Israelis, Palestinians rally for peace at Gaza border

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

The demonstration was organized by Israeli Jewish and Arab groups, and was coordinated with a parallel Palestinian demonstration on the Gaza side of the border. The Israelis traveled to the border in a relief convoy bringing basic supplies for the people of Gaza.

Below is a report by one of the organizers, Gush Shalom (Peace Now)://

The initiative for the large action that took place today (Jan. 26) started when the well-known psychiatrist, Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj, the human rights activist from Gaza, met in the Gush Shalom office with a small group of Israeli peace activists, in order to tell them about the desperate situation in the strip. It was decided on the spot to organize in Israel a relief convoy for the Gaza Strip people, and to fight by all political and juridical means for the right to get it in. It was agreed that two parallel protest rallies would be held simultaneously on the two sides of the wall.

Twenty-six Israeli peace groups joined the initiative, under the single slogan: 'Gaza: lift the siege!' Many activists from different organizations worked day and night. Gush Shalom prepared a special poster and started a fund-raising campaign among its sympathizers. Hundreds of checks came pouring in from Israel and a dozen other countries, enabling the Gush to carry alone the full costs of the supplies. Many added words of thanks for the opportunity given them to express their opinion this way and join the struggle.

Warm thanks to all of them!

In consultation with Dr. al-Sarraj it was decided to buy not only five tons of essential foodstuffs — flour, sugar, rice, oil, salt, beans and lentils — but also water distillers. 'The water in the Gaza Strip is undrinkable,' al-Sarraj reported, 'therefore there is an urgent need for distillers.'

The weather forecasts promised rain and thunderstorms all over the country. In spite of this, old and young peace activists came to the starting points in six towns. As requested by the organizers, hundreds of families came in their private cars. Together with the people who came by bus, their number reached about 2,000.

'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?' recounted one of the organizers.

Ya'akov Manor had the idea to ask the demonstrators to bring private relief parcels and to add personal letters 'from family to family.' The response was beyond all expectations. Families brought not only food and mineral water, but also blankets, warm clothing and many other useful articles, even electric stoves. The parcels were fastened to the tops of the cars or put in the baggage holds of the buses. They added up to two tons.

When the demonstrators assembled in the towns — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Nazareth and others — a slight rain was falling. But all who hoped for a brightening up were soon disappointed: during the drive to the Erez border crossing, a very heavy rain started to pour down, making it almost impossible to see the road, and slowed down the huge convoy towards the Gaza Strip.

About half of the protesters were Jewish, the other half Arab. The rally was conducted the same way: side by side with the Jewish speakers — Uri Avnery, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Prof. Jeff Halper and former government minister Shulamit Aloni (who was ill and sent a written speech, read by Teddy Katz), speeches were made by attorney Fatmeh al-Ajou, and Knesset members Issam Makhoul and Jamal Zahalka.

At the height of the rally, the moderator, Huloud al-Badawi, called Dr. Sarraj by cellular phone. He was participating in the parallel rally in Gaza and his words were conveyed by loudspeaker. They amounted to a stirring call to the Israeli peace camp to support the Palestinians in their struggle against the blockade.

[As quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Sarraj told the rally, '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 sensation was caused by a young woman from Sderot, Shir Shusdig, who called out: '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.'