Issue February 16, 2010

Crime against humanity

We are six native Louisvillians who joined the Gaza Freedom March (www.gazafreedommarch.org), an international effort in late December 2009 to protest the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has inflicted unbearable suffering on 1.5 million Palestinians since June 2007. The march included more than 1,300 people from 43 countries. Participants from all over the world also attempted to bring much-needed humanitarian aid to the besieged Gazans.

Though we are from diverse backgrounds and political positions, we are united in our belief that Israel’s blockade is a crime against humanity. Simply put, it is not only morally repugnant but also pragmatically ineffective to starve a population because they elected a government you do not like. Regardless of the Israeli or U.S. governments’ disdain for Hamas, they were democratically elected by the people of Gaza.

First, we must dispel some myths:

1) Israel is not blockading Gaza to stop rocket attacks. Israel can stop rockets at any time by negotiating a truce with Hamas, as it did on June 19, 2008. That truce held for four months, reducing rockets to the point that Israeli casualties ceased. Hamas abided by the truce. Israel broke the truce on Nov. 4, 2008, by launching a raid into Gaza that killed two Hamas members.

2) Israel never ended its occupation of Gaza. Although it withdrew its soldiers, Israel still controls all of Gaza’s borders, seacoast and airspace, including the border with Egypt. According to international law, Israel is still the occupying power and is obligated to allow adequate food and medicine to enter Gaza, though it continues to restrict both people and food from doing so.

So why is Israel blockading Gaza?

That question was investigated by Judge Richard Goldstone, a highly respected U.N. war crimes investigator who is Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel. The Goldstone Report asserts that Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its assault on Gaza last year were designed to inflict collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza — including women and children. Goldstone concludes this collective punishment meets the definition of a crime against humanity.

The report also concludes that Israel’s methodical destruction of thousands of homes, schools, hospitals and food supplies, along with its deliberate killing of civilians, constitutes war crimes. The report urges all nations to arrest the Israeli officials responsible and hold them for war crimes trials.

Israel’s right-wing government

Why does Israel persist in such gross human rights violations? The current right-wing administration in Israel is the equivalent of our “neoconservatives,” the Israeli version of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. They are not interested in peace negotiations. They believe in war as a first resort. They believe the way to deal with the Palestinians’ natural aspirations for freedom and independence is to crush them with ever-increasing brutality — even to the point of starving their children. What a disgrace to Judaism and its humane ethics.

As U.S. citizens, we are complicit as well. These crimes against humanity are being committed with our tax dollars. U.S. military aid to Israel amounts to more than $3 billion a year. We urge our elected officials to stop the flow of military aid — it only creates more insecurity in the region, and it happens to violate U.S. laws that prohibit sending arms to nations carrying out war crimes. Along with many in the international community, we support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel as a peaceful means of pressuring Israel to stop the siege of Gaza and put an end to its illegal occupation of all Palestinian land.

In late December, we were among the 1,300 Gaza Freedom Marchers who persisted tirelessly and nonviolently in an attempt to get into Gaza and march in solidarity with the victims of Israel’s January 2009 bloody siege. But under pressure from Israel, the Egyptian government refused to let us in. Despite our many appeals to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, we were told that our own government is supporting Israel’s blockade.

All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. We have done something. We urge all Americans to do something — contact our elected officials and insist that our government stop supporting this immoral blockade before the opportunity for peace in the region is lost.

This editorial was submitted by Gaza Freedom Marchers Stephon Barbour, Ira Grupper, Ibrahim Imam and Sharon Wallace (all of Louisville), Russ Greenleaf (of New Albany) and Mateo Bernal (of New York City, previously from Louisville).