On 29 December, I will attempt to cross into the Gaza Strip along with 1,300 other peace and justice activists from 43 countries. Some of us have traveled to Gaza previously. It will be my third visit since the Israeli invasion, which destroyed or damaged more than 50,000 homes and 90 percent of private industry.
But this time is different. The date of our arrival marks one year since the attack, and little has changed. Due to the ongoing blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, with the acquiescence of the United States and the European Union, few homes have been rebuilt, unemployment is nearing 50 percent, children at two-thirds of the schools are studying without notebooks and pencils, and babies are suffering from nitrate poisoning due to contaminated water. Enough is enough. It’s time to do something dramatic: It’s time for the Gaza Freedom March.
The idea for the march grew out of a CODEPINK: Women for Peace delegation to Gaza in June. Norman Finkelstein — the Jewish scholar and critic of Zionist racism — envisioned a global convergence of justice activists, arriving the week of the one-year mark to protest the ongoing siege. That “convergence” will soon become a reality — if, that is, Egypt doesn’t stand in the way by refusing to open the Rafah crossing as it is threatening to do. The 1,300 internationals will be joined by an estimated 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza, when we march on 31 December from Abed Rabbo (a community in which nearly every building was destroyed during the invasion) to the Erez crossing into Israel. Likewise, on the other side of the crossing in Israel, peace activists will stage their own, companion march.
But why march in Gaza? As so many people have asked me, why not help the millions of needy people here at home, instead of a people thousands of miles away who seem destined to be embroiled in a never-ending conflict? There is indeed a multitude of worthy causes — both domestic and international. In 2007, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), John Dugard, issued a harshly critical report on Israel’s human rights record. He addressed this question by explaining: “[T]here is no other case of a Western-affiliated regime that denies self-determination and human rights to a developing people and that has done so for so long. This explains why the OPT has become a test for the West, a test by which its commitment to human rights is to be judged.” The “facts on the ground” in Palestine have only worsened in the three years since then, culminating with Israel’s disproportionate attack on Gaza.
In addition, Americans like me are partly responsible for the suffering of so many innocent people, since our government gives Israel $7 million per day in mostly military aid, with virtually no strings attached — far more than to all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. Americans are therefore considered by much of the world as responsible for Israeli violations of human rights. In addition, the US has blocked any UN Security Council censure of Israel 42 times.
But perhaps the most important reason I am going back to Gaza and on the Gaza Freedom March is that ever since I first set foot on Palestine’s blood- and tear-soaked land in 2007, I have felt embraced heart and soul by the people. The type of society I want to live in knows no borders between the privileged and everyone else. But if lines must be drawn — or, in this case, walls and barbed-wire fences built — then I will stand with the Palestinians.
Pam Rasmussen is a peace activist and communications professional from Maryland who recently received a Community Human Rights Award for her work on behalf of Palestinians from the UN Association of the National Capitol Area. She can be contacted at peacenut57 A T yahoo D O T com.