December 8, 2009
Activists traveling to Gaza peace delegation
SUNY Cortland graduates will join protest at end of month of Israeli blockade of Gaza Strip
SUNY Cortland graduate Tim Rodriguez will join hundreds of people from around the world and about 50,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip later this month to oppose the blockade that is preventing supplies from entering the region and civilians from crossing the borders.
Rodriguez, a human rights activist serving as community outreach coordinator for the college’s Institute for Civic Engagement and its partner, Cortland Downtown Partnership, hopes the protest will put pressure on the Israeli government to end its blockade on the Gaza Strip, which he considers an act of war. He will be joined by fellow SUNY Cortland graduate Ligia Guallpa and Damien Tilliman, former campus coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
They will travel to the Gaza Strip on Christmas to participate in an international peace delegation and march that is being organized in the United States by Code Pink, an organization formed in 2002 by women working for social justice and peace.
The delegation will be at least a week long and include volunteering, visiting communities and families, experiencing life in Gaza, networking with Palestinian and Israeli organizations, and participating in a three-mile march to publicly demonstrate and possibly breach the blockade.
The Gaza Strip is a piece of land bordering Israel governed by Hamas, an organization that won authority of the region through a 2006 election. The territory was formerly occupied by Egypt and then Israel. The Israeli government has been imposing the blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007.
Officials in the Israeli government have stated that they are preventing supplies from entering the country because they fear they will be used for terrorism. Palestinians under the rule of Hamas in Gaza have fired rockets at civilian populations in southern Israel.
Rodriguez and many others say the blockade is a way of punishing civilians for electing Hamas. Rodriguez also says Israel is violating international laws and violating basic human rights by imposing the blockade, a claim supported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“The blockade has ‘locked in’ 1.5 million people in what is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, triggering a protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian consequences,” according to a report released by the U.N.’s OCHA in August.
The SUNY Cortland alumni will fly into Egypt on Christmas. They plan to cross from Rafah, Egypt, into the Gaza Strip, where they will meet with the deputy head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and tour the most devastated areas of Gaza, according to Rodriguez’s itinerary.
The delegation will begin a year after Israel invaded the Gaza Strip in January 2009.
The OCHA report states that between June 2007 and June 2009 2,008 Palestinians were killed and approximately 6,700 people were injured. In the same period, 25 Israelis were killed and 586 were injured inside Gaza and in towns in southern Israel, according to the report.
During the Gaza Freedom March on Dec. 31, an estimated 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza will join the international delegation to participate in a rally and march 3 miles from Iazbat Abu Drabo in Gaza to the Erez border crossing into Israel, or as close as they are allowed without tempting violence in response, Rodriguez said.
When they reach the Erez Crossing, balloons, kites and flags will be flown to express solidarity with Palestinians and Israeli peace activists on the other side of the border.
Rodriguez spoke to a group of students and faculty members Dec. 1 at the Jacobus Lounge in Brockway Hall about the trip, the blockade and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The blockade includes the closure of commercial and passenger crossings; restrictions on the importation of industrial, agricultural and construction materials; suspension of exports; restrictions on industrial fuel, benzene, diesel and cooking gas; and restrictions on fishing areas and farming land accessible to the Palestinians, according to the OCHA report.
Rodriguez said that major results of the blockade include the destruction of the education, health care, water and food systems, as well as an unemployment rate of more than 40 percent.
Rodriguez said the delegation members will purchase supplies in Cairo to provide to civilians. Palestinian organizations participating in the delegation have requested school supplies, such as laptops, notebooks and pens, Rodriguez said.
Sanford Gutman, a SUNY Cortland history professor who teaches classes on the Israel-Palestine conflict, also wants Israel to end the blockade.
“I oppose the blockade, and I think it would be better for peace efforts if Israel would stop the blockade and open up at least travel into Israel,” Gutman said. “I don’t think there can be any chance at peace between Israel and Palestine unless Israel can stop the blockade.”
Gutman agrees with Rodriguez that the blockade has an element of punishing civilians for electing Hamas.
“Israel is trying probably to deligitimize Hamas by making things very uncomfortable in Gaza,” Gutman said.
Gutman said most Israelis believe the blockade of Gaza and the security fence that has been built in other parts of Israel are preventing terrorism.
“I don’t know if that’s true, and I think both the wall and the quarantine of Gaza have breaded a lot of hatred toward Israel,” he said.
Gutman pointed out that Israel allows food and medical supplies to be shipped into the Gaza Strip.
“It’s not enough, but no one is starving to death in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Rodriguez disagrees, saying that there are periodic trickles of supplies, but many people are starving in the area.
Rodriguez said he opposes terrorist acts made by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, but he focuses on Israel because its acts are supported by the United States. Israel annually receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid, he said.
“You have to look at your own actions. That’s the first place you want to look. I’m a citizen of the United States,” Rodriguez said. “Their (the U.S. government’s) huge support provides diplomatic support and military aid that goes toward carrying out these crimes.”
Rodriguez became interested in social justice issues as a freshman and began researching the Israel-Palestine conflict as a junior.
He said someone asked him during a recent presentation why he cares about the blockade and Israel-Palestine conflict. He turned the question and asked the audience member why he did not care.
“I think there’s something deeply human about caring for other people,” he said.
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