TRIBUTE TO THE PEOPLE OF GAZA
By Mairead Maguire – Nobel Peace Laureate
I never cease to be amazed at the power of the human spirit to survive. During my last visit to Gaza in October 2008 I was amazed and deeply moved by the power of the people I witnessed. In a triumph of hope over adversity and tremendous suffering, love still abides.
Gaza comprises a small strip of land 27 miles long and 6 miles wide. This coastal strip is bordered by Israel on the one side, the Mediterranean Sea on the other and to a lesser extent by Egypt at the southern end. With one and a half million inhabitants Gaza is the fifth most densely populated place on the planet, 50% of which are under the age of 18. Two thirds of the total population hold refugees status, and comprise the victims and their descendants of previous acts of Israeli aggression.
Gaza’s people have suffered an Israeli occupation for over 40 years and even though Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005 it has continued to control every aspect of life in the tiny coastal strip. Hamas was democratically elected to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections and has governed the Gaza strip since the summer of 2007. It was at this time in 2007 that Israel commenced its devastating blockade of the strip. Essentially the blockade represents a draconian policy by Israel. A minimum amount of basic subsistence goods are allowed to enter the strip with the intention of holding a malnourished population just short of outright starvation. Coupled to the severe food shortages are the restrictions / ban on basic essentials such a medicine and desperately needed reconstruction materials. This blockade constitutes “Collective Punishment” of a civilian population an act illegal under Article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention. But the Culture of Impunity, under which Israel operates, means Israel continues to ignore International Law with many of the World’s Governments and international bodies’ remaining silent.
In the words of one Israeli Professor, Israel has made Gaza into the largest open air prison in the world. Whether by land, sea or air the one and a half million inhabitants of Gaza are trapped, their 6 border crossings are closed (including the Raffah crossing with Egypt), their airport destroyed and their port and coastal waters shut down by a naval blockade. The people are forced to live a suffocating life of misery and hardship. The closure has impacted every imaginable aspect of their existence both physical and emotional. Lives are constantly lost for lack of access to hospital treatments unavailable in Gaza. Bright and willing students are deprived of an opportunity to progress their studies; places offered abroad in universities can not be accepted as student are unable to leave. The Israeli policy of divide, blockade and conquer used against the Palestinian people strikes right to the heart to family life. Families in Gaza can no longer visit their relatives in the West Bank. Wives are torn from husbands and husbands from wives. Many are forced to live apart some in the West Bank others in Gaza. All across the Occupied Palestinian Territories there is a common shared experience of humiliation. The West Bank is constantly shrinking under a deluge of illegal Israeli Settlements and new settlement construction. The countless thousands of Gazans left homeless after the Israeli bombings can find a paler shadows of the same existence among their friends and family in East Jerusalem where forced evictions and house demolitions are a daily occurrence.
The children of Gaza are the ones who suffer most. During my visit to Gaza in October, 2008 I went to visit the area of Khankhounis. In all my years of visiting areas of poverty and devastation, I have never witnessed anything so terrible. The area had been hit by floods which had washed away the roads forming a river which flooded the houses, of many hundreds of people, with mud. We walked through home after home completely destroyed and yet some families made vain attempts to salvage what they could and live in the midst of this horrific destruction. The children played on the destroyed roads and footpaths, amidst raw sewerage and the mothers did their best to protect their young ones all too aware of the dangers of disease lurking in the open puddles which, children being children persisted in playing in. Community leaders explained that they were unable to reconstruct homes, roads and repair open sewers as Israel would not permit the materials and equipment to enter Gaza. Teachers had no writing materials, the doctors not enough medicines and the children were suffering from malnutrition and showing signs of stunted growth. One father asked ‘if I give you some money, next time the Free Gaza boat comes in will you bring in some milk, the children have no milk’. (In June, 2009, twenty-one of us tried to sail on the Freegaza boat to Gaza, but our boat was hi-jacked in International waters by Israeli navy and we were all forcibly taken to Israel, put in prison for a week and then deported).
Since 2008 all of this suffering has only magnified and worsened due to the shattering effect of operation “Cast Lead” Israel’s brutal attach on Gaza which took place in December/January 2008/2009. Disease from raw sewerage and shortage of medicines are not the worst things to affect the children these days. During the Israeli assault on Gaza, bombs and white phosphorus were dropped on Palestinian civilians and of the l,400 people who died, over 400 were children. The agricultural land is now radiated with depleted uranium and holds it own terrible dangers for the people of Gaza. Many who depended on the land for their livelihood have seen their stock and crops destroyed and the soil poisoned.
Where is the hope? Where is the love in the midst of such suffering and injustice? The international community has all but failed in its duty of care and seems unwilling or unable to take a stand against Israeli brutality but thankfully there are those who still refuse to stands aide. And so in an expression of love and solidarity the “Freedom Flotilla” takes to the water in an attempt to breach the siege on Gaza. The Freedom Flotilla comprises 8 boats, in a joint effort including Turkey and Greece, over 600 People from over 60 countries, will sail to Gaza in May, 2010. The flotilla will be joined by a cargo boat from Ireland, the MV Rachel Corrie. Its large cargo includes tonnes of construction material, cement, medical equipment and a special donation of printing paper from Norway. This trip will again highlight Israel’s criminal blockade and illegal occupation. In a demonstration of the power of global citizen action we hope to awaken the conscience of all.
We hope the Freedom Flotilla will provide a way to open up the sea. When we arrived in Gaza on the Freegaza boat in October 2008 last we stayed at Marna House, the hotel owner was overjoyed as he invited us to sign the register. He explained his joy telling us that, with closure of their Port to the outside world, we were the first people to enter Gaza by port and stay in his hotel in over 40 years of Israeli occupation. It would be wonderful if the sea passage could be permanently opened for the people of Gaza so they can freely enter and leave their own land, and be reunited again as a part of the Mediterranean family, selling their produce and buying what they need without let or hindrance.
This journey, by boat, will be my third with The Freegaza Movement and it has shown me that people can make a difference. The Freegaza Movement was started by a few people with an idea and the courage to make it happen. If people wish to support their work and follow us on the boat journey to Gaza visit their website at www.freegaza.org
But above all we are inspired by the people of Gaza whose courage, love and joy in welcoming us, even in the midst of such suffering gives us all hope. They represent the very best of humanity and we are all privileged to be given the opportunity to support them in their nonviolent struggle for human dignity, and freedom.
Nobel Peace Laureate
25th May, 2010
Irish Peace Nobelist Mairead Maguire Calls on Peace Nobelists President Obama and President Shimon Perez to do all they can to Free Mordechai Vanunu
Mairead Maguire, has written to President Barack Obama, USA and President Shimon Perez, Israel, asking them to ‘do all they can’ to obtain the release of Mordechai Vanunu and for Mordechai to be given his freedom and allowed to leave Israel.
Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli Nuclear Whistleblower, was convicted by an Israeli Court in l986 and sentenced to 18 years for passing on information about Israel’s nuclear weapons.
He served 11 of his 18 years in solitary confinement.
Vanunu was released from Prison in 2004 but instead of being allowed to leave Israel, as was his wish and legal right, he was placed under strict restrictions depriving him of many of his civil and fundamental rights, including the right to move freely, right to have contacts with foreigners.
For exercising this latter Right Mordechai Vanunu has been returned to prison on 23rd May,2010 (Eshel Prison) for three months detention.
“I join my voice with many others around the world, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mordechai Vanunu. The restrictions put on Mordechai Vanunu are not parole restrictions since he served his full18 year term. These restrictions arbitrarily limit his right to freedom of movement, expression and association, and are therefore in breach of International Law.
“After 24 years held within Israel against his will, it is time for Mordechai to be allowed to leave the country, so he can get on with his life. He has suffered enough and is no threat to Israeli National Security.”
In her letter to President Obama, Mairead Maguire thanked him for all he is doing for a Nuclear Free World and a Nuclear Free Middle East. Maguire went on to say:
“Twenty four years ago when Mordechai Vanunu, as a young technician in Dimona, Israeli Nuclear Weapons Plant, in conscience told the world about Israeli Nuclear Bomb, it was his attempt to do what he could for a Nuclear Free Middle East and a Nuclear Free World. History will remember Vanunu as a man of courage, integrity and peace.
“But today all Vanunu asks for is for his Freedom. Obama and Perez have it within their power to free Mordechai Vanunu and the world expects them to do so.”
Mairead Maguire www.peacepeople.com Tel: 44(o)28 663465
25th May, 2010
On November 19, 2008, during the final day of Sabeel’s [Arabic for The Way] 7th International Conference: THE NAKBA: MEMORY, REALITY AND BEYOND, Noble Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire inspired the nearly 300 internationals in attendance to rise up and honor Mordechai Vanunu.
Vanunu has been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize annually since 1988 for his courage and truth telling, by providing the photographic evidence that warned the world that Israel had already manufactured upwards of 200 nuclear warheads in 1985.
Israel locked Vanunu up for 18 years, has held him under house arrest since April 21 2004, and imprisoned him again on 23 May 2010, just because he spoke with international journalists who have ALL BEEN MIA ever since!
Israel continues to get away with nuclear deceptions, has never allowed IAEA inspectors into the Dimona, nor have they signed the NPT and USA Government is complicit!
On November 19, 2008 Mairead said:
I am very happy to be here with you and to be invited to speak to you. I want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Naim Ateek, and all those who helped to organize this conference. I am deeply grateful to have the freedom to come here to East Jerusalem and the freedom to speak and meet with you.
In this the 2lst century many of us take freedom for granted, but not everyone has
Freedom here in Israel/Palestine. I realized this, yet again, when I told a Palestinian friend I was attending this conference and he told me that though he was born in Jerusalem he is not allowed to come into East Jerusalem.
This brought home to me that East Jerusalem is indeed an integral part of the occupied territory of Palestine and many Arab people born here are not allowed into East Jerusalem.
Many Arabs who do live in East Jerusalem live in fear of their homes being demolished or expulsion by the Israeli Government (such as the Al-Kurd family home in the Sheikh Jarab Neighbourhood of East Jerusalem where the Supreme court has ruled on the expulsion of this family from their home.) Since l967 almost 20,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the West Bank.
The expulsions, and demolitions continue almost daily, along with continuing development of illegal settlements for Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem, and the West Bank. A few days ago I visited the site in West Jerusalem where the Israelis are building a Museum of Tolerance upon an ancient Muslim cemetery, where the bones of the Muslims’ ancestors are being exhumed.
This is deeply painful to the Muslim people and I would like to appeal for this project to be cancelled. The Israeli Supreme court, whose role it is to uphold human rights and International laws, has agreed to this desecration of Muslim graves, and continues to rule in favour of many inhumane and illegal Policies, directed against Palestinians, and against those Jewish Citizens who have the moral courage to challenge this discrimination and destruction of Palestinian homes.
In spite of all this, I myself have great hope for change in the Middle East. I have hope because for almost a decade now I have been coming to Palestine/ Israel and in that time I have met with many deeply committed people who have dedicated their lives to working for a peaceful, just solution to what is one of the longest running conflicts in the world. To all these people I offer my support for your non-violent struggle for human rights and democracy.
I know that all occupations, and violent conflicts, sooner or later come to an end and that here in this part of the world, occupation will end, justice will reign, and reconciliation will flourish between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
But before peace can flourish, its roots of freedom, equality, justice, must be nourished with courage and truth.
It takes courage to speak truth to power when the consequences are often suffering. The truth shall indeed set your spirit free, but in this oppressive occupying power, the truth will also be physically, emotionally and in other ways very costly.
But we must challenge not only Israeli state injustice, but also challenge Palestinian armed militant insurgency groups to reject violence and use non-violent civil resistance – a political strategy which is not only morally right but in our Northern Irish experience does work. Still there have always been people in history, willing to tell the truth at great personal cost to themselves, and it is to such people we, the human family, remain indebted.
We are indebted especially to all those who continue to tell the truth of Nakba. In this the year of the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, in l948, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes.
Today, the occupation continues also with the wall annexation of more Palestinian land, and the building of an Apartheid Racist system by the Israeli Government.
Another great injustice is currently being perpetrated upon the Palestinian people
by the Israeli Government, with their blockade of Gaza. Recently, I went with the Free Gaza Movement by boat from Larnaca to Gaza to help break the siege of Gaza. This siege is a policy of collective punishment of one and a half million Gazans by Israel because they voted for a Hamas Government.
Collective punishment of civilians is against the Geneva Convention. The people of Gaza have been closed off completely from the world for two and a half years now, and their community and infrastructure is slowly being destroyed. There is a shortage of medicines, food, electricity and the basic necessities of life. But perhaps the worst form of torture for any human being is being unable to hold and touch the people they love, and the people of Gaza are not allowed to go across the now closed borders to be with their families. Hundreds of wives are parted from husbands in the West Bank, over 700 students cannot get out to go abroad to take up their positions in Universities, Sick people cannot get out to get hospital treatment, over 8O% of the children are suffering from malnutrition, and they have no milk for the children.
Gaza is like a huge prison except the Israeli Occupiers’ policy is depriving the inmates of sufficient food and medicines for survival, in this the worlds largest open-air prison. The International community and UN, should resume economic assistance as they have a responsibility towards the civilian population of Gaza, which is not dependent on whether Hamas satisfies the political conditions set by Israel or whether ceasefires hold.
In the face of all this injustice perpetrated upon the Palestinian community, The EU, European Governments and much of the world community, have not only remained silent but have connived with this injustice by cutting off financial aid necessary for the Palestinians’ survival, and are thus complicit with these ongoing crimes against humanity.
I was shocked and saddened by the suffering I witnessed, but I took hope from the warmth and resilience of the people of Gaza. They want dialogue and unity with other Palestinians in the West Bank, and dialogue with the Israeli Government based on justice and equality.
After meeting with Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyah and speaking at the Hamas Parliament, and at a meeting with over 100 political representatives, of all the political parties in Gaza, including Hamas and Fatah, I took away with me real hope that more and more Palestinians recognize that Palestinian National Unity and non-violent civil resistance is a political strategy that will work and give them great strength.
Increasingly they are recognizing that divided Palestinian people, armed struggle and militarism will not solve their problem. I hope that all those of us who want Peace in the Middle East, will support the rightful struggle of non-violent civil resistance of Palestinians for an end to Occupation, a Free Palestine, and the upholding of all UN resolutions including the UN resolution 194 – Right to return of Refugees.
As part of this non-violent civil resistance struggle, I support the Divestment/Disinvestment Campaign and the Campaign to end USA’s military support ($10 million dollars per day) to Israel which helps funds the military occupation of Palestine and other moves for Boycott.
I also believe the Swiss Government, as repository for the Geneva Convention, should convene its members to discuss Israeli non-compliance of its obligations under the Geneva Convention. Also the Assembly of the United Nations should move to suspend Israel from its U.N. memberships, until it complies with all UN resolutions required of it.
It is to be hoped now that the Israeli Government will recognize too that Militarism, occupation and repression only feeds the violence and they will enter into serious dialogue and negotiations with Hamas and other Palestinian leaders, as the democratically elected voice of the Palestinian people. These negotiations should be within the framework of international law, particularly international humanitarian law and human rights law, and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and Security Council resolutions.
This year also the State of Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary.
I recognize the right of all people including the Jewish people to a peaceful existence. I also recognize the state of Israel but believe many of the Israeli Government’s domestic and foreign policies are racist and uphold an apartheid system.
I believe such policies do not reflect the profound wise Jewish values of justice and peace. In an interdependent, interconnected world, where countries are made up of multi-ethnic, multi-religious, groups, we are challenged to build Government structures which reflect the plurality of all citizens and whose laws are inclusive of all members of that society.
Governments cannot marginalize or have second class citizenship for whole sections of the population, as such injustice will result in violence. We learned this lesson in Northern Ireland, and are now moving towards a power-sharing all inclusive Government.
I believe to have genuine peace, the Israeli Government needs to move from a Jewish state to a power-sharing democratic state which is equal and inclusive of all its citizens and not just its Jewish citizens.
There is great hope for peace in Israel/Palestine, as this is a political problem with a political solution and the Israeli Government and USA, by treating Palestinians on a Fair basis, and with real political will can help solve this historical conflict which has resulted in this inhumane occupation.
I recognize there is a deep fear of ethnic annihilation amongst many Israelis, but we, as the human family, must all learn to deal with our fears non-violently, and realize our best hope for human security is not in occupation but in implementing just and equal policies for all the people, and making friends with our enemies.
Our security as the human family does not lie in militarism, nuclear weapons or war.
Another courageous voice who reminded us of this is Mordechai Vanunu.
Mordechai told the world Israel had nuclear weapons. He was concerned that possessing such weapons endangered Israel as it too could become another Hiroshima. For his act of truth telling he was punished by the Israel Government and continues 22 years later to be held in East Jerusalem unable to leave Israel or speak to foreigners or foreign press.
For those of us who work to see a Nuclear Free Middle east, a nuclear free world, we remain indebted to Mordechai for his sacrifice on all our behalf, and we hope that Israel will uphold it International obligations to human rights and let Vanunu go free, and give leadership in the Middle East by abolishing its Nuclear weapons.
We are all challenged to move from a Culture of violence, to a Culture of non-violence.
Last year the Nobel Peace Laureates launched a Charter for a world without violence, in which they endorsed the words of the WHO ‘Violence is a preventable disease’.
I would encourage you to study this and campaign for your Governments, religious Institutions and NGO’s to consider endorsing this Charter.
The non-violent message in this Charter is not new. 2,000 years ago Jesus said ‘Love your enemies, do not kill’.
The Cross is for me the greatest symbol of non-violent love in action, and in the words of the late Fr. McKenzie ‘you cannot read the bible and not know that Jesus was totally non-violent’.
Also to remember the words of one of the early Christians ‘I am a Christian, I cannot be a soldier’.
What a great contribution we can all make to the world in helping bring peace, if we only take the message of love and non-killing seriously and live by it. Then we could with our brothers and sisters of all faiths and none, build a no killing, Non-violent Middle East and world together.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom, Shanti,
On June 1, 2009, Mairead Maguire, emailed me:
“I have just finished reading your wonderful book ‘Keep Hope Alive’. I found it most inspiring and can see in your story the influences of your Spiritual journey – Merton, Dorothy day, Fox, St. John of the cross, Francis!! All of whom I share as they are, I believe, great guides to the Spiritual journey. The book brought me closer to you Eileen – and I was Moved by your great heart and compassion for all those who suffer – Especially the Israelis and the Palestinians and people of Gaza.Thank you for your faithfulness to them (and for helping to provide and Plant so many Olive trees – a real symbol of hope for the Palestinians.”
Only in Solidarity do “we have it in our power to begin the world again.”-Tom Paine
Founder of WeAreWideAwake.org
A Feature Correspondent for Arabisto.com
Author of “Keep Hope Alive” and “Memoirs of a Nice Irish American ‘Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory”
Producer “30 Minutes with Vanunu” and “13 Minutes with Vanunu”