Open Letter in Support of Gaza Freedom March

Out of thedelegation to Gaza that CODEPINK led in May camethe idea to organize a large march through Gaza, with a significant internationalpresence including well-known personalities.  In the spirit of non-violent direct action, themarch would challenge the appalling and inhumane siege of Gaza. The idea, which immediately captured the imagination of many organizers,was the brainchild of Norman Finkelstein. We are truly grateful for Prof.Finkelstein's creative thinking and willingness to put forward big ideas thatgenerate enthusiasm and engagement.

However, afterthe initial call, the framework of the march was challenged by highly-respectedPalestinian activists, Omar Barghouti from Jerusalem,and Haidar Eid from the Gaza.Their criticism, expressed with the utmost respect for the courage and goodwill of the organizers, challenged the organizers' decision to delay engagingin a wide conversation with Palestinian civil society and activists until afterthe call was made and the framework formulated. As Barghouti and Eid noted,that also led to a number of problems with the framework and the call. The callfailed to provide historical context to the current siege, barely referred tothe occupation, and picked and chose from the history of Palestiniannon-violent resistance. It also used language that inadvertently reflectedIsraeli propaganda strategies, isolating Palestinians in Gazafrom their counterparts in the West Bank, EastJerusalem, Israel,and the Diaspora.

Ultimately,these criticisms led to a compromise that satisfied both the Palestiniancritics and most of the initial organizers. This compromise was reflected in a"context document" that is now part of the call. We welcome the concerns ofprominent Palestinian activists who represent significant grassrootsorganizing. We see in the exchange, negotiation and outcome a model example ofhow work of solidarity can deepen and improve through giving full attention tohonest and constructive criticism from those most impacted by the horrors weare challenging.

We have read the"context document" and express our full support for the march based on therevised call.

Changing courseis never easy. It would have been far better had this discussion taken placebefore the call went out. That, however, is a lesson for the future. Thecompromise led a few of the organizers to leave in anger and recriminations. Someargued that the new context document is "sectarian" and will severely damagethe potential of the march. While disputes are inevitable in every politicalendeavor, we call on all parties to cast aside differences and arguments, to respectthe compromise and unite on our common objective, ending the siege of Gaza. What is importantnow is getting the best and most effective march possible.

We see the"context document" as a thoughtful attempt to bring together for this marchthose of us who support BDS and the full objectives of Palestinian liberation,including the right of return and full and equal rights for Palestinians livingin Israel, with thoseactivists whose support for lifting the siege of Gaza is largely humanitarian. Contrary tomisrepresentations, the "context document" does not require marchers to adhereto BDS. But as the march puts non-violence on its banner and claims inspirationfrom non-violent Palestinian resistance, it cannot, without being offensive,ignore the increasing presence and far reaching international impact of BDS as aPalestinian campaign of non-violent resistance that is endorsed by allfactions, including Fatah and Hamas, as well as over 100 civil societyassociations. The growing support for BDS among prominent Western figures andmainstream organization belies the claim that the mere mention of it is divisive.

Nor does thedocument commit the marchers to support the Palestinian right of return. Itdoes commit the marchers to recognize the Palestinian Nakba and the historicalfact that the refugees' right of return, recognized by U.N. Resolution 194, hasbeen denied. These refugees make up 75% of the population of Gaza and are the recipients of this march'ssolidarity. To recognize this history does not compel one to agree to anyspecific resolution of the conflict. But refusing to recognize it denies thehistory of the Palestinian people, a denial that is inconsistent with any formof solidarity.

The new document'sonly demand is the end of the siege of Gaza.There are no other demands. Nothing in it prevents activists committed to a"two state solution" and a "Jewish state" from participating. We therefore stronglyobject to representing the new language as an attempt to limit the scope of themarch.  We take strong offense at theattempt to label the recognition of the concerns of Palestinian liberationwithin the context of a solidarity action as "sectarian." We seriously doubtthat the number of people willing to fly to Egyptand then march in Gaza, yet who refuse torecognize the history of Gaza,is very large.

We are also heartenedby the addition of non-governmental partners in Gaza. As soon as the context statement wasadded, endorsements came from the University Teachers' Association in Palestine, PalestinianStudent's Campaign, Al-Aqsa University, Arab Cultural Forum-Gaza, Al-Quds Bankfor Culture and Information-Gaza. We are also encouraged by the addition of theInternational Solidarity Movement and support from members of the South AfricanPalestine Solidarity community. The elected government of Gaza has also endorsed the march and will nowhopefully increase its assistance.

In supportingthis compromise, we are mindful of the original aim of the organizers for largeand "ecumenical" participation. We share that goal. However, our conversationwould benefit from honesty about the meaning of "ecumenical." It never means"everybody". Had the march's organizers joined Israelin blaming Hamas for the continuation of the siege, we could have pitchedparticipation to the SimonWiesenthal Centermailing list. We could have recruited celebrities such as Alan Dershowitz andDaniel Pipes.  We don't just want themaximum number of marchers; we want the maximum number that can be achieved withoutcompromising the visions of the diverse organizers and solidarity groups participatingin this particular project.

Where should theline be drawn? This is a difficult decision that haunts every politicalstruggle and always requires deliberation, negotiation, and compromise. It ismisleading to frame the debate as one between those who want maximumparticipation and those motivated by ideology, in particular when this framingaims to delegitimize the concerns of Palestinian activists representingsignificant sections of Palestinian grassroots organizing.  We all have political lines that we won'tcross. The lines drawn by those at the very heart of the struggle deserve our particularrespect.

We now have afair and inclusive basis for organizing the march, open to proponents ofradically different political visions yet respectful of all, and in particularrespectful of Palestinian history and struggle. Let us all do our best to makethis march as big and as successful as possible.

Please endorsethe march at http://www.gazafreedommarch.org/article.php?list=type&type=416.If you or your organization would also like to endorse this letter of support,email us at ijan@ijsn.net.

Signatories:

International Jewish Anti-ZionistNetwork

Middle East Children's Alliance

Salim Vally, PalestineSolidarity Committee, Johannesburg, South Africa

Savera Kalideen, PalestineSolidarity Committee, Johannesburg,South Africa

Sofiah MacLeod, Secretary, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee

Mick Napier, Chair, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee

 

 

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