x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Campaigns to break the siege on Gaza

One year after Israel's 22-day war on Gaza began, the devastation caused by the operation officially dubbed Cast Lead is still unrepaired while the Palestinian enclave remains under the grip of an Israeli-imposed blockade. Gaza is now the focus of two campaigns - the Gaza Freedom March and the Viva Palestina aid convoy - which each aim to challenge the siege of Gaza.

One year after Israel's 22-day war on Gaza began, the devastation caused by the operation officially dubbed Cast Lead is still unrepaired as the Palestinian enclave remains under the grip of an Israeli-imposed blockade. Gaza is now the focus of two campaigns which each aim to challenge the siege. The Gaza Freedom March is scheduled to take place on December 31 and the Viva Palestina aid convoy is bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza but remains stranded in the Jordanian port of Aqaba awaiting permission from the Egyptian government to continue to its destination. Posing the hypothetical question - what would Jesus do in Gaza? - Christopher Dickey wrote in Newsweek: "It has been a year now since the bloody and fruitless Israeli effort to crush Hamas in what amounts to a massive prison for a million people. Peacemakers in the Middle East are rarely blessed, and often reviled; just ask special envoy George Mitchell. And the truth rarely sets anyone free, as proved most recently by the fact-filled United Nations report by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, which was dissed by Washington and dismissed by Israel. "But given that it's Barack Obama who's president of the United States, the Jesus question has a relevance today it wouldn't have had even a year ago. No, Obama is not the messiah. I'm not saying that. But Obama actually uses the word love in a way that Jesus would have understood. So while the question of what Christ might do in today's Holy Land is hypothetical, the question of what Obama will do is not. And some of his most cherished ideas about peace, love, and understanding could be put to the test December 31 when activists are hoping to stage a massive Gaza Freedom March. "It is precisely the kind of protest Obama himself called for in his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last June when he said Palestinians must abandon violence, and held up the example of the civil-rights movement in the United States, and of similar struggles by people from South Africa to South Asia, from Eastern Europe to Indonesia." Inter Press Service reported on the planning behind the march. " 'I think we have to recognise that the importance of the Gaza Freedom March as a way of drawing attention to the blockade is crucial,' said Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, at a news conference to announce the march last week. " 'But what really changed here is the world's understanding of what's really happening in the occupied territories in the West Bank, and Gaza, and in East Jerusalem,' he said. "The three-mile march from Gaza to the Erez Crossing in Israel intends to bring together 51,350 people from 43 nations, of whom 50,000 are Palestinians. Each participant has signed a code of conduct committing to non-violence during the march. "Ratner said he plans to attend with his family, who he said want to show solidarity as Jewish Americans with the people of Gaza." Meanwhile, the 449 volunteers in the Viva Palestina convoy are planning to start a hunger strike if Egyptian authorities persist in their refusal to allow the humanitarian aid to reach its destination. The convoy leader, George Galloway pointed out: "the Turkish prime minister personally appeared on live television in Damascus three days ago and asked the Egyptian government to facilitate this convoy; so this is a slap in the face, you can say, to the Turkish government." Al Jazeera reported: "An aid convoy that has travelled over 3500km to deliver vital medical and food supplies to the Gaza Strip is currently stranded because of Egypt's refusal to grant it easy passage. "The Viva Palestina convoy, made up of almost 250 lorries, remained in the Jordanian port of Aqaba on Saturday, having waited over 48 hours to board ferries for the Egyptian Red Sea port of Nuweiba. "But Egypt has so far insisted that the aid be delivered through its Mediterranean port of El-Arish, a much longer journey that would require the convoy to go around the Sinai peninsula and through the Suez Canal. "George Galloway, a British politician leading the convoy, on Saturday appealed to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to allow the lorries through before medical and food supplies were ruined by the heat. " 'Please President Mubarak - let us resolve this matter. We can only sail through Nuweiba. We are only four hours away from Gaza,' Galloway told Al Jazeera." In The National, Tony Karon suggested that one year after the war ended, peace remains as elusive as ever. "While the Cast Lead debacle presented Washington with an opportunity to end the disastrous Bush-era policy of trying to reverse the results of the 2006 Palestinian election and instead seek ways of drawing Hamas into some kind of peace process, the Obama administration failed to grasp the nettle. Instead, it has embraced the Bush policies of trying to prop up Abbas while hoping to marginalise Hamas. And that has made a repeat of Cast Lead even more likely." The veteran Israeli peace campaigner, Uri Avnery, considered which if any of Israel's aims were accomplished through the war, preeminent among those goals being to undermine popular support for Hamas. "This week, hundreds of thousands gathered in the Gaza Strip for a demonstration in support of Hamas. Judging from the photos, there were between 200 and 400 thousand. Considering that there are about 1.5 million inhabitants in the Strip, most of them children, that was quite an impressive turnout - especially in view of the misery caused by the Israeli blockade that has continued throughout the year and the ruined homes that could not be rebuilt. Those who believed that the pressure on the population would cause an uprising against the Hamas government have been proved wrong. "History buffs were not surprised. When attacked by a foreign foe, every people unites behind its leaders, whoever they are. Pity that our politicians and generals don't read books. "Our commentators portray the inhabitants of Gaza as 'looking with longing at the flourishing shops of Ramallah'. These commentators also derive hope from public opinion polls that purport to show that the popularity of Hamas in the West Bank is declining. If so, why is Fatah afraid of conducting elections, even after all Hamas activists there have been thrown into prison? "It seems that most of the people in the Gaza Strip are more or less satisfied with the functioning of the Hamas government. In spite of the misery of their lives, they may also be proud of its steadfastness There is order in the streets, crime and drugs are decreasing. Hamas is trying cautiously to promote a religious agenda in daily life, and it seems that the public does not mind. "The main aim of the operation has failed completely."

pwoodward@thenational.ae