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Osamah Khalil: A visit to the downed wall and the political implications of the new border (1 of 2)
Tuesday January 29th, 2008
From an email:
Jewish Peace News has been passing along information about an Israeli convoy of goods, accompanied by approximately 1500 activists, which tried to cross the border into Gaza on Monday to deliver supplies to Palestinians under siege. There was always a good chance that the convoy would be blocked and prevented from entering Gaza. This is in fact what has happened, as the report below describes; still, the organizers will continue to do everything they can, up to and including an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, to get these (non-perishable) supplies into Gaza.
It is of course an outrage that these humanitarian supplies are being blocked. Israeli officials when discussing the siege will often throw in some pro forma statement about regretting any suffering caused to the civilian population. Whatever personal feelings these officials might or might not have about the plight of Palestinian civilians, the refusal to permit humanitarian interventions such as the attempted convoy puts the lie to any expression of regret.
But it is important to keep in mind that the convoy IS in fact succeeding on several levels (at least), in spite of this set-back. Every act of public resistance, every event that stirs sympathy for the victims of these brutal policies, raises the cost of continuing the occupation in general and the siege in particular. But even more, the convoy is a strong, symbolic expression of solidarity, bringing together and empowering members of the Israeli peace community, generating international support, and acting as a potent expression of sympathy with the Palestinians under siege.
We can all act to help further the success of the convoy on these levels, and work to get the goods through. Below is an action alert with information on how to get involved.
International alert from Gush Shalom: http://zope.gush-shalom.org/index_en.html
The Convoy: Monday passed, the goods did not
Time for protests
Saturday the army representatives at the Erez checkpoint indicated that Monday our truckloads of relief would go through. We didn’t rely on this vague promise too much but gave it the benefit of the doubt. After all, we also heard from KM Dov Kheinin (Hadash) that PM Olmert had told him personally that our relief would be let through.
Meanwhile, Monday passed and the goods did not go through.
While we are still in negotiations with the army and busy mobilizing Knesset members we would very much want activists abroad to strengthen the demand of “Let the convoy pass.”
We also prepared an appeal to the Supreme Court, but still hope to save the money it would cost and instead buy more water filters and add these to the convoy. But if all other means would fail we are prepared to go to court.
You can help in the campaign in many ways, by organizing protests but let’s start already by phoning, faxing and emailing. You may use the following sample letter or make a text of your own.
1) To Prime Minister Ehud Olmert through the PM’s Press office:
Fax: +972-2-6233388 (NB: Fax is more likely to be noticed than an email message)
(You can personalize your letter making use of the following data:
The Director of the GPO is Daniel Seaman. The Director’s direct telephone number is 02-5007502, and his direct fax is 02- 6257886. The Director’s secretary is Noa Arazi.)
2) To Defence Minister Ehud Barak
Ministry of Defense
Hakirya, Tel Aviv 61909,
the Defense Ministry spokesperson
Tel: 972-3-6975546, 972-3-6975339
3) To the Government of Israel via the embassy/Consulates in your country – for the embassy address look in:
With copies –
1) To the Delegation of the European Commission, delegation head Ramiro Cibrian – email@example.com
2) To the highest-ranking politician in your country whose address you can get, and/or which you have reason to think might act on it.
3) To MEP Luisa Morgantini firstname.lastname@example.org
4) And also cc to us at: email@example.com
I am writing to urge you to authorize without further hindrance the entry into the Gaza Strip of the humanitarian goods carried in the convoy of Saturday 26, 2008, and held up near the Gaza Strip border ever since then. The goods held up consist of sacks of flour, rice and other basic food-stuffs, purchased with donations from Israel and all over the world*; of water filters, likewise purchased by donations, which are desperately needed due to the extreme pollution of Gaza’s water supply; and of parcels and packages which Israeli families bought as a gesture of goodwill to families in Gaza. All these goods are urgently needed in Gaza, and the passage of none could in any conceivable way endanger Israel’s security in any way. The continued holding up of these goods, as well as the continuation closing of passage of vital goods into Gaza in general, is a shame which must be ended.
*If you were yourself among the donors, you can include a reference to that in your text.
MONDAY, JANUARY 28, 2008
Israel bars aid convoy to Gaza By Rachel Shabi at the Erez crossing, Gaza-Israel border
Israeli peace groups have braced dipping temperates and rain-sodden grounds at the Erez border crossing to try to get food aid through to Palestinians in Gaza [EPA]
The Israeli military has prevented an aid convoy organised by Israeli human rights organisations, peace activists, and former military personnel, from reaching needy families in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Since Saturday, Israeli groups have braved dipping temperatures and the unusually rain-sodden grounds of the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, hoping that Israeli authorities would allow five tonnes of food through.
As of Monday, the Gaza-bound supplies, comprising non-perishable goods, are still warehoused at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on the southern border of the Gaza strip, awaiting army clearance to cross into the strip.
Adam Keller, of Gush Shalom, an Israel-Palestine peace bloc, said: “We are still in negotiations with the army and are trying to mobilise Knesset members. We have an appeal to the supreme court that is ready to be lodged. We hope it will not come to that, but will use it if necessary.”
The Israeli supreme court is already considering a wider appeal made last week by Israeli humanitarian organisations, asking that the court compels the government to lift its blockade on Gaza.
Israeli, Palestinian unity
The Israeli and Palestinian peace activists first arrived at the Erez crossing in a convoy of about 100 cars and 20 buses that wound its way from Israel’s main cities to the border on Saturday.
Travelling under the “End the Siege!” banner, the convoy brought about 1,000 demonstrators and five tonnes of food aid to the border.
Saturday’s peace protests came from what in Israel is known as the ‘radical left’ [AFP] In the past 10 days Israel had tightened a seven-month blockade of the strip, halting supplies of foodstuffs, medical equipment and fuel.
The Israeli government describes the siege as a response to rocket fire into southern Israel from Gaza, but human rights groups see it as collective punishment.
Saturday’s peace activists came from what in Israel is known as the “radical left”, groups such as Gush Shalom (“Peace Bloc”), the International Committee Against House Demolitions, the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Arab-Israeli Balad and Hadash parties.
The action at Erez ran in tandem with a protest in Gaza City, where some 200 demonstrators gathered and were connected to Israeli demonstrators via speeches broadcast in both directions through mobile phones.
Organisers had planned that Israelis and Gazans would protest within eye distance of each other – with the former group located on a nearby Israeli hilltop enabling line-of-sight vision with the latter group – but this proposal was rejected by the Israeli army, citing security reasons.
Making his way to the Erez border from Jerusalem, Reuben Moskovitz, 79, a self-defined veteran campaigner, said: “I am glad to see today that the Israeli peace movement is still alive and there are still people ready to make an outcry against this huge crime against humanity, against international law and against peace that is being committed in Gaza.”
Demonstrators of a different generation were of the same mind.
“We just thought that the blockade of Gaza is wrong, that starving people and preventing them from having basic human rights like food, fuel and water is not the solution,” said Rachel Aharoni, 17, from Tel Aviv.
Demonstrators brought two lorry-loads of food and provisions to the Erez border [AFP] Arab-Israeli protesters were also a prominent presence at the crossing.
“It is so painful for me to see this reality in Gaza, as a mother and as a human being, and not to do anything,” said Arees Sabbagh, 28, from Nazareth. “I see it as a human obligation to come today.”
Demonstrators brought two lorry-loads of food and provisions to the Erez border, which the campaigners expect to cross on Monday morning.
“We don’t believe that this is going to solve the problem in Gaza,” says Amit Ramon, one of the organisers.
“It is intended to be symbolic.”
The goods in part comprise parcels made up by individual demonstrators bearing hand-written notes to their recipients.
Praising the breach
Several of the speakers at the Erez crossing on Saturday praised Gazans on breaching the Rafah border last week, while condemning both Qassam rocket attacks from the strip on the Israeli border town of Sderot and Israeli military attacks on Gaza.
Eyad Sarraj, founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health programme, spoke from Gaza City by mobile phone and his voice was amplified on the Israeli side of the crossing.
“I am deeply honoured and proud to have the chance to talk to you,” he told the Israelis.
“Every drop of blood shed in Israel or in Palestine is a crime against humanity that has to be prevented.”
Just like Moskovitz, the peace veteran from Jerusalem, Sarraj later told Al Jazeera that demonstrators in Gaza were “pleasantly surprised that there is still a peace camp in Israel”.
But the slogans and demands of this camp are clearly drowned out by the opinions of a wider Israeli public.
“The people who are organising those convoys are considered to be fringe, eccentric and liberal in the negative, American meaning of the word,” says Akiva Eldar of the Israeli liberal newspaper, Haaretz.
In recent weeks, and especially before the Hamas breach of the Rafah border crossing, much of the Israeli media focus was on the rocket attacks on Sderot.
According to the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, over 200 Qassam rockets and mortar bombs have been fired on Sderot and nearby communities since mid-January.
Public supports blockade
Ephraim Yaar, an academic and co-author of Tel Aviv University’s Peace Index which monitors Israeli public opinion, suggests that the national mood is one of support for the tightened seal of Gaza’s borders.
“In terms of Sderot and other communities around the Gaza strip, people feel that something must be done about it and that the Israel government’s responsibility is to protect its citizens,” he said.
Yaar said the Israeli public is sceptical about warnings of an impending humanitarian disaster in Gaza where 80 per cent of the population depends on the UN for food aid.
“They don’t believe that the situation in Gaza is as bad as is described,” Yaar said.
While international newspapers reported on the severe consequences in Gaza of an Israeli fuel blockade and consequent closure of the electricity generator, Israeli media discussed whether the issue might have been manipulated and exaggerated by Hamas.
Both Yaar and Eldar point out that UN reports do not hold much credibility among the Israeli public.
The most recent Peace Index poll, earlier this month, reveals that 81 per cent of Israelis support increasing “the targeted killings” of Palestinian fighters. And 65 per cent do not think that Israel should reach a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.
Sharing the suffering
But at the Erez crossing, where protesters stayed without incident for several hours under the watchful eye of Israeli border guards, a surprising endorsement of the radical left position came from a resident of kibbutz Zikim, near Sderot.
Addressing the rally, Shir Shudzik, 17, described the trauma of living under rocket fire for the past seven years.
But then she said: “I know that I’m not alone in this situation, that people are suffering even more on the other side.”
Shudzik said she does not trust either Hamas or the Israel government to bring peace.
“But the fact that we are here together, Arabs and Jews, might be a beginning and it brings me hope,” she said.
This message of hope was echoed by the organisers of the rally.
Uri Avnery, of Gush Shalom, in an earlier statement said: “Our hearts and minds are with our Palestinian brothers who are at this moment demonstrating with us on the other side of the fence – Don’t lose faith that one day we will meet together in this place without fences, without walls, without firepower, without violence, the sons of two peoples living next to each other in peace, in friendship, in partnership.”
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
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