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In another few days, I will sail on one of the Free Gaza movement boats from Cyprus to Gaza. The mission is to break the Israeli siege, an absolutely illegal siege which has plunged a million and a half Palestinians into wretched conditions: imprisoned in their own homes, exposed to extreme military violence, deprived of the basic necessities of life, stripped of their most fundamental human rights and dignity. The siege violates the most fundamental principle of international law: the inadmissibility of harming civilian populations. Our voyage also exposes Israel’s attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for what is happening in Gaza. Israel’s claim that there is no Occupation, or that the Occupation ended with “disengagement,” is patently false. Occupation is defined in international law as having effective control over a territory. If Israel intercepts our boats, it is clear that it is the Occupying Power exercising effective control over Gaza. Nor has the siege anything to do with “security.” Like other elements of the Occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Israel has also besieged cities, towns, villages and whole regions, the siege on Gaza is fundamentally political. It is intended to isolate the democratically-elected government of Palestine and break its power to resist Israeli attempts to impose an apartheid regime over the entire country.
This is why I, an Israeli Jew, felt compelled to join this voyage to break the siege. As a person who seeks a just peace with the Palestinians, who understands (despite what our politicians tell us) that they are not our enemies but rather people seeking precisely what we sought and fought for – national self-determination — I cannot stand idly aside. I can no more passively witness my government’s destruction of another people than I can watch the Occupation destroy the moral fabric of my own country. To do so would violate my commitment to human rights, the very essence of prophetic Jewish religion, culture and morals, without which Israel is no longer Jewish but an empty, if powerful, Sparta.
Israel has, of course, legitimate security concerns, and Palestinian attacks against civilian populations in Sderot and other Israeli communities bordering on Gaza cannot be condoned. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel, as an Occupying Power, has the right to monitor the movement of arms to Gaza as a matter of “immediate military necessity.” As activists committed to resisting the siege non-violently, I have no objection to the Israeli navy boarding our boats and searching for weapons. But only that. Because Israel has no right to besiege a civilian population, it has no legal right to prevent us, private persons sailing solely in international and Palestinian waters, from reaching Gaza – particularly since Israel has declared that it no longer occupies it. Once the Israeli navy is convinced we pose no security threat, then we thoroughly expect it to permit us to continue our peaceful and lawful journey into Gaza port.
Ordinary people have often played key roles in history, particularly in situations like this where governments shirk their responsibilities. My voyage to Gaza is a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people in their time of suffering, but it also conveys a message to my fellow citizens.
First, despite what our political leaders say, there is a political solution to the conflict, there are partners for peace. The very fact that I, an Israeli Jew, will be welcomed by Palestinian Gazans makes that very point. My presence in Gaza also affirms that any resolution of the conflict must include all the peoples of the country, Palestinian and Israeli alike. I am therefore using whatever credibility my actions lend me to call on my government to renew genuine peace negotiations based on the Prisoners’ Document accepted by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas. The release of all political prisoners held by Israel, including Hamas government ministers and parliamentary members, in return for the repatriation of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, would dramatically transform the political landscape by providing the trust and good-will essential to any peace process.
Second, the Palestinians are not our enemies. In fact, I urge my fellow Israeli Jews to disassociate from the dead-end politics of our failed political leaders by declaring, in concert with Israeli and Palestinian peace-makers: We refuse to be enemies. Only that assertion of popular will can signal our government that we are fed up with being manipulated by those profiting from the Occupation.
And third, as the infinitely stronger party in the conflict and the only Occupying Power, we Israelis must accept responsibility for our failed and oppressive policies. Only we can end the conflict.
In the Israeli conceptions, Zionism was intended to return to the Jews control over their own destiny. Do not let us be held hostage by politicians who endanger the future of our society. Join with us to end the siege of Gaza, and with it the Occupation in its entirety. Let us, the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, declare to our leaders: we demand a just and lasting peace in this tortured Holy Land.
(Jeff Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, was a nominee for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He can be reached at email@example.com.)