by Karen Dabrowska
MORE THAN 150 protesters holding large sheets of paper with the names of the 1,417 victims of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza in late 2008, observed five minutes of silence in London’s Trafalgar Square last Saturday.
The protesters were flanked by a large slogan: “1417 is not just a number, it is the number of Palestinian men women and children killed by the Israelis”. After the five minutes of silence they chanted “long live Palestine, from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” and “Gaza don’t you cry, we will never let you die”. A similar protest was held in Turkey and messages of support were received from Iran.
The protest was part of the activities of Palestinian Memorial Week, including exhibitions, films and talks, called to mark the 1st anniversary of the Gaza War by the Palestine Return Centre, along with a number of other Palestinian and Muslim organisations as well as the Russell Tribunal and the student council of Goldsmith University. The organisers of the London protest are also calling for a boycott of Israeli products sold in British supermarkets
In Trafalgar Square the protesters were addressed by a Palestinian woman who lost members of her family in the latest Gaza war. “The victims are people like yourselves”, Manal said. Struggling to hold back her tears she told the protesters that when she looked at them she felt she was looking at her family.
Manal spoke about how her auntie survived the war but subsequently died in the shelter due to a lack of medicine.
“I don’t believe in politicians, I believe in shared humanity. Everyone needs to be treated with respect. Peace is coming through people not the politicians. We need to make sure the names we are reading today will not be repeated. We need to go to the Holy Land and tell the people we share their humanity. We go to Spain and France so why don’t we go to the Holy Land to see the truth”.
Many of the protesters were motivated by a sense of injustice about what is happening to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
“I came here to show my solidarity with the Palestinian people. I feel that they are being ignored. This is the least I can do”, said Steven Murphy, a picture framer.
Anthony Timmins, an American poet, said he wanted the people of Palestine to be reassured that they were not forgotten, while Eddie Powell, a British pensioner, said that he wanted to add his voice to the growing voices in Britain against the policies of the Israelis. “This movement is growing and gaining strength and I want to add my support”, he said.
Huma, an artist and dancer of Irish and Pakistani origin, said she felt a deep sense of anger at the British government and other governments for allowing the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians to continue. “The Israelis speak of the rockets that were fired into their territories but they have responded with white phosphorous. The more I read about what is happening, the more I talk to people who have been to the occupied territories the more appalled I become. Palestinian homes are being destroyed and settlers are encouraged to move in. We also have to support Israeli peace groups who are against what is happening”.
Emilie, a teacher of Latin, said that the human rights violations of the Palestinian people have been going on for 60 years. She pointed out that lawyers have described everything that is going on in Gaza as a war crime.
Andrew Medhurst, a banker, said : “I am appalled that the British government is either too scared or has an agenda which means it can’t criticise the Israelis. Everybody needs to say this is not right and put pressure on the government”. His daughter compared the damage to Gaza to the damage caused by the earthquake in Haiti. “But Gaza could have been avoided”, her father added.
The speakers drew attention to the following facts:
• 1,440 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, with over 5,000 wounded and 50,000 displaced;
• On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and three civilians killed;
• 90 – 95 per cent of Gaza’s water fails to meet WHO standards;
• According to the UN, Gaza is undergoing “a process of de-development” with terrible consequences;
• More than 4,000 buildings destroyed in Gaza, more than 20,000 severely damaged;
• Redevelopment is almost impossible due to the embargo on construction materials;
• Unemployment is endemic while the siege is devastating the lives of civilians;
• According to the Goldstone Report the Israeli Defence Forces committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity;
• The Israeli military offensive was disproportionate and directed against civilians.
Palestinian Memorial Week was launched at a meeting in central London on 13th January with speeches by Ghasan Faour of the Palestinian Return Centre, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Afif Safieh a former Palestinian ambassador to the UK, film director Ken Loach, Middle East consultant Peter Eyre and Obada Swalha of the Palestinian Forum in Britain.
Ghasan Faour described the war on Gaza as a watershed which led to a more vocal outcry than is usually witnessed when the Palestinians are subjected to hostilities. But he emphasised that last year’s war was only one of many atrocities perpetrated against the Palestinian people.
Sixty years of aggression and countless violations of international law are evidence of Israel’s ideology and a political programme that seeks to deny the Palestinians their basic humanity. But the time is coming when morality, justice and law will come to the aid of the Palestinians. The time is coming when the criminals will be brought to justice as seen by the issuing of arrest warrants for Israeli war criminals.
Ghasan Faour believes that the Goldstone report will not be the last, as there will be further aggression and crimes against the Palestinian people will continue. Gaza has become an open prison and there is an almost complete media silence when Israel continues to drop bombs on Gaza. The international community desperately needs to act to ensure the Palestinians do not continue suffering.
Baroness Tonge called on the public to make Gaza an election issue in Britain. Politicians should be convinced that they would not be elected unless they pledged to take a stand an Gaza and the Palestinian issue.
She described Gaza as an obscenity because not far away in Jerusalem the Israelis have the best hospitals and plenty of food and water while the Palestinians are dying due to lack of medical care, the children are malnourished and there is a shortage of drinking water. Even if they received medical treatment many Palestinians had no homes to return to as they had been reduced to rubble.
Baroness Tonge also spoke about her visit to Gaza last year and paid tribute to the schoolchildren who were laughing, singing songs and showing how much drive they had despite the appalling conditions in which they were living.
Afif Safieh recalled a time when it was electorally rewarding for politicians to be seen as anti-Palestinian. But he emphasised that the Palestinians have now won the battle for European and Western public opinion. Gaza was a moral defeat of Israeli barbarity.
The world knows that territory and not terrorism is the obstacle to the peace process. The policy of Israeli politicians on both the right and left has been to appropriate as much Palestinian land as possible.
Afif Safieh said the Palestinians opposed holocaust denials but they themselves have been subjected to four denials: denial of their physical existence, denial of their national rights, denial of their suffering and denial of those who are responsible for their suffering. The Palestinians are unbowed, untamed and undomesticated and their cry for freedom will be heard by the whole world.
Ken Loach called for a boycott of Israeli cultural events and goods. “The more we do that, the stronger will be the message that their behaviour is unacceptable,” he said.
Obada Swalha said the Palestinian problem started with the lie of “a land without a people for a people without a land”. He emphasised that the war may have ended but the siege continues and the people of Gaza are still living in tents, children are dying of malnutrition and hospitals have a minimum of medicines.
Peter Eyre gave a power point presentation which focused on Gaza’s decimated fishing industry and the horrific injuries caused by the use of white phosphorous by the Israelis.
The Palestine Return Centre now intends to hold a memorial week every year for the people of the Gaza Strip, most of whom have been the victims of Israeli aggression since they were driven off their land by the Zionists in 1948.