By Rupert Read
My friend Peter Offord, an artist and local 'Stop the War' leader, has just recently returned from a historic visit to the Gaza strip, part of Palestine. 'Historic', because it is almost impossible to gain entry to Gaza, if the Israelis don't like what you intend to do there. As peace activists, Peter and his colleagues were considered a threat… Peter wanted to enter Gaza to be able to work with the traumatised local inhabitants there, in his capacity as an art therapist.
Why are so many Gazans traumatized?
The Israeli siege of Gaza began in 2005 when Israel withdrew its illegal settlers, and tightened in 2006 when Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Assembly, leading to collective punishment of the people of Gaza by Israel. The siege severely restricts the entry of food, fuel, medical supplies and other necessities through all the legitimate border-crossing-points into Gaza.
Just after Christmas 2008, Gaza fell victim to a viciously disproportionate attack by Israel. Gaza suffered 1,400 dead during the next month including 412 children, and 5,300 injured. By contrast, just 13 Israelis died during the attack. Israel pretended that this was a war; and Hamas, not wishing to appear cowed and humiliated, went along with the pretence. But this wasn't a war. It was a massacre.
One is reminded of the words of one of Israel's most famous ever war-leaders,
General Moshe Dayan, who once said "Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother."
So: Peter sought, along with a thousand other peace activists from across the world, to enter Gaza, last month, as part of the Gaza Freedom March, to offer help to the Palestinian people. Shamefully, the Egyptian government sought to stop them, revoking previously approved coach permits, and banning all protests. When Peter managed to proceed 'incognito' too close to the Gazan border, he was placed under house-arrest by the Egyptian police. The situation only changed when Suzanne Mubarak - the Egyptian President's wife, and chair of the Red Crescent (the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross) - intervened, angering the Egyptian government but persuading it to allow into Gaza 100 people carrying humanitarian aid for the desperately suffering Gazan people.
Peter and his colleagues then had just three days to do all that they were trying to do, in Gaza. Peter managed for example to visit a centre for war-traumatised children who are using art materials to draw their experiences. They then describe these to their class (which takes place in devastated building) in order to try to reframe the terrible sufferings that they have undergone.
Earlier this month, Osama bin Laden said, "America will never be able to dream of living in peace unless we live it in Palestine. It is unfair that you enjoy a safe life while our brothers in Gaza suffer greatly." So long as the inhuman siege of and state-terrorisation of Gaza continues, Israel and its allies such as the USA (and UK) provide a ready-made excuse to bin Laden and his vicious minions for their savage campaign of violence against Western targets. For bin Laden continued his remarks: "Therefore, with God's will, our attacks on you will continue as long as you continue to support Israel." If we want to be tough on the causes of non-state terrorism, then we have to be tough on state-terrorism. That means, at minimum, calling time on our government's backing for Israel's cruel siege.
Well done to Peter Offord and to all his fellow activists for being brave enough to put their bodies on the line, and to make their way into Gaza despite the pressure put on them not to do so, by Israel and its Egyptian lackeys. If only our government could now be one-tenth as brave.