Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gazans Still Suffer under Israeli Blockade, Huwaida Arraf Tells San Rafael Audience

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gazans Still Suffer under Israeli Blockade, Huwaida Arraf Tells San Rafael Audience

Article excerpt

MORE than one year after Operation Cast Lead, Israel's 22-day military assault on Gaza which killed 1,455 civilians, completely demolished 3,600 homes, and severely damaged more than 14,000, not including schools, hospitals, mosques and businesses, Gazans are still suffering and unable to rebuild their lives, Huwaida Arraf told a group of Palestinian supporters at San Rafael's Christ Presbyterian Church Feb. 27. "Israel still controls Gaza by air, sea and land, as well as all of the border crossings, other than Rafah," said the Free Gaza Movement director. In addition, every child born in Gaza must be registered by the Israelis and given an identification number. And every person who applies for a passport must be approved by Israel, although it is the Palestinian Authority which issues the actual passport document. Even the currency in Gaza is the Israeli shekel, noted Arraf, who herself is a Palestinian-American citizen of Israel. "Commerce, trade-what goes out of Gaza and what goes into Gaza-is controlled by Israel. They have not been allowed to import even one bag of cement in order to rebuild their lives."

Israel's ironfisted blockade of Gaza's border and total control of everything and everyone going into or out of the seaside enclave has directly caused, among other calamities, anemia and malnutrition in 66 percent of schoolchildren and 29 percent of pregnant women. At least 80 percent of Gazans cannot survive without food aid, and unemployment is at a rate of almost 50 percent. "No one is sanctioning Israel for what it is doing," the activist lamented. "So we decided to again travel to Gaza by sea, but, instead of one boat, we will take a fleet-nine boats. We will bring in building supplies on a cargo ship so they can rebuild their homes."

Through enormous fund-raising efforts by the Free Gaza Movement in 2006, 44 passengers broke Israel's 41-year naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave on Aug. 23, 2008 by sailing two wooden fishing boats from Cyprus into the port of Gaza (see November 2008 Washington Report, p. 15).

In April, Arraf, who also is co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, and other human rights defenders from around the world will once again attempt to sail into the Port of Gaza with badly needed aid.

"Someone has to stand up to Israel and expose its policy of collective punishment," Arraf insisted. "But we need to go back again and again until the closure is lifted and until we open a sea lane between Gaza and the outside world."

During the question-and-answer session, Arraf agreed with an audience member's suggestion that the Palestinian Authority dissolve itself, thereby leaving Israel in control of the entire area. "I personally think this should be done," she stated. "For a long time it has been discussed that the PA should dissolve itself because, in a sense, it has provided a shield for Israel. Israel has dumped all responsibility on the PA. Many people have said the PA should dissolve itself, put the occupation back on Israel's doorstep and make the occupation more costly for Israel. Personally, I think this is the most strategic thing to do."

San Rafael-based 14 Friends of Palestine, founded by Jane Jewell, sponsored the event.

Bay Area Friends of Sabeel Host Conference in San Anselmo

"A Time for Truth, a Time for Action: Palestine/Israel and the U.S. at the Crossroads" was the theme of the Bay Area Friends of Sabeel regional conference held at the First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo on March 5 and 6. "Sabeel"-Arabic for "The Way"-is a Jerusalem-based international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.

In his opening and closing presentations before the audience of more than 400, Sabeel founder Rev. Naim Ateek urged the audience to use their talents to work for justice and to be advocates and activists for justice.

"Although many of us have given up on political leaders, we still think that President Obama's heart and mind are in the right place," the reverend averred, "but I think he has met a brick wall that he has not been able to penetrate. …

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