Italians awaken to Palestinian pain

Palestinian children in the West Bank city of Nablus participate in a vigil in solidarity with the Gaza Strip, 24 January 2008. (Rami Swidan/MaanImages)


ROME, 25 January (IPS) - Several Italian civil society groups will mark the World Social Forum’s global day of action Saturday by pledging support for Palestinians.

“This decentralized World Social Forum (WSF) offers to Palestinian democratic movements the chance of asking Europe to intervene and stop what Nelson Mandela has defined ‘the new apartheid of our century,’” said Mustafa Barghouthi, a pro-democracy activist who was candidate for presidency of the Palestinian National Authority in 2005. He spoke from Ramallah during a WSF press conference in Rome Tuesday.

The Palestinian international campaign to end the Israeli siege on Gaza has proclaimed 26 January the international day of action against the Gaza siege. In support, pacifist groups from Israel and occupied Palestine, and their supporters all over the world, will organize solidarity initiatives for people of Gaza.

Gaza, one of the three main Palestinian areas (besides Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank), is choked these days by the Israeli siege, and by restrictions on supply of food and electricity. Gaza elected Hamas, the Palestinian party that does not recognize Israel, and Israeli reprisals have followed.

In desperation, militants set off bombs Wednesday to clear away border guards on the crossing into Egypt around Rafah town. According to United Nations estimates, 350,000 crossed through to stock up on goods in short supply.

“In these last months the [Israeli] attacks have disastrously increased,” Barghouthi said. “Gaza is experiencing a heavy humanitarian crisis; water, food, fuel and medicines are running out due to the embargo ordered by Israel.”

More than 60 percent of the population is unemployed, he said. Incubators for the newborn are without energy, what could be life-saving surgery cannot be carried out any more.

“An entire country is plunging into the Middle Ages,” Barghouthi said. “This is not revenge against Hamas but against 1.5 million Palestinians.”

Israeli and Palestinian organizations mean to use the WSF day of action to raise international awareness of the Gaza situation. On Saturday, the national committee for the commemoration of the Nakba (the forced expulsion of Palestinians from historic Palestine in 1948) and the Palestinian campaign against the Israeli building of a separation wall from Palestinian territories have prepared symbolic protests along the wall.

On the other side, an Israeli alternative information center will also campaign against the occupation.

Israeli, Palestinian and international peace groups, in coordination with the non-partisan End the Siege campaign, will converge on both sides of the Erez crossing in Gaza. The Israelis will attempt to send over a relief convoy to Gaza, carrying goods gathered by Israelis.

People will gather simultaneously in Italy to demand an end to the siege. Action for Peace, an organization including women’s groups, other non-governmental organizations and trade unions will hold a support public meeting titled “The will to resist and the courage to refuse.”

Attention to the Gaza crisis is still low. “Apart from condemnation for the worsening humanitarian crisis and requests to allow medicine and fuel, nobody has so far firmly demanded reopening of the Strip’s crossings to people and goods, and the end of the embargo that is strangling Gaza,” Luisa Morgantini, vice-president of the European Parliament, wrote in the Italian daily Liberazione Tuesday.

“Ending the siege also represents the only way to stop the Qassam rocket launchings on Israeli civilians by Palestinians — condemnable, counterproductive, and a sign of powerlessness and anger, not of resistance.”

Morgantini is among the promoters of the pro-Palestine initiatives in Italy. “We need to break the silence and act: Italy and Europe should respond to the appeal of Salam Fayyad [Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority] to ‘save Gaza from pain,’ and support the many Israelis and the majority of Palestinians who want peace and equal rights, and who still find the courage to refuse, and the tenacity to resist in the popular and nonviolent fight.”

Lama Hourani from the Gaza-based International Women Commission, is spending this week mobilizing people for the WSF global action day. On Saturday, she will join a demonstration in Rome.

“I’m here thanks to the commitment of some very active Italian solidarity groups like Women in Black, and Action for Peace, and other volunteers and human rights groups who come to Palestine very often to support Palestinians even in the hardest conditions,” Hourani told IPS.

“Mobilizing people, also outside Palestine, is key for our cause,” she said. What her group aims for, she said, is to inform European people of the real situation in Gaza, why Palestinians are suffering, and what could be done for them. A rising awareness in Europe, she said, “could help pressure governments.”

Gaza is in a very difficult situation, she said, while “Americans [are] refusing any UN Security Council resolution regarding the situation.” She said she had failed to reach her friends and family in Gaza these last days. “I’ve sent them emails, but nobody replies, I guess because they have no electricity.”

Hourani said the breach of the border is a normal reaction by desperate people denied basic human rights. “What do we expect from people submitted to such actions for such a long time. Desperation, anger, and hate cannot give any positive results, to anybody. So, it was absolutely predictable.”

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