Why We Sail to Gaza

Hedy Epstein and Paul Larudee

Posted Sep 24, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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First the Nazi occupiers of Warsaw built a wall around its Jewish ghetto, enclosing 440,000 Jews.  Next, they denied nearly all ingress and egress.  Then they cut food, fuel and power.  They deported and killed increasing numbers numbers of Jews.  When the Jewish inhabitants waged armed resistance, they were branded as “terrorists” and ruthlessly destroyed, along with the entire ghetto and all but a few survivors.  At each stage, Nazi leaders watched for world reaction.  When there was none, they took license to commit greater horrors.

More than ten years ago Israel began building a wall around Gaza, and made it higher and more fortified five years later.  Since then, the entry and exit of Palestinians and visitors has dwindled to a trickle.  Israel has halted the export of all goods produced in Gaza.  Israel withholds Palestinian money used to pay salaries.  It ruthlessly attacks and assassinates persons that it accuses of participating in armed resistance that it brands “terrorism,” along with a larger number of civilians that it calls “collateral damage.”  Recently, it even refused to allow children’s schoolbooks into Gaza.  Israel, too, has paused at each stage to gauge world reaction.  Seeing none,  it raises the level of misery & suffering for the 1.4 million Palestinian people of Gaza, nearly half of them children.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2007, the Israeli cabinet unanimously decided to authorize sanctions on supplies of electricity, fuel, water and other basic goods and services to the civilian population of Gaza.  Having turned the tiny Gaza Strip into a prison where the inmates must fend for themselves, Israel is putting them on half rations and denying them sanitation and even candles to light the darkness imposed by the lack of electricity.

The U.S. government and nearly every candidate for President and Congress have overwhelmingly endorsed Israel’s action.  However, a few voices refuse to endorse war crimes.  That is why the Free Gaza Movement will take a small group of boats to Gaza in May 2008, and try to enter by sea, the only route that Israel has not walled off.  We will carry only food, medicine and visitors wishing to show solidarity.  Those visitors will be Israelis, Palestinians, and citizens from all over the world.  They will include Catholic priests, nuns, rabbis, imams, Buddhist priests, actors, entertainers, journalists and politicians.

We will not seek Israeli permission because we will not pass through Israeli territory.  Although Palestinians in Gaza desperately need relief supplies, they need freedom even more.  Our voyage is therefore intended to exercise Palestinian sovereignty by accepting invitations from Palestinian institutions still functioning in Gaza, without clearance from Israeli authorities.  We hope to be the first visitors to enter Palestinian territory on Palestinian authority alone.

Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish lawyer, who coined the term genocide in 1943, described it as “...the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.  The objectives….would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.”

We therefore do not have to believe that Israel will go as far as Nazi Germany to recognize that it is nevertheless committing genocide upon the Palestinian people.  The victims of past genocides call upon us to cry out, “Never again!”  That is why some of us will sail to Gaza next May, and why all of us must hold Israel accountable for its actions.  To do nothing is to tell Israel that the world is once again ready to tolerate crimes against humanity.

(Hedy Epstein is a Jewish Holocaust survivor, living in St. Louis, MO.  Dr. Paul Larudee is a piano technician, living in El Cerrito, CA.  Both are human rights volunteers, who participate in the Palestinian non-violent resistance movement.)

If you would like to find out more about the Gaza trips and/or would like to donate to make future trips possible, visit http://www.freegaza.org