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International movements breaking the siege on Gaza

Suzanne Morrison | Common Dreams

28 July 2009

Since June 2007 the Israeli government has imposed almost complete closure over the Gaza Strip. The siege prevents nearly all movement of people or goods to and from the coastal region with only minimal amounts of humanitarian provisions inconsistently allowed in. With the exception of a small amount of carnations allowed out earlier this year, there has been a virtual ban on all exports from Gaza since 2007. [1] A quick socio-economic glimpse of Gaza includes agricultural losses totaling US $30 million and more than 40,000 jobs for the 2007/2008 season, the suspension of 98% of industrial operations, and more than 80% of Gaza’s population is now dependent on humanitarian aid from international aid providing agencies. [2]

Closure of Gaza and the West Bank has intermittently been imposed since 1991. While Israel prevents movement and access in the name of temporary security measures, the regularity and extent of these mechanisms, particularly since the Oslo process, represents an institutionalized policy of closure. Israel’s current siege on Gaza reflects an unprecedented and severe application of the closure policy. In the past year internationals have tried to break the siege on Gaza by bringing critical medical supplies and other humanitarian goods into Gaza.

While the world’s most powerful and influential states stand back and watch the complete collapse of Gaza’s economy and livelihood of its population, citizens around the world are joining Palestinians in various forms to break the siege on Gaza.

In August 2008 the Free Gaza Movement sent the first boat into the Gaza port in 41 years. Since the first boat set sail, the Free Gaza Movement has sent seven more boats to Gaza with vital supplies, medical staff, journalists, and prominent individuals such as Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of Tony Blair, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan, Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Barghouti, and Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire. The Free Gaza Movement plans to send more boats to Gaza in the future.

For over 30 days the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border has maintained a persistent presence on the border of Egypt and Gaza to demand an opening of the border and end to the siege. They call on any person or group to join them “until the definitive opening of the border between Gaza and Egypt.”

Viva Palestina is an aid convoy initiated by UK Member of Parliament George Galloway. In March of this year Viva Palestina took over 100 vehicles filled with humanitarian supplies from the UK to Gaza. Galloway and Vietnam veteran and peace campaigner Ron Kovic recently organized a US-led Viva Palestina convoy. The convoy entered Gaza through Rafah Crossing with 200 Americans including former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and New York Councilmember Charles Barron. Viva Palestina is planning another convoy from the UK in October 2009.

After a successful delegation in March that coincided with International Women’s day, Code Pink organized two delegations to Gaza earlier this summer – one through Rafah Crossing in the south and one through Erez Crossing in the north that brought vital supplies to the people of Gaza.

The Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza, coordinated by Norman Finklestein and other leading academics/activists, is organizing a March on Gaza for January 1, 2010. According to a website promoting the march, “when nations fail to enforce the law, when the world’s leaders break the law, the people must act!”

In addition to the larger acts of international popular resistance against the Israeli siege on Gaza, there are a host of smaller initiatives lead by Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals that work in tandem to these efforts.

Total success of any one group has been difficult, given the immense amount of opposition from the Israeli and Egyptian governments (and the powerful states that support them). Members of each group have suffered in various ways from bureaucratic hurdles, arrest, detention, deportation, etc. as the Egyptian and Israeli states hope to suppress and otherwise intimidate peoples of conscious. While breaking the siege on Gaza requires more than delivering humanitarian aid, collectively the international popular movements represent a very real threat to Israel’s closure policy.

The longer the siege lasts, the larger the popular resistance to it appears to become. Over two years after its implementation, the movements to end the siege are larger and stronger than ever before. What is clear by all these acts of popular resistance is that people of the world are prepared to do what states are either unwilling or too inept to do – break the siege on Gaza!

1. PALTRADE, “Gaza Strip Crossings Monitoring Report,” Monthly Report (June 2009).

2. World Bank, “Moving Beyond the ‘Movement and Access’ Approach” West Bank and Gaza Update (October 2008), 15 and OCHA Special Focus, “The Closure of the Gaza Strip: The Economic and Humanitarian Consequences” (December 2007).

Suzanne Morrison lived in Gaza in 2005-2006 and is currently a master’s candidate at the American University in Cairo. She is completing her thesis on the role of international institutions in Palestinian state formation. She can be reached at: suzanne_m@aucegypt.edu.