By Iara Lee - 05/25/10 03:24 PM EDT
This week, I will be boarding one of several ships that are part of a flotilla sailing to Gaza. The Israeli government’s recent decision to deny internationally renowned scholar Noam Chomsky entrance into the occupied territories suggests we, too, might be refused entry. Nevertheless, we will set sail with the intent of delivering food, water, medical supplies and reconstruction materials to communities in Gaza that are in need of humanitarian relief.
Normally, such a goodwill mission would seem entirely innocuous. But in this case the crisis afflicting Palestinian civilians has been created by foreign policy: It is a product of Israel’s decision to besiege Gaza in defiance of international law and of United States support for this blockade.
The ongoing siege does nothing to target Palestinian militants but instead violates international norms by holding all responsible for the actions of a few. A report published by Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children, and CARE stated that, “The humanitarian crisis [in Gaza] is a direct result of ongoing collective punishment of ordinary men, women and children and is illegal under international law.”
As a result of the siege, civilians in Gaza, including children and other innocent bystanders who are caught in the middle of this conflict, do not have clean water to drink because authorities cannot rebuild water treatment plants destroyed by the Israeli attacks. Air strikes that damaged basic civilian infrastructure, coupled with curtailed imports, have left many in Gaza without the food and medicine needed to lead healthy lives.
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who has visited Gaza on repeated occasions since the Israeli military offensive, has stated, “The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools, entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching — what went on here, and what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words.”
Those of us taking this voyage are of course concerned for our safety. In the past, some boats attempting to bring much needed supplies to Gazans have been violently harassed by Israeli forces. On Dec. 30, 2008, the vessel Dignity was carrying volunteer surgeons and three tons of medical supplies when it was attacked without warning by an Israeli naval ship, which rammed the boat three times in international waters roughly 90 miles from Gaza’s coast. Passengers and crew feared for their lives as their boat quickly took on water and Israeli troops threatened to open fire.
I am joining the effort, nonetheless, because I believe resolutely non-violent actions that call attention to the blockade are vital in educating the public about what is taking place. Simply put, there is no decent justification for preventing shipments of humanitarian aid from reaching a people in crisis.
While I have been moved to put aside my daily obligations in order to join the humanitarian voyage, I recognize that many people do not have the ability of doing this. Fortunately, not everyone has to board a ship to make a meaningful contribution to addressing the crisis in Gaza. We simply have to demand that our elected officials step forward to protest Israel’s shameful violation of human rights.
Lee is a filmmaker and co-founder of the Caipirinha Foundation.