‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our
favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence, or
reviews of important works in the field (suggestions welcome).
Introduced by Roberta Bacic–
The voice of the voiceless and marginalised ones in the Gaza Strip in Palestine is echoed and amplified by Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate, who also started in Northern Ireland to speak out from the grassroots - to express the desire to stop the killings of the conflict in this country, her own country, by using nonviolence as a way to resist/oppose/confront/challenge violence. Mairead with her direct participation and involvement legitimises the day to day struggle of the Palestinians to live in their own territory. She herself started to act as a member of community who could not any more let things happen. The moment of enough is enough had come at the time that she engaged in nonviolence to confront what was going on. Her struggle was legitimised and receiving the Nobel Prize has allowed her to validate her standing as well as endorse other struggles. Mubarak Awad in his book, Nonviolent Struggle in the Middle East, 1983, says: " In the occupied territories today, the resistance against the occupation does not generally reflect violent methods. . .this campaign appears to be well organized, and intelligent in its methods, ideas and the execution of classical non-violent tactics". 25 years have gone since then, and Palestinians are still having to struggle and Israelis also have to struggle to come to terms with the situation they are in and they are creating at the same time. It is in this context that we invite you to read Mairead's piece and we would wish it motivates the reader to actively engage in this or other struggles and go beyond reading and sympathising.
By Mairead Corrigan Maguire
“Collective punishment of Gaza by Israel is prohibited by international humanitarian law and should end immediately”
On 22nd September, 2008, I flew to Larnaca, Cyprus, at the invitation of the Free Gaza Movement to join them on a mission from Larnaca to Gaza. The purpose of the mission was to break the blockade of Gaza. In Larnaca, I joined a 22 person international delegation of doctors, parliamentarians, and human rights workers in the hope of setting sail aboard the SS Hope for Gaza. This was to be the second mission into Gaza following upon the very successful sailing on 23rd August, 2008, of the SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty, when 42 International delegates broke the Siege and landed in Gaza, carrying hearing aids for children. These were the first boats to dock in Gaza Port in over 40 years since the military occupation of Palestine by Israel. Over 40,000 Gazans welcomed the boats when they arrived last August, and we were assured that a warm welcome was being prepared for us by the people of Gaza. The fact that 10 Palestinians (5 medical doctors) were in our delegation added to the excitement of the Gazan people.
Unfortunately as things turned out, after a hold-up of some days, it was decided to delay the return to Gaza for a future date. The problem was that the two original boats were not suitable for another trip, so the Free Gaza Movement decided to buy or lease a sturdier boat. Every time they thought they had reached an agreement with a boat owner, it fell through (they believe due to outside pressure). The second problem was that strong winds on the seas meant we would have to wait for another week before we could even consider sailing. Hence the Free Gaza Movement decided wisely to temporarily delay our voyage.
We will return to sail to Gaza as soon as the boat is ready and bring with us medical supplies. These are urgently needed, as despite unilateral evacuation of 7,000 settlers, the Gaza strip remains occupied territory. Israel continues to control its 6 land crossings (many of which are closed for long periods of time), airspace, territorial waters, population registry, tax system, supply of goods, freedom of movement and access to healthcare. Israel has military control over 26% of the Strip’s total territory as ‘border security zones’. The International community was led to believe that Israel gave back Gaza, but this simply is not true. Israel even prevents fishermen from going to sea in Gazan water, despite Oslo allowing them a 20 nautical mile fishing area. Gaza is like a ghetto, a huge prison, with Israel holding the keys to all the doors. Israel controls everything in the lives of the Gazan people. Many Gazans have been killed, including children, caught in the crossfires of Israeli collective punishment. Armed Palestinians try to hit back at their occupiers with crude weaponry, such as the Qassam Rocket attacks on the Jewish town of Sderot, where 4 Jewish people have been killed, and hundreds injured. Gazan hospitals have been paralysed, 40% of Gaza City residents have been deprived of access to clean water. Children are living in the cold and dark. Gaza pumps 40 million litres of untreated sewage into the sea every day, because of a lack of electricity to run the treatment plant, and lack of pipes to replace old ones (Israel argues they will use the pipe as bombs, so none are allowed into Gaza, nor are they allowed cement and therefore cannot build hospitals, homes, etc.).
I sympathise with Sderot’s residents, exposed to traumatising Qassam rockets for the past 7 years but siege and collective punishment are no answer, and denying basic necessities, driven to the edge of starvation, and constant military Israeli offensive (l,000 Palestinians were killed in 2007, including many civilians) is against Geneva Convention. In the meantime several Palestinian ceasefire offers have been rejected out of hand by the Israeli Government, and they are by their repressive policies encouraging extremism. Gaza is a traumatised, broken society, where 80% are unemployed and 2O% work for the UN and NGO’s, therefore 100% of Gazans rely on the benevolence of the outside world.
The International Community must end its Silence on the suffering of the Palestinian people, live up to their obligations under the Fourth Geneva convention and take action to challenge Israel’s collective punishment of l.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip.
They must also insist that Israel, end the blockage, end the occupation of Palestine, and implement the political solutions to what is a political problem and solvable. Israel has partners for peace, and the International community must no longer listen to the old mantra, that Israel has no partner for peace. The truth is that Israelis and Palestinians can be friends, and this is not a clash of civilizations as some would have us all believe. This is a political problem exacerbated by failed and repressive policies of the Israeli Government, and as they are the stronger party and occupying power they have the legal and moral responsibility to end the conflict. Also an end to violence by all Palestinian armed group and Palestinian Unity are necessary for peace.
The Israeli/Palestinian people are tired of violence and war, they want justice and peace and it is now up to the political leaders through unconditional, all inclusive dialogue to deliver that peace to all the people.
So we will return to Gaza soon and we encourage people from around the world to join us in defying Israel’s blockage of Gaza. We also invite some country to be the first in the world to join us and send boats or planes of medicines, sewage pipes, etc., to save the children of Gaza.
POSTSCRIPT: As a news item in this issue of Nonviolent News relates, Mairead Corrigan Maguire was one of 27 international activists to arrive on a chartered boat to Gaza on 29th October, carrying half a tonne of medical supplies. Congratulations to her, and all the others, for acting in the best traditions of nonviolent intervention. Here are her observations from this journey:
Hope in Palestine
Journey to Gaza – 28th October – 1st November, 2008
On 28th October, 2008, the Free Gaza Movement set sail in SS Dignity from Larnaca, Cyprus, for Gaza. On board were 27 Internationals from 13 countries, including Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, five physicians, human rights lawyers, etc.
On this the second boat journey into Gaza the siege-breakers brought with them 6 cubic meters of medicine, and their hope that by going to Gaza across the sea (only the second boat to do so in over 41 years) they would give hope to the people of Gaza and that the outside world would break its silence to the tragedy of Gaza’s suffering and act to get the siege lifted.
It is hard to image that in the 2lst century a country can be so cut off from the outside world. Sixteen months ago, when Gazans voted Hamas in free and fair elections, the reaction of Israel was not to open up dialogue with the elected representatives (as they eventually must do) but to put in place a policy of collective punishment of the entire population, which has led to a humanitarian catastrophe. Israel said it was ending the Occupation of Gaza, but in truth it maintained it by closing all border entrances and isolating the Gazans from the entire world. Gaza is like an open air prison with Israel holding the keys but it's worse, at least in prison the inmates are fed and taken care of. The people of Gaza are drinking polluted water and have not enough food and medicines and materials for existence – and in the words of one Gazan ‘we are slowly choking to death with this siege’.
Before we sailed the Israeli Government warned we would not be allowed to sail into Gaza. However, we were determined to do so and just 20 miles off the coast of Gaza, held our breath as two Israeli navy gunboats stalked us but took no action. Common sense had prevailed – hopefully a sign for the future that in the final analysis those in power in Israel will realise that dialogue, not gunboats and F16’s, is the only way to solve this too long and painful Palestinian occupation.
We arrived in Gaza exhausted and sea-sick. We were met by dozens of Palestinian heavily armed Police and though, before leaving Gaza, I had requested not to be so guarded, we were informed that the Hamas Government wanted to ensure our safety, and throughout the entire 4 day visit we were escorted by armed Palestinian police.
Our reception by the people of Gaza was deeply moving. Their gratitude to the Free Gaza Movement was shown by their great warmth and hospitality. They were particularly grateful that Dr. Barghouti had come from West Bank, and that Gideon Spiro, an Israeli from Tel Aviv, had arrived with the boat. On his way home through the Erez crossing he was arrested by Israeli Authorities, held overnight and charged with illegally entering Gaza.
The following 4 days was filled with events ranging from pure joy (like the concert with the children singing and one of our group, an Italian opera singer, holding everyone in awe by the magic of his voice) to events of deep sadness such
as our visit to Shifa hospital. Here the doctors explained they have shortage of basic medicines, no parts for machines as they are blocked by Israel, and we met patients dying from cancer and preventable diseases, if only the medicines
and equipment were available. A half built new hospital stands slowing disintegrating, as cement and wood and basic materials are not allowed into the Gaza strip for over 16 months now and everything is slowing falling apart.
We visited next day the Airport which had been bombed from the air and from land by Israeli tanks over two years ago. We visited the electricity plant and saw the huge generators, bombed by Israel and still not repaired due to shortage of parts and a legal debate as to who is responsible for the repair. This Israeli air bombing of the electricity plant means it is down to only 50% capacity, so each day the electricity goes off for 7-8 Hours at a time, including in hospitals. The sewerage plant too has been damaged and Israel will not allow the pipes in to replace those destroyed, so raw sewerage is pumped into the sea every day, causing an environmental disaster waiting to explode.
In Jabalia there have been heavy rains which washed away the road, exposing broken sewerage pipes. A pool of raw sewerage filled the street and the children played oblivious to the danger of disease. We visited homes flooded by rain and sewerage whose owners had to flee and are now living with relatives in already overcrowded poverty stricken homes. There is dreadful poverty in this area. The people have nothing, many hungry and malnutrition 80%. Still the international community remains silent as the Israeli Government, collectively punish one and a half million people, 50% under 21 years of age.
Some of our human rights colleagues went out on the boats with the Gazan fishermen; they were attacked by Israeli navy boats who bombarded the boats with water canons and fired live ammunition over the bow of the fishing boats. Many fishermen have been shot dead by the Israeli navy simply trying to catch fish 6 miles from shore to feed their families.
The following days we were received by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah who announced we would be given Palestinian passports, and presented the Free Gaza Movement with a gift. There is a real desire here for peace, people have suffered enough, but they want a just peace, an end to occupation, a right to determine their future for their children. The next day the Prime Minister announced the release of Fatah prisoners and a promise there would be no more political arrests. They awaited a response from President Abbas regarding Hamas prisoners they hold.
Later that evening in the School of the Holy Family, we had the privilege of witnessing over 100 Politicians, representing all political parties, including Fatah and Hamas pledge to working for Palestinian National Unity and promising to send their Leaders to attend the National Unity Conference in Cairo in early November. Dr. Barghouti, a true man of peace, addressed his political colleagues whom he had not met for 2 and a half years, due to the closure and separation of the Gaza Strip from West Bank - an apartheid policy of Israel dividing the Palestinian people into Bantustans and making the possibility of a viable Palestinian State very difficult. This meeting took place under the watchful gaze of a huge wall picture of President Arafat. I was invited to address the political parties and I supported their non-violent campaign for an end to occupation, and a Free Palestine. I also encouraged the National Unity of Palestinians reminding them ‘in Palestinian unity there is strength, divided you will be conquered’. I also appealed to them to ‘keep you struggle non-violent and the world will support you’.
The next day we visited the Palestinian Parliament. The Speaker of the Parliament thanked the Free Gaza Movement. He spoke of the suffering of the Palestinians under Siege and occupation and paid tribute to the suffering also of the Palestinian Political prisoners (over 40 elected Hamas politicians now in Israeli jails). I addressed the Parliament speaking of the need for the release of Political prisoners and made an appeal for the release of Col. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal, a captive in Gaza for almost two years now. There are a total of 11,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including parliamentarians, sick, disabled, women and children, and before leaving Gaza I appealed for the release of Palestinian political prisoners – for the immediate release of children, women, sick, those under administrative detention, and elected Parliamentarians. I stressed the need to keep the struggle non-violent and spoke of dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation and lessons learned in our own peace process in Northern Ireland.
We visited also the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt which remains closed cutting Gazans off from their families and friends just down the road. One of the Palestinian women (who had flown from Jerusalem to Cyprus and come on the boat because she had no other way to get to Gaza) banged on the Egyptian gate crying ‘open up I want to get to my family’. Egypt too plays its part in cutting off completely from the world the people of Gaza,
not only from loved ones (and not to be able to touch those you love is the cruellest form of torture, not even letters or newspapers get into Gaza) but basic needs of medicine, food, materials to rebuild their infrastructure purposely bombed by Israel Jets (paid for by American taxpayers’ money - £10 million dollars a day). The Palestinians, in a desperate attempt to feed their families or escape this open air prison, are digging dozens of underground tunnels from Gaza to Egypt, but on the day we left 3 men were killed and others still missing as the soft sand collapsed on them. Thousands of Palestinian women are cut off from their husbands in the West Bank, and 700 students who have University places in outside countries, are not allowed out of Gaza to continue their education.
The greatest tragedy to all this is that international governments and the Western media in particular remain silent to this slow destruction of the Palestinian people by policies of Israel which break the Geneva Convention and UN Apartheid Convention in its apartheid and racist policies.
Yet, in leaving Gaza I felt great hope - hope at the tremendous resilience of the Palestinian people. One of our great Irish poets, W.B.Yeats, once wrote ‘too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart’ but then a prayer of the Irish also says ‘take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of love’. In my journeys to Israel and Palestine, and in Gaza, I found many hearts of Love. One Palestinian man asked me to carry his message to the world and it is: ‘We love our Israeli brothers, we have lived with them, we want to, but we do not believe the Israeli Government wants peace as their policies are destroying the Palestinian people’.
Another request from a Palestinian father to some of our group will remain with us: ‘If I give you some money will you bring in on the next boat some milk for my children, we have none’.
I believe there is great hope for peace in the Middle East, as this as a political problem with a political solution, and the Israeli Government, and USA, with real political will can solve this historical conflict whose roots are in the occupation. We recognise the State of Israel and its need for security. We recognize there is a deep fear of ethnic annihilation amongst many Israelis, but we as the human family must all learn to deal with our fears non-violently, and realise our best hope for human security is not in occupation and siege, but in reaching out to make justice and our enemy our friend.