Activists Challenge Israel’s Other Blockade by Air

Activists Challenge Israel’s Other Blockade by AirThe eyes of the world are currently on a small group of unarmed boats ready to challenge Israel’s illegal and unjust naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.  The second Freedom Flotilla, like its predecessor a year ago, aims not simply to bring aid to the people of Gaza, but to bring the world’s attention to the crippling siege that has brought Gaza’s economy to a grinding halt, resulting in an official unemployment rate of 45%, according to UN figures.  The blockade of Gaza has produced dire shortages of electricity, clean water, and critical medicines in Gaza’s hospitals, and continues to stifle the desires of 1.5 million Palestinians—overwhelmingly young—to work, study and travel freely.

The focus on Gaza is certainly justified.  But the West Bank and East Jerusalem are also blockaded, in ways that may be less obvious but are just as pernicious.  The 24-foot-high concrete slabs slicing Jerusalem off from the West Bank are just the most visible element of an elaborate, all-consuming matrix of walls, checkpoints, roadblocks, permits, closed military zones, segregated highways, soldiers, and secret police that together exercise a choke-hold on Palestinian free movement and political activity.  The Israeli government may not be driving the West Bank to the brink of economic collapse—at the moment.  But one has only to pass through a few checkpoints or attend one of the Friday protests that happen all over the West Bank, every week, and are met with tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and heavily armed soldiers, every week, to appreciate that the West Bank is also under siege.

On July 8, I will join over 500 internationals and Palestinians living abroad in a week of action designed to challenge this blockade.  To my knowledge, this is the first attempt to bring such a large number of internationals to Palestine in such a coordinated manner.  Responding to a call to action from a coalition of 15 Palestinian civil resistance groups, hundreds of internationals will fly into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on a single day and openly declare that we are here to visit Palestinians and travel in the Occupied Territories.

Anyone who has traveled to Israel/Palestine knows the potential risks associated with this action.  Israel controls all entry points into historic Palestine, except for the Rafah crossing into Gaza, which is controlled by Egypt and has its own Kafkaesque challenges.  The Israeli government routinely denies entry to people it knows or simply suspects of being Palestine solidarity activists; journalists, academics and cultural workers sympathetic to the Palestinians; even people coming to do volunteer or charity work in the Occupied Territories.

For this reason, the most common strategy among activists and volunteers planning to work in the Occupied Territories has been to not be entirely forthcoming about their travel plans when interacting with Israeli authorities.  From a practical standpoint, one can see how this strategy makes sense: if the goal is access to the Occupied Territories, many argue that doing whatever is necessary to appear as innocuous as possible to the Israeli authorities is the most prudent course of action.

However, we should be clear that Israel’s border controls and repressive entry policies are part of the apartheid system—a big part.  Entry restrictions on solidarity activists, journalists, and NGO workers are a natural outgrowth of the restrictions that prevent a large percentage of the worldwide Palestinian population from returning to their own country and/or moving about freely within it.  They are part and parcel of the occupation machinery that seeks to isolate the Occupied Territories and make life there unbearable so that Palestinians will leave, and that frequently forces them out whether they want to go or not.  And like all other parts of the apartheid system, they deserve to be challenged.

( / 01.07.2011)

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