On the 31 December, the Gaza Freedom March is taking place to mark a year passing since Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli attack on Gaza.
The International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza is mobilising an international contingent to march alongside the people of Gaza, in a non-violent show of solidarity and with the hope of ending the Gaza blockade.
The Freedom March has the participation of many noteworthy people, including author Alice Walker, Syrian actor and director Duraid Lahham, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, and French rap group MAP, amongst others.
Amongst the participants is 84-year old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstien.
Hedy Epstein has been actively raising awareness about the march. On 01 Dec 2009, along with J’Ann Allen, the wife of a retired military officer and Sandra Mansour, a Palestinian refugee, she issued a public invitation to political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel to go to Gaza with them.
Wiesel was urged to “Break Your Silence and Come With Us”, during a speech at St.Louis University:
Hedy Epsteins participation in the March has been met with much appreciaton:
Desertpeace applauds her participation:
Seeing a survivor of those horrors [The Holocaust] struggle against today’s evils is truly an inspiration. I am speaking of Hedy Epstein, who as I write this, is on her way to Gaza to take part in the Gaza Freedom March. This is what the Holocaust should have ‘produced’ as an ‘industry’, an industry that does not allow a repetition of the past…. NEVER AGAIN!
The organisation of the march has not, however, been without its hurdles, and organisers the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza, have not been beyond criticism.
Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry and ‘dreamer’ of the march, was initially an active member of the coalition, but has since resigned. His frustration came from a much-debated change in the statement of the coalition. The original statement of the coalition was to march to break the siege in accordance with the principle of non-violence and anchored in international law. The statement was later amended to include the ‘political context,’ which Finkelstein deemed divisive as it brought in potentially contentious issues unnecessary to the original appeal. While he does not specify the exact amendments with which he objects, he comments in his address Why I resigned from the Gaza Freedom March coalition:
It should perhaps be stressed that the point of dispute was not whether one personally supported a particular Palestinian right or strategy to end the occupation. It was whether inclusion in the coalition’s statement of a particular right or strategy was necessary if it was both unrelated to the immediate objective of breaking the siege and dimmed the prospect of a truly mass demonstration.
His high-profile departure was accompanied by the withdrawal of a number of other active members. Max at Jewbonics noted his departure from the movement with regret. As an organiser of the march he responded to fears that others would leave the movement, reporting:
I think it is safe to say that number lost will be dwarfed by the number gained, if what I've seen in-person and on-line has been any indication
Despite concerns over the numbers endorsing the march, this is indeed a mass demonstration, and is the first time that Palestinians will be coming together in such large numbers along with international support: there are an estimated 1,300 international participants participating, who will meet in Cairo and march alongside a predicated 50,000 local residents once they have crossed into Gaza through Rafah.
At the Electronic Intifada, Rami Almeghari reports that:
In recent months, people in Gaza believe the international community began to direct its attention elsewhere, neglecting the siege of Gaza. Few international media outlets pay attention to the situation here.
The march hopes to change this. Mustafa al-Kayali, coordinator of the steering committee for the Gaza Freedom March, reports:
We call on the internationals who come here not to consider their visits as tourism. Rather, they should convey a real message from the ground to their peoples, organizations or governments…
Most of local youth with whom I talked over the Gaza Freedom March expressed excitement and enthusiasm for participation. They are keen to send a message to the outside world that the Palestinian people are there and that humans should be united for the sake of freedom.
More information about the Gaza Freedom March, its participants, mission, and on-going preparation, can be found here.