International day of solidarity in Gaza greeted with Israeli bullets in Beit Hanoun

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Live bullets were fired from snipers at an Erez control tower within a metre of demonstrators on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on Tuesday morning in Beit Hanoun, Northern Gaza. A German activist Vera Macht was injured as she stumbled while running for cover. The Local Initiative of Beit Hanoun organized the demonstration international mural and with extra attention focusing on the growing international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, against Israel for its ongoing human rights violations of the Palestinian people. The demonstration was held in the area where 6 farmers and rock collectors, including 2 children had been shot and injured over the previous 2 days, seeing an acceleration of violence against civilians from the Israeli Occupation Forces.

It was actually the United Nations General Assembly who in 1977 called for this annual observance of 29th November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It was on that day, in 1947, that the Assembly adopted the resolution on the partition of Palestine resolution 181, which began the horrific trend of violent land expropriation and expulsion of the Palestinian population. Over two thirds of Gazans are UN registered refugees from this period.

Tuesday morning 30 people, amongst them 5 internationals from the International Solidarity Movement and two more including Mavi Marmara survivor Ken O’Keefe and Irish Activist Cormac O’Daly, gathered in Beit Hanoun at approximately 800m from Erez Crossing. Opposite the remains of the destroyed Agricultural College, which was bombed during the war on Gaza, the demonstrators put up a wall of slogans and international and Palestinian flags to express solidarity. All demonstrators held up letters forming the slogan “Boycott Israel boycott!”, before marching down towards the Erez Wall.

They were also protesting their right to their land, much of which is now lost or out of bounds by the Israeli imposed “buffer-zone.” The  buffer-zone, extended to 300 metres  wide in December 2009, stretches along the entire border fence on the frontier with Israel. According to a recent UN report the violence used to restrict Palestinians from accessing their land actually covers areas up to 1500m from the border fence, meaning that over 35% of Gaza’s most agricultural land is in a high risk area causing severe losses of food production and livelihoods.

As the demonstrators neared to within 100 metres of the wall, chanting and waving flags it was clear one of the watch towers was open, evidently monitoring.  The barren waste land all around was a result of the forced neglect as they marched into a place that has been made out of bounds by the threat of Israel snipers and shelling. As a soldier shouted from the tower, the group decided to walk back towards the village center. At around 500 metres from the fence, IOF snipers opened fire at them, the first few shots at head height missing many of the people on the march by a metre or less. Afterwards, another ten shots were fired.

According to Local Initiative organiser Saber Al Za’anin the day highlights the responsibility of international civil society to exert pressure to end the violent siege and occupation of Palestinian lands: “It is vital that Internationals support the Palestinian cause and make the world understand the horrific occupation and attacks Palestinians live under day in day out. The international grass roots boycotts are saying no to Israeli violence and oppression and its time that the International governing community did the same to hold Israel to account for their crimes. We painted flags of countries from around the world on a mural and demonstrated. Now its time for the world to increase the power of their demonstrations, lobbying, festivals, legal work and boycotts to finally end the conflict.”

On the violence at the borders, demonstration participant Ken O’Keefe said: ”When people are shot and killed for collecting rocks so they can be crushed and turned into powder and ultimately into cement, because cement is banned under the Israeli siege, you know the so-called “easing” of the siege is a farce. The siege must be smashed into oblivion, and the only people who will make that happen are people of conscience who are willing to act.”

Released on Wednesday was a report ‘Dashed Hopes, Continuation of the Gaza Blockade’ signed by over 21 international organizations including Amnesty, Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid and Medical Aid for Palestinians. It calls for international action to make Israel to unconditionally lift the blockade, saying the condition of the Palestinians of Gaza under Israeli siege continues devastate daily living for the 1.5million  population, over half of which are children.

63 years before the day of the demonstration, On 29 November, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted for Resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine into two states and envisaged a Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem. It was this plan that triggered the ongoing suffering for the Palestinians given the hugely unequal partition of the land.

According to Israeli Historian Ilan Pappe, “The injustice was as striking then as it appears now… the Jews, who owned less than six per cent of the total land area of Palestine and constituted no more than one third of the population, were handed more than half of its overall territory”

According to Pappe, from the beginning the major global institutions and power-brokers were pitted against them: “The Palestinians were at the mercy of an international organization [the United Nations] that appeared ready to ignore all the rules of international mediation, which its own charter endorsed…One does not have to be a great jurist or legal mind to predict how the international court would have ruled on forcing a solution on a country to which the majority of its people were vehemently opposed.”

Then after the resolution partition came the Nakba or ‘Catastrophe’ during which the nascent Israeli army forcibly annexed even more land, leaving them controlling 78% of the land for a prospective Israeli State, leaving behind the West Bank and Gaza. During these attacks which began in March 1948, which included massacres such as Deir Yassin village, close to 800,000 Palestinians were uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and eleven urban neighbourhoods emptied of their inhabitants. With the ‘slow motion ethnic cleaning’ that has ensued ever since, Israel has now settled over 60% of the 22% of historic Palestine and militarily occupies the rest. [1]

[1] Pappe, I. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), One World Publications, Oxford

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