On 31 December 2009, one year after Israel’s devastating attacks on the Gaza Strip, activists plan to converge for the Gaza Freedom March. An unprecedented effort, the march draws inspiration from South Africa’s struggle for liberation from apartheid and from Gandhi’s tactics during the campaign for India’s independence.
The Electronic Intifada contributor Bianca Zammit recently interviewed the Gaza Freedom March Steering Committee member Dr. Haidar Eid about the effort.
Bianca Zammit: What is the aim of the Gaza Freedom March?
Haidar Eid:The goal of the Gaza Freedom March is to commemorate Gaza 2009. In January 2009 right after the end of Operation Cast Lead, we were all faced again with the deadly, hermitic siege. The march is calling for an end to this siege.
BZ: How did the Gaza Freedom March come about?
HE:In June CODEPINK led a delegation into Gaza and they started talking about a march. I was contacted by Palestinian solidarity groups from around the world and asked for my opinion. I liked the idea but it required a political context and it needed to be led by the people of Gaza. That is when Palestinian grassroots organizations came together to discuss the march and we suggested to the International Coalition to End the Siege that they include a statement of context which called for an end to the siege and which acknowledged the long history of Palestinian nonviolent direct action inspired by South Africa and Gandhi. This includes the weekly demonstrations that take place at Bilin, Nilin and al-Masara, the entry of international boats in Gaza’s port, which had not happened since 1967 and the work of international solidarity movements. More importantly, it has to acknowledge the growing BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] campaign.
The siege is an effect of the occupation and a continuation of the apartheid system initiated in 1948 [with the declaration of the State of Israel]. Since then two-thirds of the Palestinian people have lost their land. The occupation is illegal and found to be so by the United Nations under resolution 194, which calls for the return of all refugees.
BZ: Who is represented on the Steering Committee?
HE: We have all sectors of society. There are representatives of unions, [representatives from the] labor, political, religious, youth and women’s [sectors], students and also the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC).
BZ: Who will participate?
HE: As soon as we issued the statement of context all Palestinian civil organizations endorsed the Gaza Freedom March and there was global consensus.
The registration has now closed and 1,400 people from 42 countries have registered and processed. Palestinians living in 1948 land will also be participating in the march from the other side of the Erez border crossing.
BZ: What activities are planned?
The 1,400 internationals will join us hand in hand for a march that will start at 10am in Izbet Abed Rabbo towards the Erez Border Crossing with Israel. Izbet Abed Rabbo is the area that suffered the most damage and most horrendous war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, something Judge Goldstone alluded to in his report. When we get to Erez there shall be speeches.
The attacks on Gaza will be commemorated on New Years Eve at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem [in the occupied West Bank]. A member of the Steering Committee for the March will address the people gathered in Bethlehem for this event. Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan shall partake in the march by organizing their own rallies.
BZ: How can those people who cannot come to Gaza show their solidarity with the people of Gaza?
HE: We are calling on 1.5 million conscientious people of the world to simultaneously rally with the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza in front of Israeli embassies in their country. Richard Falk, the [former] UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories has called Gaza the “world’s largest concentration camp.” [Israeli academic] Ilan Pappe has described the siege as a “slow-motion genocide.” After the 22 day massacre last winter we returned to the ongoing siege.
We ask freedom-loving people to put pressure on their governments to sever all ties with Israel and to support the boycott of Israel.
BZ: Why do you believe this will be a historic moment for Palestine?
HE: The march shall be the first mass mobilization of this size since 1967. Internationals will walk hand in hand with Palestinians, modeled on the South African anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s. This siege has been imposed upon the Palestinian people due to them exercising their democratic choice [during the 2006 parliamentary elections]. The significance of this march however also goes beyond the siege. As Palestinians 750,000 of us were displaced and forced to become refugees [in 1948]. Palestinians living in 1948 land [what is now called Israel] experience racial discrimination on a daily basis and there is a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing in place.
BZ: What is your message to the international community?
HE: If I could put into a slogan the current climate in Gaza, I would say, we are fed up. The international community has only given us empty rhetoric and lip service and in the meantime, we have been suffering. For this reason we rely on the people of the world and their power to change the course of the future. We believe in people-to-people solidarity in order to bring down the Israeli apartheid regime. We want peace with justice. This march shall be the first crack, the first concrete step to end the siege and the illegal occupation. This shall be a wake-up call to the international community that as Palestinians, we shall no longer tolerate hypocrisy.
BZ: What is your message to Israel?
HE: You cannot go on committing war crimes and crimes against humanity as witnessed by Judge Goldstone with impunity forever. Recent events in the UK [where an arrest warrant was issued against former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni] have shown that also the world will not tolerate Nazi-like acts committed by a Nazi-like government against civilians.
To the people of Israel I say, you voted for the most fascist government since 1948 expecting your government to completely get rid of Palestinians. History has shown us that this will only backfire and bring more wars, affecting not only Palestinians but the entire Middle East and inevitably Israel. Exactly like apartheid South Africa campaigned when their state became a pariah state, this is your time to put pressure on your government to implement the UN resolution that call for an end to the occupation and allow the return of refugees. Peace without justice is not peace.
BZ: What will happen after the march?
HE: The march is not symbolic but rather we expect it to be part of a series of events which will lead to the end of the siege. We want to intensify and continue building a global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that is human rights-based and call for the implementation of international law and an end to the occupation.
We will continue to host international delegations visiting us and together we will be calling for Israeli war criminals to be tried in international courts.
Image by Bianca Zammit.
Bianca Zammit is a member of the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza active with the BDS movement.