When our governments refuse to act to stop the 22 month illegal and inhumane siege, blockade, quarantine of Gaza, citizens have stepped in to challenge the blockade.
Since the December, 2008-january, 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza six months ago that killed 1440 persons, including 400 children, wounded over 5,000 and made 70,000 homeless, the international community has sent no aid to Gaza, no reconstruction materials -- nothing. The governments have decided that the government of Hamas would use reconstruction materials for terrorist acts and that there are no non-governmental organizations in Gaza they can trust with millions of dollars in reconstruction funding. The United Nations operations in Gaza and other organizations that the international community has trusted with funding for many other projects over the decades of international involvement in Gaza, are suddenly incapable of being trusted with reconstruction materials and funding. So the governments are willing to let 1.5 million people of Gaza suffer.
During his one day visit to Gaza on June 16, 2009, former President Jimmy Carter said, "Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings." He added, "Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair itself. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, Cairo, Washington, and throughout the international community."
In his speech to graduates of a human rights curriculum sponsored by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, Carter spoke strongly about the international blockade on Gaza and about arbitrary prohibitions by the Israeli government that have made travel into and out of Gaza by Palestinians virtually impossible, banned the import of all but basic goods and prevented reconstruction since Israel's three-week attack on Gaza ended in January, two days before President Obama's inauguration.
Even President Obama in his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo acknowledged the humanitarian crisis in Gaza: “For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. … And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”
But President Obama has taken no action to alleviate the incredible humanitarian crisis for the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.
However, ordinary citizens from around the world are not willing to sit by and do nothing. In groups, as individuals, or with organizations, six months after the 22 day attack on Gaza by the Israeli military, citizens are bringing into Gaza supplies forbidden by the Israeli government and the international community.
I just returned from three weeks in Gaza, Egypt, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories. I went to the Middle East as a part of delegations organized by CODEPINK: Women for Peace. The four delegations that got into Gaza from the Rafah, Egypt border crossing in late May, 2009, totaled 140 persons from 15 nations. The delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories had 45 delegates. In March, 2009, we sponsored a 60 person delegation to Gaza to commemorate International Women’s Day with over 1000 women in Gaza. On these missions we brought items denied to the people of Gaza by the Government of Israel’s inhumane edicts, including playground and sports equipment, medicines and forbidden household items. CODEPINK’s next delegation to Gaza will be in September 17-26, 2009.
Other citizen action groups are on the move to Gaza.
This week, the Free Gaza Movement is sending two ships filled with cement and other reconstruction supplies to Gaza. The first ship, “Spirit of Humanity,” left Cyprus on June 29 with 21 international activists, aid workers and journalists from 10 countries. Today, June 30, the vessel is 21 miles off Gaza with eight Israeli naval vessels threatening it
This morning at 1:30am, Israeli naval ships surrounded the “Spirit of Humanity” and threatened to open fire if the ship did not turn around. In violation of international maritime law, the Israeli navy ship blocked the GPS, radar and navigation system of the humanitarian ship. In violation of international law, the Israeli navy boarded the vessel about ten hours later and have now taken the passengers and crew off the ship and have confiscated the humanitarian assistance materials.
Onboard the “Spirit of Humanity,” Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire said: “All we want is to reach Gaza. We do not seek a confrontation. The aid is desperately needed by the people of Gaza. President
Obama has called upon the Palestinians to abandon violence but Israel
is denying them the right to non-violently resist the siege of Gaza.”
Former U.S. Congresswoman and Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney who was on the December, 2008, Free Gaza boat Dignity that the Israeli navy rammed without regard to the lives of those onboard and causing extensive damage to the vessel, is also onboard the “Spirit of Humanity.” She said: “I am extremely angry. We demand that the Israeli government call off their attack dogs. We are unarmed civilians aboard an unarmed boat delivering medical and reconstruction aid to other human beings in Gaza. Why in God’s name would Israel want to attack us?”
The Free Gaza boats that landed in Gaza in 2008 are the first boats to land in Gaza in 41 years!
On July 4, 2009 is a second Viva Palestina “convoy” is departing for Gaza. This convoy of over 220 persons is leaving from the United States and is organized by UK parliamentarian George Galloway and U.S. Vietnam war veteran and activist Ron Kovic. The group will purchase vehicles, medical and humanitarian supplies in Egypt and drive the vehicles to the Gaza around July 10.
While we were in Gaza in March, British member of Parliament George Galloway arrived with the first overland convoy to Gaza. The convoy was filled with over 100 vehicles that had been driven from the UK to Gaza. The vehicles were filled with medical and humanitarian supplies.
A new International Coalition to Break the Siege of Gaza is being formed to organize, with the people of Gaza, a massive non-violent act of civil disobedience. On January 1, 2010, they plan to march, together with over 1,000 internationals, from Gaza to the Israeli border, where they will be joined by people on the Israeli side. Check out http://www.normanfinkelstein.com for updates.
At the Rafah, Egypt border crossing, international activists with the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border are in their third week of a camp out at the border itself to end the siege.
Activist Jeanne at the border reported that on June 27, 28 and 29, the three days the Egypt government had publicized the border would be open in June, “Hundreds of Palestinians got in and out of Gaza Strip, but after waiting for amazing lengths of time. Yesterday, only 2 buses out of 10 were allowed to enter Gaza. Each of these buses are carried about 80 passengers, most of them, ill or injured. Human rights of the Palestinians are not respected and the conditions at the border are unbelievable with violence and extortion. It is said that tomorrow, the border will be open again. But, today, for instance, it opened at 3p.m. (A video of Palestinians streaming to the Rafah border dragging suitcases and packages.)
On the Gaza side of the border, Bianca Zammit reports that on June 27, busloads of Palestinians at the Gaza side of the border and ambulances filled with seriously ill patients waited 15 hours in their buses and ambulances only to have the border closed at 11pm by the Egyptian border guards. The next day June 28, busloads arrived again, with the border opening at 3pm and closing at 2am with very few of those with valid Egyptian visas being allowed to come into Egypt. Egyptian border officials were verbally and physically abusive toward Palestinians according to international activists who also were attempting to leave Gaza. They report being threatened and their passports being thrown on the ground by border guards.
While our governments sit and participate in the strangling of Gaza, citizens from around the world are taking action. Please join us in whatever way you can!