Palestinian rights group commends international activists

International peace activists celebrate after arriving in Gaza on 23 August 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

As a Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq would like to send its warmest commendations to the human rights defenders involved in the feat of the SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty breaking the blockade of the Gaza Strip. The crews made the 370-kilometer voyage from Larnaca port, Cyprus, in a symbolic gesture to highlight the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. This is an excellent accomplishment, and is a strong act of solidarity with the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, bringing much needed media attention to the critical human rights situation of the occupied population of the Gaza Strip, as well as highlighting the fallacy of any Israeli claim to have totally “disengaged” from the area.

Israel is still the occupying power in the Gaza Strip as it retains effective control over the territory, exercised through recurrent military incursions, the exclusive control over land borders, airspace, territorial waters, population registry, the tax system, supply of goods, supply of fuel, just to name the most evident means.

Israel’s blockade of the territory has been exacerbated since September 2007 when the Israeli Security Cabinet declared the Gaza Strip an “enemy entity,” in an attempt to legalize its collective punishment of the civilian population. Since then the situation in the Gaza Strip has precipitated into a grave humanitarian crisis for the population of 1.5 million, which the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) has described as “a collective motion towards collapse within a large prison named Gaza.”

The “Free Gaza” movement is an indication of the strong role which grassroots civil society movements have come to play in international politics, through their ability to generate public attention to human rights violations. It was precisely the ability of the “Free Gaza” movement to engineer widespread media attention which forced Israel to abandon its original decision to halt the progress of the boat, to avoid any negative publicity which may occur as a result.

It is clear that the growth of this form of direct action stems from the abject failure of the international community to uphold international law. Despite the flagrant disregard Israel, the occupying power, displays towards its legal obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, the international community remains tacitly complicit in supporting Israeli policies through its failure to implement all means necessary to end these violations. To date the urgent human rights situation has remained subordinate to political calculations, which have prevented any significant measure towards putting an end to Israel’s occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) or forcing Israel to abide by its legal obligations under international law.

The actions of the Free Gaza Movement demonstrates the need, now more than ever, for civil society movements to coordinate and strategize its role in drawing international attention to the daily suffering of the Palestinian people and to the denial of their right to self-determination. Al-Haq encourages similar grassroots endeavors, which promote a change in the political will to put an end to the violations of the rights of the Palestinian people in the OPT. The success of the Free Gaza Movement should act as an inspiration to continue with these initiatives.

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