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Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder, 415-235-6517
Jean Stevens, CODEPINK national media coordinator, 508-769-2138
Days After Visiting Gaza, CODEPINK Representatives Decry Netanyahu or Livni Win
Call on Obama to Shift Israeli Policy, Support Gaza
WASHINGTON - February 11 - With both Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu claiming victory in Israel's elections yesterday, the American peace group CODEPINK is calling for President Obama to act now to initiate a new policy on Israel, one that listens to the needs of the Gazan people, does not blindly support Israel, and calls for Israeli leaders to meet with Hamas and lift the blockade on Gaza.
CODEPINK is discouraged by both Livni and Netanyahu's positions on Gaza. Both leaders strongly supported the 22-day Israeli assault there earlier this year that killed 1,300 civilians -- what the United Nations called a humanitarian crisis -- strategically timed to proceed the elections. In early February, Livni said she would not negotiate with Hamas, and that "terror must be fought with force and lots of force" and "if by ending the operation we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will continue until they get the message." In January, at a Paris conference, Livni also denied the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and "therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce." Meanwhile, the policies advocated by Netanyahu are worse. He promises an ever-more punishing stance on Hamas, unity of Zionist parties and refusal to consider a two-state solution. He chillingly said in January, "No matter how strong the blows that Hamas received from Israel, it's not enough."
"No matter who wins, the people of Gaza are the big losers in the Israeli election," said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK. "It signals a further right shift and a worrisome possibility of further attacks on Gaza. But the people there just want peace, and to rebuild their lives. They want an opening of the borders, a lifting of the siege that has kept them imprisoned. It's time for the U.S. to rein in the Israeli war machine that has been funded with our tax dollars, and push both the Israelis and Palestinians toward a true peace process."
Many human rights authorities, including Amnesty International, have called for an investigation of Israel's multiple war crimes, as have Richard Falk, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the occupied territories and other UN leaders.
Benjamin, retired Col. Ann Wright, former U.S. state department official, and Tighe Barry, a Los Angeles activist, just returned Feb. 8 from Gaza, where they examined the damage of the Israeli attacks, saw the bombed-out hospitals, underground tunnels, schools and more and witnessed the debilitating effect of Israel's humanitarian blockade.
"The sights we saw in Gaza were tragic-a Goliath Israel pounding a small Gaza David, with international silence and complicity," Wright said. "Some 1,300 Palestinians have died, thousands have been wounded, and hundreds of thousands have been deeply traumatized. We deplore the use of rockets against Israeli towns by Hamas and other groups in Gaza, but the disproportionate response by the Israeli government and military is appalling."
The Americans also met with representatives from four Palestinian aid groups CODEPINK plans to benefit through its current worldwide call to action, "International Women's Day 2009: Dedicated to the Women of Gaza," designed to commemorate the women of Gaza on March 8, the United Nations-designated International Women's Day. It is endorsed by 45 women's organizations and individuals including the National Congress of Black Women, Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, American Muslim Voice, author Alice Walker and journalist Laura Flanders. The four aid groups include: the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
An international women's delegation will return to Gaza March 8 to deliver the aid to the groups. With international pressure and the determination of the women in the delegation, CODEPINK is confident the Egyptian government will let the aid through.
"The Israeli attack came after 18 months of a crippling blockade that had already left the Palestinian population hungry, sick, weak, and suffering from a catastrophic situation," Benjamin said. "We must not only provide massive humanitarian aid, but lift the blockade that is keeping the people of Gaza under siege."
For more information and interviews, please call Jean Stevens, CODEPINK media coordinator, at 508-769-2138 or Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder, at 415-235-6517