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17 December 2009

Shoulder to shoulder with the Strip

By Antony Loewenstein

Freedom marches have a noble pedigree. Hundreds of thousands marched for racial equality in the 1960s US; among them was Martin Luther King Jr, who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the march on Washington in 1963.

Now, thousands of miles away, the tradition is being revived for an equally important cause. One year after Israel’s attacks on Gaza, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians – many of them civilians – the Gaza Freedom March will highlight the effects of the onslaught and call for an end to the siege on the Strip by both Israel and Egypt (it was revealed recently that Egypt, with US backing, is building a huge metal wall along its border with Gaza, allegedly to stop smuggling).

From 27 December to 2 January, more than a thousand citizens, activists, writers, religious figures, atheists and the old and young from 42 countries will come to Gaza to show solidarity with its people. Participants will include the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, the leading US legal advocate Michael Ratner, European members of parliament and Ronnie Kasrils, the former politician and a prominent Jewish critic of Israel. Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and Naomi Klein have all endorsed the event.

On 31 December, 50,000-plus Palestinians and international visitors will march to the Gazan side of the border with Israel to cast light on the reality of life under occupation. “It is important to let the besieged Gazan people know they are not alone,” the marcher and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein told Ma’an News Agency.

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I am going for the same reason, as a human being first and a Jew second. Visiting Gaza in July, I found a devastated territory, unable to breathe or rest until its people are allowed to live normal lives in freedom. I was haunted by the comments of Nafez Abu Shaban, the head of the burns unit at al-Shifa Hospital, who told me Israel’s use of white phosphorus “was not a war; it was a holocaust”.

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The Gaza Freedom March is a challenge to Israel’s imagined victimhood and a demand for peace for an occupied nation.

Antony Loewenstein is the author of “My Israel Question”