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Israelis and Palestinians Demonstrate

Sunday 27 January 2008

On Saturday, 26 January, some 1,500 Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel from all around the country, including several Members of Knesset, gathered outside the Erez border crossing into the Gaza Strip under the banner “Gaza: Lift the Blockade!” The demonstration, coordinated by a number of participating organizations,[i] was held in protest of Israel’s collective punishment of the 1.5 million citizens of the Gaza Strip.

The demonstrators arrived to the Erez border crossing in a convoy of 25 buses and over 100 cars and trucks, loaded with over three tons of collected foodstuffs—including oil, water, flour, chocolate and sugar—and medical supplies, with the intent to transfer the goods to Gazans in need.

There was a convoy of hundreds of cars, trucks and buses, driving to the Erez Border Crossing, many filled with staple goods to give to residents of the Gaza Strip.

About one kilometer from the Gaza border, the demonstrators exited their vehicles and marched on foot towards the Erez crossing, behind a truck piled high with the goods. Once the demonstrators arrived at the crossing, they were escorted by Israeli military and police into an open area, following which several speeches were given.

A representative from Adalah—The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, spoke about an Israeli High Court petition it had filed together with additional Israeli human rights groups, asking the court to issue an order allowing diesel into Gaza and ordering the crossings reopened.

MK Jamal Zahalka, head of the Balad Party, attended the demonstration and called for an end to the blockade and a reopening of the border crossing in and out of Gaza. He added that, “The Israeli government holds the responsibility for the humanitarian disaster in Gaza,” and “We’ll continue to protest and reveal the war crimes against one and a half million Palestinians in the Strip.”

Uri Avnery—journalist, former MK, longtime activist, and head of Gush Shalom—was another speaker at the event:

Three days ago, a wall fell here, like the Berlin Wall fell, like the separation wall and all walls and fences will fall. But the inhumane closure that has been imposed on one and a half million Gaza residents by our government and by our army in our name—this closure will continue with all its cruelty. […] As Israelis who came here with basic supplies, in our desire to tell the Israeli public and the whole world: We won’t be part of this crime. We’re ashamed of this siege. […] Our hearts are with our Palestinian brothers who are demonstrating with us on the other side of the fence. Don’t lose hope that one day we will meet without fences and walls, without weapons and violence, as two nations living together in peace, in friendship, in partnership. […] Our hearts are also with our brothers in Sderot. The Qassam threat must be stopped, but it won’t be stopped through a policy of an eye for an eye or 100 eyes for one, because this leaves us all blind. It will end when we speak with the other side. Yes, yes, with Hamas.

Also taking part in the demonstration was 17-year-old Shir Shodzik, a resident of the Israeli town of Sderot—often the target of Qassam rocket attacks from inside the Gaza Strip. She expressed her opposition to the Israeli-imposed sanctions despite the fact that Shodzik’s aunt and cousin were injured in a Qassam rocket and stated, “I came to show my identification with the Palestinian people. There is no need for violence or (the use of) force in order to solve this situation.”

A simultaneous demonstration was held inside the Gaza Strip by peace and human rights activists of the Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege. Though neither demonstration could see the other over the high concrete wall of the Erez crossing, there was nonetheless a feeling of unity between the two groups. Dr. Iyad al-Sarraj, head of the Palestinian Community Mental Health Program, spoke by phone to the demonstrators on the Israeli side, stating: “We are joining hands today in the pursuit of peace, justice and security for all—security for Palestine, security for Israel, security for Gaza and security for Sderot.”

Though the demonstration coordinators negotiated with the Israeli military command of the border crossing, the Israeli authorities did not permit the relief aid to be immediately transferred to the Palestinian side. According to Michael Warschawski of the Alternative Information Center (AIC), the supplies are to be stored in a warehouse at a kibbutz near the Gaza border while the groups petition the Israeli Supreme Court for permission to get them into Gaza.

Despite the fact that the Israeli authorities withheld permission to transfer the goods, this joint demonstration made a clear statement that there are thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who will continue to communicate and work together towards the goal of a real and substantial peace, will refuse to see the other as the enemy and will refuse to allow the Israeli government and military to continue to commit human rights abuses and arrogantly ignore international law.

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