Update – More on solidarity actions between Palestinians and Israelis on siege of Gaza.
January 26, 2008
Ending the Stranglehold on Gaza
By Eyad al-Sarraj and Sara Roy
January 26, 2008
AN ISRAELI convoy of goods and peace activists will go today to Erez, Israel’s border with Gaza, and many Palestinians will be on the other side waiting. They will not see one another, but Palestinians will know there are Jews who condemn the siege inflicted on the tiny territory by Israel’s military establishment and want to see an end to the 40-year-old occupation.
Israel’s minister of justice, Haim Ramon, had pushed for cutting off Gaza’s “infrastructural oxygen” – water, electricity, and fuel – as a response to the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel. Last Sunday, Ramon’s wish came true: Israel’s blockade forced Gaza’s only power plant to shut down, plunging 800,000 people into darkness. Food and humanitarian aid were also denied entry. Although international pressure forced Israel to let in some supplies two days later, and the situation further eased when Palestinians breached the border wall with Egypt, the worst may be yet to come.
The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, agrees with Ramon’s strategy, saying that it is “inconceivable that life in Gaza continues to be normal.” The rapid and deepening desperation of Gaza’s sick and hungry is of no moral concern to her. For Livni, like Ramon, the siege is a tactical measure, a human experiment to stop the rockets and bring down a duly elected government.
The siege on Gaza and the West Bank began after Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory with an international diplomatic and financial boycott of the new Hamas-led government. Development assistance was severely reduced with the improbable aim of bringing about a popular uprising against the very government just elected to power. Instead, this collective punishment resulted in a steady deterioration of Palestinian life, in growing lawlessness, and a violent confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, which escalated into a Hamas military takeover of Gaza in June 2007.
Since then, the siege has been tightened to an unprecedented level. Over 80 percent of the population of 1.5 million (compared to 63 percent in 2006) is dependent on international food assistance, which itself has been dramatically reduced.
In 2007, 87 percent of Gazans lived below the poverty line, more than a tripling of the percentage in 2000. In a November 2007 report, the Red Cross stated about the food allowed into Gaza that people are getting “enough to survive, not enough to live.”
Why is this acceptable?
The reduction in fuel supplies that the Israeli government first approved in October not only threatens the provision of health and medical services but the stock of medicines, which is rapidly being depleted. This has forced the critically ill to seek treatment outside the Gaza Strip.
However, according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, many patients are being denied permission to leave, because of new bureaucratic restrictions imposed on top of an already inefficient and arbitrary system. The organization has also accused the Israeli intelligence service of forcing some patients to inform on others in order to be granted passage.
Since June, Israel has limited its exports to Gaza to nine basic materials. Out of 9,000 commodities (including foodstuffs) that were entering Gaza before the siege began two years ago, only 20 commodities have been permitted entry since. Although Gaza daily requires 680,000 tons of flour to feed its population, Israel had cut this to 90 tons per day by November 2007, a reduction of 99 percent. Not surprisingly, there has been a sharp increase in the prices of foodstuffs.
Gaza also suffers from the ongoing destruction of its agriculture and physical infrastructure. Between June and November 2006, $74.7 million in damage was inflicted by the Israeli military on top of the nearly $2 billion already incurred by Palestinians between 2002 and 2005. Over half the damage was to agricultural land flattened by bulldozers, with the remainder to homes, public buildings, roads, water and sewage pipes, electricity infrastructure, and phone lines.
The psychological damage of living in a war zone may surpass the physical. According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, between Sept. 1, 2005, and July 25, 2007, 668 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli security forces. Over half were noncombatants and 126 were children. During the same period, Qassam rockets and mortar shells killed eight Israelis, half of them civilians.
Gaza is no longer approaching economic collapse. It has collapsed. Given the intensity of repression Gaza is facing, can the collapse of its society – family, neighborhood, and community structure – be far behind? If that happens, we shall all suffer the consequences for generations to come.
Eyad al-Sarraj is founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. Sara Roy is senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.
Today I participated in the Gaza convoy against the siege, and i wanted to give a quick report back, especially since so many of you worked so hard to support it.
we met early in Tel Aviv (there were also meet ups in Nazareth, Haifa, Jerusalem and Beersheva) and right away it was clear that it was going to be big–at 8:30 am there were already about four buses and at least 50 cars from Tel Aviv alone (press reports said 1000 people total and about 100 cars but I believe it was more than that–probably closer to 1500-2000 people. there were 14 buses that i counted, and i think quite a bit more than 100 cars).
We had been told ahead of time to decorate our cars and bring food for the convoy. when we got there, we found that despite what we thought of as our pretty minimal attempts to decorate, we were the only car that came painted with our own slogans, so we got a lot of attention for our efforts.
it was a good thing we did that, because there was heavy rain as we drove south, and many of the posters attached to our cars were washed away. Everyone stopped at the last rest stop before the checkpoint to rendezvous with the mini-caravans coming from all over the country. it was pretty funny to see about 500 Israeli leftists doing what they do best–drinking coffee– at this border outpost!
the last few kilometers took a long time, because there were simply so many cars and buses–farther than the eye could see in either direction. the rain had conveniently stopped just as we got back in our cars, and the area was green and lush and hilly, in stark contrast to the giant checkpoint station, protected by a wall, which was protected by barbed wire, which was patrolled by attack dogs.
At a certain point we had to all park on the side of the road, unpack our flour, lentils, oil, sugar, school supplies, etc. and walk the rest of the way. although we had been asked not to bring flags, there were quite a few Palestinian flags, and a few communist ones. I would estimate (really a guess) that about 40% of the participants were Palestinian Israelis, and they were for sure the most spirited, organized, and loud of anyone.
We pressed farther and farther toward the checkpoint itself. especially knowing what happened in Rafah in the last couple of days, it felt for a moment like we could have pushed right through the barrier. a few of the people associated with the anarchists against the wall moved up and started knocking on the fence with rocks–gently, just making noise, not trying to break through, and that was the only moment that the many, many policemen in attendance got jittery and aggressive.
The rally itself was MC’d by Khulood Badawi, a very inspiring Palestinian Israeli woman, and the voices of women were quite prominent. it was a joint Jewish-Palestinian rally–both Jewish/Palestinian Israeli and the Gazan rally that was happening on the other side of the border (though unfortunately too far away for us to see them),and while it was exciting and moving to be in that joint space, it wasn’t exactly together. the Arabic speakers chanted in Arabic, the Hebrew speakers in Hebrew, and there was very little joint chanting. similarly, each speaker spoke either only one language or each in turn (that is, the Palestinians could repeat themselves in Hebrew, the Hebrew speakers spoke only Hebrew) so we in the crowd were responding to different statements at different times. i can’t say that there was exactly a feeling of unity there, but there was a sense of joint purpose.
the two most moving speakers, for me, were Dr. Eyad Sarraj, the founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and a very young woman (about 17) from Sderot who closed the rally.
Dr. Sarraj was leading the Palestinian side of the protest, we heard him by holding a cell phone on speaker up to the microphone. he spoke in English, and he spoke of the rally as a historic day. he said he was so proud of all of us that we were there, together, and he said that any time blood is spilled, in Gaza, in Sderot, or anywhere, it is an affront to humanity. he spoke so beautifully, and his deep sense of humanity came through so strongly, and especially to think of his ability to be that generous of spirit while in a state of siege and disaster all around, made tears come to my eyes, and I noticed that I wasn’t the only one. to think that anyone could say there is no non-violent movement in Palestine!
Jeff Halper, when he spoke, mentioned all the rallies of support for the convoy happening around the world.
The last speaker was this teenager from Sderot, it was her first rally ever, and she talked about how she and her family suffer from the Qassams, but also how she also always remembers how much deeper and worse the suffering is in Gaza.
at the end of the rally they announced that the negotiating team had succeeded in persuading the border cops to let the supplies through, i think they said they will go on Monday. a neighboring kibbutz offered their storage space until then, which again shows that not everyone living with the qassams is vengeful.
During our coffee break earlier in the day, my friend/driver/fellow former Bay Area resident Emily had a conversation with one of the most committed activists in the movement about what the purpose of the protest really was. they agreed that being more confrontational might have been more fun and maybe more satisfying, but that in the end, of course, a rally, even one that is relatively large (at least for this location: 1000 people in Tel Aviv is nothing, but at Erez it is quite remarkable), doesn’t change much. but, the important thing is that we showed that there is an alternative to war and siege and destruction, and that there is a substantial part of the Israeli public who are willing to fight for it, and that the partners are there to make it happen.
i was amazed to discover that it took only an hour to return to Tel Aviv.
(formerly Bay Area)
Dozens of buses carrying a thousand leftists arrive at Erez crossing to bring food, humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza Strip and to protest blockade on enclave. MKs from Balad and Hadash, youth from Sderot take part
More than a thousand left-wing activists made their way to the Erez border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Saturday in order to bring food and medical equipment to the costal enclave.
The activists held a demonstration against the Israeli-imposed blockade on the Strip. Palestinians on the opposite side of the crossing also organized a rally of their own.
Twenty-five buses and around 100 cars arrived at Erez from all over Israel. The activists collected three tons of food and medical supplies during the demonstration. The items will be brought to the Kerem Shalom crossing where, according to the protesters, they will be transferred to Palestinians in Gaza on Monday.
MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) attended the event and called for an end to the blockade and the reopening of border crossings to the Hamas-held enclave.
“The Israeli government holds the responsibility for the humanitarian disaster in Gaza,” Zahalka said during the protest. According to the MK, Israel is employing “fascist methods” by preventing food and fuel from reaching the area.
“We’ll continue to protest and reveal the war crimes (being carried out) against one and a half million Palestinians in the Strip,” he said.
Shir Shodzik, 17, a resident of the battered town of Sderot also took part in the demonstration in order to express her opposition to the Israeli-imposed sanctions. Despite the fact that Shodzik’s aunt and cousin were injured in a Qassam rocket attack in Zikim, the teen wanted to express her dissatisfaction with Israeli government policy vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip.
“I came to show my identification with the Palestinian people. There is no need for violence or (the use of) force in order to solve this situation,” she said.
Shodzik added that she “knows it is absurd that I am taking part in this protest,” but explained that it is the path she has chosen.
‘We won’t be party to this crime’
Left-wing activist Uri Avnery made a speech during the rally in which he said: “Three days ago, a wall fell here, like the Berlin Wall fell, like the separation wall and all walls and fences will fall. But the inhumane closure that has been imposed on one and a half million Gaza residents by our government and by our army in our name – this closure will continue with all its cruelty.
“As Israelis who came here with basic supplies, in our desire to tell the Israeli public and the whole world: We won’t be part of this crime. We’re ashamed of this siege,” Avnery said.
Avnery added that: “Our hearts are with our Palestinian brothers who are demonstrating with us on the other side of the fence. Don’t lose hope that one day we will meet without fences and walls, without weapons and violence, as two nations living together in peace, in friendship, in partnership.
“Our hearts are also with our brothers in Sderot. The Qassam threat must be stopped, but it won’t be stopped through a policy of an eye for an eye or 100 eyes for one, because this leaves us all blind. It will end when we speak with the other side. Yes, yes, with Hamas,” Averny said.
AnnaLynne Kish, an activist from the left-wing New Profile organization also took part in the rally. “We decided to come here as a sign of identification with the Palestinians in Gaza. The closure on the Strip is inhuman and goes against international law. This is an instance of collective punishment.
“We decided to bring food and water to the residents and if only we could bring them electricity – we would do this too,” she said.
Another Sderot resident who wised to remain anonymous told Ynet in response to news of the demonstrations that “for seven years we haven’t seen one of them in Sderot. They didn’t come to (see) us even once after a Qassam barrage.
“Suddenly, they discover that the other side is suffering and come to protest, but what about our suffering? They should stop trying to look so good (in the eyes of others) and return to their strongholds in northern Tel Aviv.
“I invite them to spend a week in Sderot with their children. Then it will be interesting to see if they continue to protest in favor of the Palestinians.”
Sharon Roffe-Ofir contributed to this report