On 25 February, the besieged people of Gaza spoke out against the Israeli-imposed closure of their territory when thousands of Palestinian men, women, schoolchildren and members of parliament formed a human chain on the main roads along the border with Israel.
Participants chanted slogans against the crippling Israeli siege which has been branded by human rights organizations and many Western governments as collective punishment against Gaza’s population of 1.5 million.
Mosheera, a schoolteacher, stood with her pupils who were lined up and carrying posters at the Zemo junction close to the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip.
“We have been besieged by the world, the Arab world, with no one listening to us. Therefore, we decided as one people to come here today in this chain to send out one message to the whole world: enough silence over the Gaza siege, enough silence over the killings of Palestinians, enough the silence over the deaths of patients because of the blockade,” Mosheera said with anger.
Early in the week, a popular campaign to end the siege launched a one-week protest, locally and internationally, with many stores in Gaza closing for three hours.
Monday’s human chain came during a devastating Israeli blockade which began in June 2007 immediately after the elected Hamas party took control of the coastal territory amidst a power struggle with Mahmoud Abbas’ rival Fatah party.
Rami Abdo, organizer of the human chain and the campaign’s coordinator, spoke about the grave consequences of the eight-month siege: “Every month, 600 patients apply … for referral [for treatment] outside Gaza, and according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 20 to 25 percent of such applications have been rejected [by Israel].”
“This means that Israel has already sentenced … patients to death, the majority of them children,” Abdo said, referring to patients who have already died since the June closure because they were not able to receive necessary treatment. By not issuing travel permits, Abdo added, “Israel has already sentenced to death [an additional] 1,200 patients over the past eight months.”
The al-Dameer Center for Human rights, based in Gaza where specialized treatment is often unavailable and the siege has severely impacted medical services, reported that since June 100 patients who were in need of medical care outside of Gaza have died after their applications were denied or delayed.
In addition, the Palestinian Ministry of Economy in Gaza reported that more than 90 percent of Gaza’s industrial facilities have been forced to shut down, leaving more than 70,000 local laborers jobless.
UN records indicate that more than 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents now depend entirely on food assistance currently provided by the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, as the closures have hastened the collapse of Gaza’s already fragile economy.
The human chain ended with a press conference by Hamas parliamentarians just a few hundred meters away from the Erez crossing with Israel in northern Gaza. The Hamas officials conveyed a strongly-worded message of protest against the crippling closure that many contend is a bid to erode popular support for the Islamist party.
“Today, the Palestinian people are sending a message to the world that we are against the siege, against the threats from our enemy who tries to kill us, to kill our spirit. But we are here today to tell the world that we are still alive, we are steadfast and nothing will kill us,” Jamila al-Shanti, member of parliament and chairwoman of its women’s committee told The Electronic Intifada.
Another human chain participant, a high school student named Samar, stated, “I would like to ask a question to the Arab leaders around us: when will you wake up? Will you wake up after the entire Palestinian people have already died?”
Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at hotmail.com.