Standing up for justice in the Middle East

Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip has impacted every aspect of life there — including access to employment, food and healthcare. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)


The Free Gaza Movement, a diverse group of international human rights activists from 17 different countries, will soon set sail from Cyprus to Gaza in order to challenge the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. I’m proud to stand with them. Over 170 prominent individuals and organizations have endorsed our efforts, including the Carter Center, former British Cabinet member Clare Short, and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Mairead Maguire and Desmond Tutu.

Adam Qvist, a 22-year-old student and filmmaker from Copenhagen, Denmark, is one of the human rights workers sailing to Gaza. He explains his participation in the project:

“I’m interested in telling narratives and advocating people’s existent feelings. The idea of sailing to Gaza is kind of crazy, but it’s also very straight-forward. The whole idea of having just one Palestinian who’s been forced off their land and who is able to return to Palestine — this is something that could demolish the whole Zionist venture. And it just has to be one person. If one person can do it, then others can do it. This project, this boat, is about giving people the freedom to take responsibility. You shouldn’t expect something from others if you can’t do it yourself, and this is true both on a very personal but also on a political level.”

Over two years ago, in an election process advocated by the US, the party of Hamas was elected to power in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In response, Israel, the US and the European Union imposed sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. After Hamas seized control of Gaza last June, the sanctions were escalated into a full siege of the small coastal territory in an illegal act of collective punishment.

For more than two years, Israel has blocked Gaza’s access to tax revenues, humanitarian aid, and even family remittances from Palestinians living abroad. Predictably, Gaza’s economy has completely collapsed, and malnutrition rates have skyrocketed. Today, because of the blockade, 80 percent of the people of Gaza are dependent on UN food aid just to be able to eat.

This is intolerable.

Presumptive US presidential candidate Barack Obama often speaks about the “audacity of hope.” But hope can never be a passive emotion. Centuries ago, St. Augustine wrote that hope has two beautiful daughters: anger and courage. To hope for a better world is to be angry at the injustices that prevent that world from emerging, and it requires the courage to stand up and create newer worlds for ourselves.

According to Tom Nelson, a lawyer from Welches, Oregon, who is sailing to Gaza to seek that newer world, “Americans are terribly ignorant of the human effects of what they support. I think this boat is one of the most effective means of raising consciousness — particularly American consciousness — about the problems caused by American foreign policy. Americans have to know the consequences of these policies.”

Nelson adds, “I’m 64 years old, my children are grown, and my affairs are in order. I think about Rachel Corrie, and about what Israel may do to us. I know it’s risky … and I think that if we’re really going to change things then somebody has to begin putting something on the line for that change to happen.”

Eliza Ernshire, a 32-year-old schoolteacher from London, has similar reasons for sailing to Gaza: “For years and years — seeing place in the world that were being totally destroyed, and people that were being totally destroyed by other people and governments — I thought there’s nothing that I could do. But I realized that we can change things in small ways, and we have a responsibility to do this.”

She adds, “You can’t stand up in London and just say that you don’t agree. We need to find ways to connect people in the Middle East, particularly young people, to people and groups in wealthier countries. Together we can inspire each other, and together we can be much more than we are alone.”

Politicians and pundits often complain that the conflicts in the Middle East are complex and intractable, but two things are absolutely clear: One is that the use of violence — and, in Israel’s case, overwhelming violence — has not helped any side to achieve peace or security. And the other is that our governments, across our entire world, have completely failed to do anything productive to address this crisis.

It’s time we the people stand up for ourselves against unjust laws, wanton violence, criminal blockades, and the hardness of heart that makes these thing possible. It’s time we stand against fear-mongering and war-mongering, and build connections, for ourselves, with our sisters and brothers in the Middle East. Our politicians have long since failed us. Now it’s our turn to stand up and seek a newer world for ourselves.

Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and a member of the Free Gaza Movement.

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