A woman waves a Palestinian flag in front of black smoke from burning tires during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.
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I remember well when news of Israel’s assault on tiny Gaza in 2008-2009 kept me glued to my computer. Where else on earth, I asked myself, is there war with no refugees? No one could escape Gaza. Israel was bombing a people whom they had imprisoned with a wall.
I was thus filled with hope recently when Palestinians in Gaza began their Great Return March, a 6-week long, nonviolent resistance action demanding an end to Israel’s siege of their land. The first day began with 30,000 Palestinians wending their way through an Israeli-imposed buffer zone to approach the heavily militarized fence that cuts them off from the world.
The sites of a hundred Israeli snipers were trained on the march as it drew near. By the end of the first day, 17 protesters had been shot dead and over 700 wounded by the snipers’ bullets. A month later the death count has passed 40, including two journalists. While Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted that “there are no innocents in Gaza,” news accounts told of a boy shot while watching from the sidelines, marchers shot in the back, a woman shot as she walked toward the fence waving a Palestinian flag.
The march, conceived by a coalition of varied Palestinian movements, dramatizes Gazans’ oppression, adopting the nonviolence strategy pioneered by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Marchers approach the barrier that is source and symbol of their oppression. Israel walls off 1.9 million inhabitants in a mere 140 square miles of land. Israel has besieged Gaza by land, air, and sea, limiting the food, building materials, and medical supplies allowed entrance. People get electricity sporadically for a few hours per day, and clean water is in short supply. Israel prevents Gazans from exporting their products or fishing waters that are rightfully theirs, raising unemployment to over 50 percent. It is nearly impossible to leave Gaza, even for urgent medical treatment.
Gazans courageously cross the buffer strip that Israel has declared a free-fire zone, approaching the wall to speak for their right to live in freedom and justice. In the words of one marcher, “we stood against all the powers telling us to break and die in silence and decided to march for life.”
They stand before a wall that divides a land into plenty and scarcity, water and thirst, freedom and imprisonment. Israel answers the people’s need by building the barrier ever higher and fortifying it with snipers shooting live bullets against unarmed people. They claim they must kill and maim to guard against a breach in the wall.
This mounting show of brutality, however, will not bring peace to the land. Rather, it erodes Israel’s moral authority in the eyes of the world. Only justice can bring true security to the Israeli people. The United States must stop shielding Israel from criticism in the United Nations. It must stop providing weapons that only deepen misery and delay the real work that must be done to find peace. Israel must lift the siege of Gaza and grant a state to the Palestinian people.
The march will culminate on May 15, Nakba Day, when Palestinians remember their villages destroyed and their people uprooted in the 1948 War.
Echoing scenes from MLK’s March to Selma, Gazans endure the threat of injury and death to show the world their fundamental human dignity. They present themselves at a wall that imprisons them, yet cannot hide them from the eyes of the world. It is time we welcome them into the family of nations and call on Israel to do the same.
Josie Setzler has traveled to Israel and the West Bank in recent years with Project Peace in Tiffin. She is an organizer with Witness Against Torture and an activist with several area movements for peace and justice, including Tiffin Area Pax Christi.
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