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End the Siege of Gaza

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Presented at a conference of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and Die Linke parliamentary faction in Berlin.

 

4 November 2006

 

Last Monday evening, I attended a meeting of the Coalition of Women for Peace.  We spent 2 hours talking about whether the Coalition should support a boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel.  Here are two quotes from activists:

 

Hannah said, “I can’t stand it anymore, no matter what we do, we have gotten nowhere.  Nothing is working.”

 

Khulood said, “We tried everything – demonstrations, petitions, international pressure – the only thing left to try is a boycott.”

 

Whether women were in favor or opposed to this strategy, one thing we all shared in common:  Despair.  A feeling that we are further away from peace than we have been for years.

 

It’s not surprising at all that this is the feeling of peace activists.  We have a government that took us to war in Lebanon without more than half an hour’s thought, costing the lives of some 1,500 people and destroying massive swathes of southern Lebanon.  The war was led by a Defense Minister elected on his promise to make peace and social justice.

 

We have a prime minister who was elected to give back territory –who now believes that he has a mandate to make war on the people of Gaza.  This same prime minister refuses the peace overtures of the Syrian president.  We have a new government minister who is an open racist, a man who advocates bombing the Aswan Dam in Egypt.  Two days ago in his first cabinet meeting, he said that Israel should treat the Palestinians the way Russia treats the Chechnyans.

 

Is it any wonder that the peace camp in Israel feels so depressed and frantic?

 

Of all the terrible things happening to the Palestinians these days – the Wall separating them from their land, the 9,000 Palestinian political prisoners, the destruction of homes, the settlers who uproot olive trees which the government then replants in Israeli cities, the intense new policies to separate families from each other, the hundreds and hundreds of barriers that prevent Palestinians from walking or driving freely through their own land –

 

Of all these many evils, the absolute worst is now taking place in the Gaza Strip.  Gaza was always the hidden victim – the 1.5 million victims that no one sees because Israel hides its sins behind an iron curtain, prohibiting entry to all but those who carry out the evil.  Over the past six years, Israel has killed 2,350 Gazans.  This includes 350 killed in the last four months alone.  Since Wednesday 30 were killed, including 10 last night alone.  Most of these were non-combatants, many of them children.*

 

People in Gaza are starving.  Malnutrition is rampant.  Children go to sleep hungry at night.  Israel destroyed Gaza’s only electricity plant, and as a result there is not enough water to drink or wash food or keep clean, the medical facilities cannot fully function, the system breaks down without electricity.  Can you imagine Germany without electricity for four months?

 

80% of the population in Gaza now live in poverty.  Thanks to the Israeli siege and the international sanctions, schools do not function, medicines are running out, food does not keep without refrigeration.  Could you live that way?  Could your mother?  Your grandfather?  Your child?  Can you imagine Germany with 40% unemployment?  How much unemployment and hunger does it take to give birth to anarchy?  To give rise to extremist leaders and their terrible solutions?

 

And the so-called “moderate” government of Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz, and Shimon Peres, undeserved winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is discussing how big the next invasion of Gaza should be.  Nobody in the government is discussing the option of negotiating peace.

 

How many international laws are being broken in the Occupied Territories by the Israeli government?

 

How many war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed by the Israeli forces in Hebron, Nablus, and Rafah?

 

How many dreams have been shattered by government after government in Israel, the dream of a noble, humanist state to rise from the ashes of the European tragedy?

 

I weep.  I weep for Palestine.  I weep for Israel.

 

If I have only one message to leave with you, it is the following:  I beg you, we in the Israeli peace movement beg you, make your governments come to their senses about the boycott of Palestine.  Lift the siege.  Lift the embargo.  Allow food, medicine, and goods to enter Gaza.  Allow Gazans to enter and leave.  Demand that your journalists be allowed to see what is happening.  Send delegations to Gaza and demand entry.

 

Someone once said that it takes a day in the West Bank to understand what is wrong with the occupation.  In Gaza, it takes one hour.

 

The Coalition of Women for Peace has launched a month-long campaign to lift the siege of Gaza, a campaign that will begin this evening in Tel Aviv at the annual memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin.  At that event, our activists will be walking through the crowd as a human chain, giving out leaflets to tell the truth about Gaza, interrupting the reverence with the ugly face of reality.  We will have a month of activism – vigils, teach-ins, leaflets, a cavalcade of cars through the cities, a massive write-in campaign to the media – culminating in mass demonstrations to be held in cities around the world on Saturday, December 2.

 

We call upon people of conscience from every country, especially Europe, to join us in this campaign.

 

The siege is sowing chaos and death in Gaza.

It is a man-made disaster that we must bring to an end.

 

Take responsibility for fixing what Europeans have had a big role in messing up.

 

 

I leave you with a message of despair, but also a message of hope:  The sins of the occupation are mighty and terrible.  No matter how devoted we are as peace activists, we have come too late for the many Palestinians and Israelis who are buried in the earth and whose families will never cease to mourn them.  And too late for those who bear the terrible scars of the wars, the riots, and the terrorism.

 

But we know that some things are in fact reversible.  You in Germany inspire us with the possibility of tearing down walls, a real 10 meter wall like the one being built in Palestine, but also the 20 meter walls inside our hearts.  We are inspired by the alliances between former enemies – the Japanese and the Americans; the blacks and whites of South Africa; the reunification of Germany.

 

But to succeed in this struggle, we need everyone who is willing to join our cause.  We need to honor each other’s work.  We need to live the ideals that we seek to impart to others.

 

I feel proud as a woman to be part of this struggle.  And I thank you for inviting me to join you here today.

 

 

*Since this speech was given, many more Palestinians have been killed.

 

George W. Bush has shattered the myth of male white supremacy once and for all.