From Gaza: Israelis, Palestinians rally for peace

In an emotional rally at the Gaza border Jan. 26, undaunted by rain, some 2,000 Israelis brought humanitarian aid and demonstrated for peace and an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

“In the night we were woken up by strong thunderbolts. It started to rain cats and dogs, and we were very worried: who is going to get up early on Shabbat morning in such stormy weather in order to participate in an open-air protest rally and carry sacks of food?” one of the organizers said.

Defying the weather, the protesters, about half of them Jewish and half Arab, assembled in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Nazareth and other places to get on buses for the trip to the border. Hundreds of families came in cars as well.

Organizers bought not only five tons of essential food — flour, sugar, rice, oil, salt, beans and lentils — but also water filters. These are an urgent need in Gaza because the blockade and resulting infrastructure decay has left the water there undrinkable.

Participants had been asked to bring their own individual relief parcels and to add personal letters “from family to family.” The response was beyond all expectations, organizers said. Families brought two tons of supplies, not only food and mineral water, but also blankets, warm clothing and other useful items, even electric stoves. The parcels were fastened to the tops of the cars or put in the baggage compartments of the buses.

The convoy and demonstration was organized by Israeli Jewish and Arab groups, and was coordinated with a parallel Palestinian demonstration on the Gaza side of the border.

Like the participants, the rally featured Jewish and Arab speakers side by side. Among them were Jewish and Arab members of Israel’s Knesset (Parliament), and a founder of Bereaved Families for Peace whose 13-year-old daughter was killed in a suicide bombing in 1997.

Well-known Palestinian human rights advocate Eyad al-Sarraj, a psychiatrist in Gaza who helped initiate the event, spoke to the rally by cell phone from the parallel rally in Gaza.

As quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, al-Sarraj told the rally, his words broadcast over a loudspeaker, “Together we must create a partnership and chase after peace in Gaza, Ramallah, Israel and Sderot ... I feel honored to speak with you. Every drop of blood that spills in Israel or in Palestine is a blow to our humanity. Please send this message to all of the people in Israel.”

A young woman from the Israeli border town of Sderot, Shir Shusdig, caused a sensation when she called out to the crowd: “For seven years I am suffering from the Qassams in Kibbutz Zikim and Sderot. I know that the people on the other side are also suffering very much. That’s why I am here.”

Twenty-six Israeli peace groups organized the convoy and rally under the slogan: “Gaza: lift the siege!” In response to a fund-raising campaign, organizers said, hundreds of checks and messages of support poured in from Israel and other countries.