On Saturday the 26th of January, a massive convoy of busses and cars from all over the country converged on the disused Erez Crossing terminal at the northern border of the Gaza Strip. Up to 2000 Israeli, Palestinian and International activists gathered to protest Israel’s blockade on Gaza, and the collective punishment of its 1.5 million residents.
The urgency for Palestinians in Gaza peaked at 8pm on the 21st of January when power systems failed and the entire population of this tiny territory was plunged into darkness. The closure of Gaza’s borders makes it impossible to leave or enter into the territory and essentially imprisons the Gazan people inside its walls. Supplies of fuel, food, medical supplies and other essentials such as spare parts have been unable to reach the majority of the Gaza Strip and in turn a humanitarian crisis has developed. With no help from the International community, the people of Gaza took it upon themselves to blow up the wall on the Egyptian border on January 23, allowing surges of Palestinians to enter Egypt for much needed supplies. However, urgent action from within Israel and around the world was still needed to stop Israel’s strangle-hold on the Gaza Strip.
The diverse crowd of demonstrators marched to the Erez Crossing terminal, waving barrages of Palestinian flags and shouting their dissent at the Israeli government. Activists gathered three tons of food, medical supplies and other essentials in two trucks to be handed over to people in Gaza. Not surprisingly, these supplies were not allowed through the border, although organisers say the items will be brought to the Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday where they can possibly be transferred to Gaza. Numerous people from Israeli and Palestinian political parties and organisations spoke to the crowd in support of the people of Gaza.
Well known Israeli left-wing activist Uri Avneri stated that the goal of the demonstration was “to tell the Israeli public and the entire world we will not be part of this crime. We are ashamed of this siege.”
Some activists began making a spontaneous noise demonstration, using stones and sticks against the metal fence separating the protesters from the people of Gaza, as a gesture against the violence of the apartheid wall which they felt needed to be torn down. These actions, however, were quickly suppressed by the organisers.
The rally was controlled by Israeli police who were mostly unarmed and unconfrontational, which bears a striking contrast to the usually violent response by well armed Israeli soldiers to similar non-violent demonstration by Palestinians in the West Bank.
At around 2:30pm, the demonstrators left the Erez Crossing, hoping that their voices of dissent to Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip had been heard not only by the politicians of Israel, but also by people all around the world.
Uri Avnery’s speech at the rally: “Three days ago, a wall fell here – just as the Berlin Wall fell, just as the apartheid wall will fall, and just as all walls and fences will come down in this country. But the completely inhuman blockade that has been imposed on a million and a half residents of Gaza by our government and by our army, in our name – this blockade will continue in its full cruelty. As Israelis coming here from various political camps, we have come to bring basic supplies and to say to the Israeli public and to the whole world: We will not participate in crime! We are ashamed of the blockade!”
“Our hearts are with our Palestinian brothers who are at this moment demonstrating with us on the other side of the fence – don’t lose faith that one day we will meet together in this place without fences, without walls, without violence, the sons of two peoples living next to each other in peace, in friendship, in partnership.”
“Our hearts are with our brothers, the residents of Sderot – the threat of Qassams must stop! It won’t stop by a policy of “an eye for an eye”, or a hundred eyes for one eye, or a thousand eyes for one eye, because that only leaves us all blind. It will end when we speak to the other side – yes, yes, even with Hamas! And we’ll together create a total and mutual ceasefire – without Qassams, without murderous incursions, without mortars, without extrajudicial assassinations, without closure, without starvation.”
Jeff Halper said, “My name is Jeff Halper. I am the designated English speaker for today’s event. And it is important because today there are people standing in solidarity with us all across the world…. So it’s important that they get our messages and it’s important that we know that we’re not just a thousand or two thousand people but we’re tens of thousands of people all over the world crying out for justice for the Palestinian people.
Our message today, one of our messages today, and I take this from the women’s movement, is that we refuse to be enemies. The Israeli government, the Israeli army, are not going to make us enemies with the Palestinian people. We should know who our real enemies are. Those real enemies are the Israeli political leaders that tell the Israeli people there is no political solution. It’s those that hold the people of Sderot hostage, and claim that they’re blockading and bombing and killing because of Qassam rockets, when we know that the Palestinian government through Hamas has offered a cease fire for months with the Israeli people.
And so we’re calling on all of you to support our boycott. We want to say to the Palestinian people as Israelis that we’re proud of you for what you’ve done in breaking this blockade. We want to say to the Israeli public, don’t believe Olmert and Barak and Netanyahu, there is a political solution and that is to end the occupation and to arrive at a just peace. And I want to say to the people of Sderot, rise up against those that are holding you hostage, and join us, and hold hands with your neighbors across Gaza, to show that the people, not the governments, the people can bring a just peace to this region.”
Also on the 26th demonstrations took place around the world about the situation in Gaza. In Ramallah, the Gaza 3ala Bali group set up a coffin near the city center with the names of the victims of the siege written on it. People then took turns reading out the names of those dead for around an hour.