As Gaza burns, U.S. activists protest Israeli occupation

As the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War and the ensuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory approaches, violence has once again flared up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, peace activists from hundreds of U.S. organizations are gearing up for June 10-11 activities in Washington calling for “an end to U.S. military, economic, diplomatic and corporate support for Israel’s illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.”

The groups, spearheaded by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and United for Peace and Justice, are also calling for a change in U.S. policy “to one that supports a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis based on equality, human rights and international law, and the full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions.”

Josh Ruebner, grassroots advocacy coordinator for the U.S. Campaign, expects a strong turnout.

“We’ve seen a steady build-up of interest over the past few months,” he told the World. Chartered buses are coming from Atlanta, Chicago and several cities along the Eastern Seaboard, “and smaller groups are coming by air from as far away as Wisconsin, Texas, California and Washington state,” he said. “People from at least 20 states have pledged to participate in lobbying on Capitol Hill.”

Billboards promoting the events in Washington, D.C.’s Metro transit system have provoked a lively interest, Ruebner said, and share the same goal as the events themselves: “We want to mainstream the issue of Palestine within this country and to involve a wide range of constituencies.”

The events include a Sunday, June 10, rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol followed by a march to the White House, teach-ins and a congressional lobbying day on June 11.

At least 36 Palestinians, including 18 civilians, were killed last week as a result of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip — air strikes, artillery bombardments and missile attacks — often targeting Palestinian homes. At least 97 other Palestinians, including 44 civilians, were injured.

The Israeli actions were in retaliation, government spokesmen said, for the launching of scores of homemade rockets into Israel from Gaza. Islamic Jihad and Hamas have claimed responsibility for the recent round of rockets, which have killed one Israeli, injured 16 and otherwise disrupted normal life in the Israeli towns bordering Gaza, particularly Sderot.

The Gaza Strip, home to 1.4 million Palestinians, has been locked in the iron grip of an economic siege imposed upon it by the Israeli government ever since Gaza’s residents elected a government led by Hamas in January 2006.

The recent formation of a national unity government consisting of leaders from Hamas and Fatah has been met with hostility by Washington and Tel Aviv. The siege has continued, as has the building of Israel’s apartheid wall along the West Bank and its continuing annexation of Palestinian territory. The U.S. has backed all these moves, and subsidizes Israel’s military with at least $3 billion a year.

Last week, factional fighting also sharply increased in Gaza.

Noura Erakat, a Palestinian American legal activist and a leader of Arab Movement of Women Arising for Justice, speaking in the Chicago area May 20, asked, “What explains the factional violence that has now taken the lives of over 20 Palestinians? Is it because Palestinians hate each other? Is it because they can’t rule themselves? Is it because they are prone to violence?

“Absolutely not,” Erakat said. “None of what is happening is because of some cultural trait — which, by the way, is a racist argument. It is the result of U.S. foreign policy.

“The root of the recent problems is the cutoff in international aid to the Palestinians after they elected a government of their own choice,” Erakat continued. “It’s the result of Israel’s withholding of tax money due to the Palestinian Authority.

“These actions have created a situation where 46 percent of Gaza’s population is hungry, where unemployment has grown from 30 percent in 2000 to 71 percent in 2007, where 80,000 security personnel and civil servants have not been paid for months.

“Now the U.S. government is exacerbating the situation by supporting only Fatah, and not the unity government,” she said. “It is funneling money through Fatah alone. This is a recipe for disaster. But it is a deliberate, intentional policy. As U.S. taxpayers, we can be agents of change and reject this.”

The rally at which Erakat and others spoke was sponsored by the Oak Park (Ill.)-based Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, a sponsor of the June 10-11 protests in Washington.

malmberg @pww.org