Marching on Gaza

IssueSeptember 2009
Feature by Gabriel Carlyle

To mark the first anniversary of Israel’s bloody 22-day assault on Gaza, hundreds of international activists will march nonviolently alongside the people of Gaza on 1 January 2010, breaching the illegal Israeli blockade.

The marchers (following a code of nonviolence) will leave Cairo on 27 December, cross into Gaza from Egypt and continue to the Israeli border. Amnesty International has called the blockade a “form of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza [and] a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention”.

The organisers state that they draw inspiration, not just from Gandhi and the US civil rights movement, but also from the “decades of nonviolent Palestinian resistance, from the mass popular uprising of the first intifada to the West Bank villagers currently resisting the land grab of Israel’s annexationist wall” – as well as from groups like the Free Gaza Movement who have challenged the blockade by sea (see PN 2507).

Strong backing
The march – which is intended as the first step in a protracted nonviolent campaign – is in part the brainchild of Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors and the author of a series of highly-acclaimed books on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Nazi Holocaust (see our interview with him in PN 2504 and a review of Beyond Chutzpah in PN 2506).

The project has the active backing of CODEPINK: Women for Peace, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (US), and several other groups. It has been endorsed by Betty Hunter (UK Palestine Solidarity Committee), key Palestinian activist Mustafa Barghouti, Amjad Al Shawa (director, Palestinian Network of NGOs), Alice Walker, Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, Tony Benn, George Galloway MP and many others.

Close to half of the members of the coalition’s coordinating committee are Palestinian, and civic organisations in the Gaza Strip have had input into the mission statement.

While the organising group does not take a position on any of the Palestinian parties, it has had to gain authorisation to enter Gaza from Hamas, the elected government. March on Gaza says: “Hamas has given this authorisation, while acknowledging that the march is being organised and directed by civil society groups.”

“Quickening conscience”
While recognising that “[n]either [he] nor anyone else has the right to tell Palestinians that they must renounce violent means to end the occupation”, Finkelstein advocates the use of Gandhian nonviolent resistance to resolve the conflict on pragmatic grounds.

Finkelstein notes that the Palestinians have little to show from violent resistance over the last nine years, and that one of the crucial prerequisites for a successful campaign – “a pre-existing public consensus on the legitimacy of its goals” – has already crystallised in the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict: namely, full Israeli withdrawal, the right of return and compensation. The challenge now, he notes (using Gandhi’s words), is to “cultivate” and “quicken” the conscience of the international community.

The people of Gaza have exhorted the international community to move beyond words of condemnation. It is now time for us all to take action.

UPDATE: Since PN went to press, Norman Finkelstein has resigned from the Gaza Freedom March coalition - see