Jeff Halper heads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and was a nominee for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. In the following reports he explains the reasons for a daring voyage to break the siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza over the past months, and reflects on the outcome.
On August 5, 2008, I will sail on one of the Free Gaza Movement boats from Cyprus to Gaza. The mission is to break the Israeli siege – an absolutely illegal siege which has plunged a million and a half Palestinians into wretched conditions: imprisoned in their own homes, exposed to extreme military violence, deprived of the basic necessities of life, stripped of their most fundamental human rights and dignity. Our voyage exposes the falsity of Israel’s claim that there is no Occupation, or that the Occupation ended with “disengagement,” or that the siege has anything to do with “security.” Like other elements of the Occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Israel has also besieged cities, towns, villages and whole regions, the siege on Gaza is political. It is intended to isolate the democratically-elected government of Palestine and break its power to resist Israeli attempts to impose an apartheid regime over the entire country.
Our voyage is not about bringing humanitarian aid, although we will be carrying desperately needed hearing aids for children. It rejects the notion that the people of Gaza are suffering from a “humanitarian crisis.” Instead, they suffer from a deliberate political policy of repression imposed on them by my own government, the government of Israel. That is why I, an Israeli Jew, felt compelled to join this important endeavor. As a person who seeks a just peace even with those I have been told are my enemies, neither my concern for the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination nor the fact that the Occupation is destroying the moral fabric of my country permit me to stand idly aside. To do so would mean complicity in Israeli actions that stand in diametrical opposition to the very essence of Jewish religion, culture and morals.
Israel has, of course, legitimate security concerns, and Palestinian attacks against civilian populations in Sderot and other Israeli communities bordering on Gaza cannot be condoned. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel, as an Occupying Power, has the right to monitor the movement of arms to Gaza as a matter of “immediate military necessity.” As resistors of the siege who seek to end this interminable conflict through non-violent means, I for one would have no objection to the Israeli navy boarding our boats and searching for weapons – though this is not a position agreed to by all Free Gaza participants. But that is the limit. International law gives Israel no right to impose a wider siege in which the civilian population is harmed. It has no legal right to prevent us, private persons sailing solely in international and Palestinian waters, from reaching Gaza – particularly since Israel itself has declared that it no longer occupies Gaza. Once the Israeli navy is convinced we pose no security threat, then, we thoroughly expect it to permit us to continue our peaceful and lawful journey into Gaza port.
Ordinary people have played key roles in history. We, and not only governments, have a political and moral responsibility towards our fellow humans. If, as an Israeli Jew, I can be welcomed by Palestinian Gazans as a person of peace, they have granted me a moral and political right to speak out, to urge changes in government policy that obstruct peace, justice and human rights. I therefore use whatever credibility my actions lend me to call for the release of all political prisoners held by Israel, including Hamas government ministers and parliamentary members, in return for the repatriation of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. This act would dramatically transform the political landscape, opening up the possibility of genuine negotiations that cannot take place without a modicum of trust and good-will represented, above all, by the prisoner issue.
My voyage to Gaza is a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people in their time of suffering, and an acceptance of responsibility in the name of my people, the Israelis. Only we, by far the stronger party in the conflict and the Occupying Power, can end it. My presence in Gaza is also an affirmation that any resolution of the conflict must include all the peoples of the country, Palestinian and Israeli alike.
More than anything else, my presence in the Free Gaza action affirms a principle peace-minded Israelis and Palestinians have forged over years of joint struggle against the Occupation: We refuse to be enemies. I join with my comrades from seventeen countries in calling for the peoples and governments of the world to help us end the siege of Gaza – indeed, the Occupation in its entirety. Help us forge a just and lasting peace in this tortured Holy Land. Help us remove one of the major sources of global instability and conflict.