I want it understood: Israel does not
kill in my name. I want to follow words with action, and that's why me
and my family are going to Gaza," he said.

Currently, the U.S. gives about three billion dollars per year in military aid to Israel, he added.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and also a Jewish
American, has visited Washington numerous times to lobby for a
reduction in aid. She hopes the march will influence the way the
international community had responded to the attacks on Palestinian

"I think it's a recognition that Israel can no longer hide
under the idea that it somehow is exceptional, that it can create and
engage in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights,
and do so with impunity. It can't continue to impose collective
punishment on the people of Gaza. It can't deliberately attack
civilians," said Benjamin.

"The fact that so many people around the world are coming
really gives heart and inspiration to the people in Gaza that shows
that they have not been forgotten," she said.

Benjamin said that the participants come from diverse
backgrounds, including civil society activists, students, university
professors, members of trade unions, business people, people from
refugee communities, women's organisations and journalists, among many

"We [even] have people in their seventies and eighties. Quite
a large portion of the people are of Jewish decent. One is an 85
year-old Holocaust survivor," said Benjamin.

Benjamin equated the situation in Gaza to historical struggles for human rights throughout the past century.

"We are doing this in the spirit of Martin Luther King, of
Mohandas Gandhi, of Nelson Mandela, of non-violent resistance
worldwide," she said.

Abdeen Jabara, a member of the Steering Committee for the Gaza
Freedom March, also compared the struggles of African Americans for
civil rights during the 1950s to Palestinians today, emphasising the
importance of non-violent, peaceful resistance.

"For centuries, black people in America suffered from segregation, but
it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was peaceful and
determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's
founding," said Jabar. "We fervently hope that this effort in some
small way could break the siege, [and] will register in DC, and the
other capitals of the world."

The Goldstone report has been affirmed by both the U.N. Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

However, Israel dismissed it as biased, and U.S. Ambassador to
the U.N. Alejandro Wolff also rejected the report as "deeply flawed"
and "unbalanced".

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last month to condemn the report, as well.

According to statistics compiled in 2008 by the United Nations
Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), there are
1,059,584 refugees in living in impoverished conditions in Gaza. The
blockade has created a situation where often even basic supplies of
medicine and food cannot pass through Israeli checkpoints.

The hope of CODEPINK is that the Gaza Freedom March will create
vibrations throughout the world, and especially in the U.S., to stop
these gross human rights violations from occurring and to end its aid
to Israel once and for all.

"Israel has no place to hide," said Jabara. 

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