19 December 2009

It's the climb

By Juliette Harkin

As we tuck into our festive dinner and settle down to watch TV this Christmas, Peter Offord, a Green Party councillor from Norwich, and a qualified art therapist, will be preparing to join over a thousand people on the Gaza Freedom March. This non-violent march will take place on the 31st December and marks a year since the Israeli military assault that killed and injured thousands of Palestinian civilians.

Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi have shown us that non-violent protest can deliver justice. In the fight for freedom, Mandela focused on the tough climb for recognition: "I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. […] I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended."

The marchers will enter Gaza from the Egyptian border and join hands with Palestinian students, teachers, doctors and academics to peacefully break the siege on Gaza. Gaza's borders are sealed by the Israeli military, creating prison-like conditions for the 1.5 million inhabitants.

Why do the activists care so much and why this conflict, when there is so much injustice around the world? Well, no western state supports the excesses of Mugabe's regime. We turned our backs on Apartheid South Africa and criticisms of the Sudanese government have been rightly very vocal.

On the other hand, Israel is positively aided and abetted by the US, the British and the European Union. The West provided the bombs, some of which were not used legally, including the use of white phosphorus bombs in civilian areas of Gaza. As we all ushered in 2009 Israel recklessly bombed a highly populated area that contained civilians. Sometimes Israeli leaflets or phone calls told citizens to leave their homes and yet they were locked in this tiny stretch of land and, unlike refugees fleeing war the world over, had nowhere to walk to safety. Israel bombed built up areas housing, schools and hospitals and it fired at ambulance crews. Civilians were beheaded or blown to pieces by illegally used weapons, or, if they were 'lucky', just mangled and crippled for life.

As far as the Israeli soldiers were concerned every Palestinian man, woman or child in Gaza was a potential terrorist. There were no civilians or humans, just the enemy.

What Israel did was as morally corrupt as the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Sovereign states, including ours, have a responsibility to act within the law, or else our world will never be a safe place free from terror. Israel gained its statehood to the detriment of the indigenous people and, as historian Avi Shlaim says, has subsequently chosen land-grabs over peace.

It is a sad indictment of our world's political system that we actually have to have rules for war – for war is surely a failure of politics – but we do and one of the world's most militaristic states, Israel, has been flouting them since the day it was born. Blair and Bush have set the bar so low now – complete disdain for international law and human rights - and guess what? Some rather unpleasant regimes around the world have jumped on this sordid bandwagon.

The organisers of the march, The International Coalition to End the Siege on Gaza, say that the "conscience of humankind is shocked", but this is not enough. The aim is clear: to "quicken" the conscience of the world towards a just solution for the Palestinians.

To understand more about what the march is all about and to see how you can support and help the marchers visit the website at http://www.gazafreedommarch.org/.

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