The following article by Pam Walker appears in this week’s Sydney City Hub newspaper:
Author and journalist Antony Loewenstein is among a group of prominent Sydney activists who will travel to Gaza to join the Gaza Freedom March on December 31, an international protest demanding the opening of the borders and the breaking of the blockade.
With him will be peace activist and Iraq war human shield Donna Mulhearn, Jews Against the Occupation’s Vivienne Porzsolt and Stop the War Coalition’s Marlene Obeid.
The Sydney activists will join 1000 international delegates from 40 countries, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, French Senator Alima Boumediene–Thiery, author and Filipino Parliament member Walden Bello, former European Parliamentarians Luisa Morgantini from Italy and Eva Quistorp from Germany, President of the US Centre for Constitutional Rights Attorney Michael Ratner, Japanese former Ambassador to Lebanon Naoto Amaki, French hip-hop artists Ministere des Affaires Populaires, and 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein.
Also participating are doctors, lawyers, diplomats, 70 students, an interfaith group that includes rabbis, priests and imams, a women’s delegation, a Jewish contingent, a veterans’ group and Palestinians born overseas who have never seen their families in Gaza.
They will march to demand the Israelis end the siege of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, and to protest inaction on the part of world leaders and institutions.
The march marks the one-year anniversary of the December 2008 Israeli invasion that left more than 1400 dead. Medea Benjamin, one of the organisers said the Gaza Freedom March would “go down in history as the day that people of conscience from around the world came together to demand that Israel stop the imprisonment of Gaza’s 1.5 million people”.
For Loewenstein, he said that whatever happens, it would be a unique and overwhelming experience. “For me it’s important to say there’s not just one perspective on this for Jews and it’s possible to be a Jew and to object – what Israel is doing is illegal under international law,” he said. “All the Jews there will be saying ”˜this is not done in our name’. We want to highlight that what Israel is doing is fundamentally anti-democratic.”
The delegates will enter Gaza via Egypt in the last week of December and on December 31 will join an estimated 50,000 Palestinians in a non-violent march from Northern Gaza to the Erez/Israeli border. On the Israeli side of the Erez border a gathering of Palestinians and Jews [Israelis are not permitted to enter Gaza] will also be calling on the Israeli government to open the border.
Loewenstein admits a march won’t change the situation but said it was important to draw attention to the occupation and the three-year blockade. And while he’s under no illusion about some of the things Hamas stands for and the “creeping Islamisation” in the strip, he said it was important to acknowledge this was an unequal conflict that inflicted collective punishment on the Palestinian people.
“We’re not talking just about the deliberate targeting of civilian areas during the invasion last year but also that people in Gaza are living in an open air prison they can’t leave. Reconstruction hasn’t been possible since the invasion because Israel will not allow in building materials. It won’t allow in pasta and pens. What possible security risk do these pose?”
He said it was deeply concerning that Egypt had begun to build an impenetrable wall on the border to “stop smuggling”, making the three-year blockade more severe and a sign there was no hope for a solution in the near future.
And we should not forget Australia’s role: “The Rudd government is no different to the Howard government on this issue – they are completely supportive of what’s going on and are backing the ongoing occupation and strangulation of Gaza.”
The protest will be from December 27 to January 2.