A wide smile spread across the face of Jimmy Lail when the sunset call to prayer rang out announcing the end of another day of Ramadan fasting. Lail began to eat the fast-breaking meal, beginning with a few dates. Lail is one of the international peace activists stuck in the Gaza Strip since Israel and Egypt refused to allow them to leave, and he and his five colleagues were the guests that day of a Gazan family who insisted they break the fast with them.
Lail and his colleagues began fasting at the start of Ramadan in solidarity with the Palestinians. "We declared our fasting in solidarity with a million and a half Palestinians who fast under a deadly siege," he said. Since the start of Ramadan, Palestinian families and the Popular Committee for Ending the Siege have invited the six activists to their fast-breaking tables and have provided their pre-dawn meals. The six plan to fast the entire month of Ramadan as an expression of their solidarity with the Palestinians.
Although the Israeli and Egyptian authorities barred them from leaving the Gaza Strip, the international activists have shown no complaints over staying in Gaza. On the contrary, they have all expressed that this Israeli and Egyptian action has allowed them to better experience the reality of thousands of Palestinians' suffering. One of the solidarity activists who had intended to leave the Gaza Strip is Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British prime minister and Quartet committee delegate Tony Blair. "I thank the Israeli army that allowed me, with its decision to prevent my leaving the Gaza Strip, to get to know what life is like in the world's largest prison," she told Al-Ahram Weekly. Booth said that although she had intended to leave the Gaza Strip and return to Britain to be present as her children returned to school, her staying in Gaza has allowed her to experience the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe Palestinians there suffer under the siege.
"This is organized state terrorism practiced against Palestinians, when they leave the sick to die for lack of treatment or permission to travel," she said. "Only those who visit Gaza can know the truth of the tragic reality of people here, and can discover how misleading Israel is in its claims." Booth considers Israel's decision to prevent her from leaving the Gaza Strip a form of punishment for her participation in the Free Gaza boat trip that broke the siege, but stresses that this has not crushed her resolve to continue the struggle against the siege. What is more disturbing for Booth is the Egyptian position, for the Egyptian authorities refused to let her leave the Gaza Strip when she tried while the Rafah crossing was open for two days. Booth says that over three days she spent 25 hours trying to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing in a bus with more than 100 people and in heat exceeding 50 degrees Celsius.
The six activists intend to make use of every moment they spend in Gaza to protest against the siege. They also want to share the experience of besieged Palestinians and encourage them to remain steadfast. Last Saturday morning the solidarity activists spent hours on a fishing boat across from the Rafah city coast in the furthest southern point of the Gaza Strip. They believed that they could record another "victory" over the Israeli army after having reached the Gaza coast and broken the siege despite Israel's initial rejection of their arrival. The goal of this activity was to attempt to widen the fishing area allowed to Palestinian fishermen.
The Oslo Accords allowed Palestinian fishermen to fish up to six kilometres from the coast, but since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the Israeli navy has not allowed Palestinian fishermen to go further than two kilometres. It claims security factors as the reason for this, and any boat that goes past the allowed limit is fired at. The activists encouraged fishermen on Saturday to exceed the limit set by the occupation army and to place fishing nets four kilometres from the coast, but less than an hour passed before Israeli warships fired warning shots at the fishermen and international activists, forcing them to return across the set line. George Crafest, one of the solidarity activists, says that although the attempt failed, it served as a sign to the Israeli army that unfair measures against the Palestinians would not be obeyed.
|British journalist and peace activist Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former British premier Tony Blair who is now an international Middle East peace envoy, attends a protest against the Israeli siege in Gaza.|
The international activists have tried to learn about life in the refugee camps and have visited most of those spread across the Gaza Strip, speaking with residents about life there. The activists have also spent the night in the impoverished homes of refugee families. Andu Monica, a Greek activist, was deeply affected when he spent a night with a family consisting of 12 and living in two rooms. "It's horrible when 12 individuals are crowded into a house that is only big enough for four at the most," he said. "Life in the refugee camps is the worst picture of life under occupation more than six decades following the Nakba [catastrophe] and the expulsion of the Palestinians from their land."
The international activists are also continuing their visits to Palestinian institutions and have visited hospitals several times, where they have learned close up about the tragic results of the siege on the Palestinian people. Activists were not able to hold back their tears when they saw and heard the cries of chronically ill patients suffering during their final hours in the various departments of Dar Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza City's largest.
It is clear that the Israeli and Egyptian prevention of international activists from leaving the Gaza Strip will not deter other international peace and rights activists from approaching Gaza by sea. Jamal Al-Khudari, head of the popular committee for confronting the siege on the Gaza Strip, says that a new ship carrying activists will arrive on the Gaza coast on 22 September to break the siege that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than a year.
In statements to the Weekly, Al-Khudari said that the ship will transport eight members of the European parliament, as well as academics, artists, media professionals, and 22 surgeons who will perform urgently needed operations for Palestinian patients who cannot leave the Gaza Strip due to the siege. Al-Khudari added that another ship would later arrive from Scotland transporting humanitarian aid. On the tenth of Ramadan, Egyptian parliamentarians and professional syndicate members will also attempt to break the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by attempting to enter via the Rafah border crossing with large quantities of humanitarian aid.
According to Al-Khudari, the success of the Free Gaza ship in breaking the siege forced the Egyptian authorities to temporarily reopen the Rafah crossing and allow more than 4,500 people stranded in Gaza to leave and more than 1,400 Palestinians to enter. Al-Khudari expects that this international mobilization will lead to a similar mobilization of Arab public opinion that will make it difficult for Arab regimes to continue their indifference to the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Eyad Al-Seraj, director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and a prominent activist in the struggle against the siege, says that a million signatures will be collected from Gazans in a document to be submitted to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki- Moon to ask him to intervene for the lifting of the siege on Gaza.
Al-Seraj adds that the document will be presented during the regular session of the United Nations' General Assembly. It aims to express Palestinian popular and national will and to place pressure on the international community and particularly the United Nations' General Assembly to end the siege on the Gaza Strip. Al-Seraj says that the document stresses that the siege is a violation of international humanitarian law and human rights standards, and that Israel, in its capacity as the occupying state, is violating the Fourth Geneva Convention that requires it to respect civilians in time of war.
The document also states that the siege has caused an unprecedented rise in "rates of poverty and unemployment and to deteriorating levels of living for citizens and of nutrition, especially for children and pregnant women. It has also led to the suspension of the industrial and agricultural sectors as well as infrastructure and public services. This siege has accelerated the deterioration of humanitarian sectors and particularly health and education by preventing the ill from receiving treatment abroad and students from travelling to their universities."
Saleh Al-Naami writes for the Al-Ahram Weekly
I cannot figure out why the middle Eastern spinless countries are sitting back saying nothing. And Egypt should be ashamed of themselves. Every dog does have its day. Sooner or later, the world will wake up to see Isreal exactly for what they are. Believe it or not, some have already awakened.
Maybe thats why there is so much economic woes now. Jesus (as) said it best, what a man seweth, so shall a man reapeth. I do believe that reaping season has begun.
May we Muslims keep praying for our brothers and sisters not only in Palestine, but in Sudan, Iraq, Afghanastain, and the innocents in Pakistain as well. And to our brothers and sisters in Somolia.
May Allah, not the almighty dollar, which is falling every single day, keep us on the right path. May Allah give the Believers the strength, like these workers, to speak out against this injustice. Not only in Palestine, but all over the world.
A sin is a sin and murder is murder even if the victim is a jew.
This is happening to them because their hearts are full of hate.
Allah works in mysteroious ways
My thoughts and prayers are with the Palestinian people, and the peace activists. Good will always prevail over evil.