Breaking the Siege of Gaza

Additional Links

Weekly Human Rights Violations Reports from Palestinian Center for Human Rights

UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict
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Commentary on the Goldstone Report on Gaza (The Nation)
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Gaza resident holds his dead child

Cultures of Resistance has long been concerned about the Israeli government's siege of Gaza, which for years has restricted the movement of goods and people in and out of the territory. The shortages of vital reconstruction materials, agricultural inputs, and medical supplies has been paramount to the well-being of Palestinians in Gaza, particularly in the wake of the Israeli military's Operation Cast Lead. While the details of the situation continue to evolve, Israel's blockade of Gaza is an ongoing focus of human rights concern.

On this page you will find background history about the siege, information and video about major past actions such as the 2010 Freedom Flotilla, short films highlighting the effects of the blockade, and profiles of groups you can support in fighting for Palestinian self-determination.

Background on the Siege

In late 2008 and early 2009, the Israeli government launched a military attack that demonstrated a complete disregard for civilian lives. By the end of the three-week assault at least 1,100 Palestinians were killed, compared to an estimated 13 Israelis, and 50,000 people within the territory were reported homeless. To make matters worse, Israel's siege of the Gaza strip, which had limited the movement of goods and people in and out of the territory since as far back as 2005, was tightened, making reconstruction nearly impossible.

Israeli officials argued that their military offensive and continuation of the blockade were a response to Palestinian rocket fire, ordered by a Hamas government whose legitimacy it does not recognize. However, as leading watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch repeatedly documented, the Israeli military's response was overwhelmingly disproportionate. The ongoing siege has done 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.”

With the U.S. government standing by that of Israel in defending the siege, in May 2010 a coalition of grassroots organizers launched a flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies, elected officials, diplomats, and journalists, with the goal of aiding the people behind the blockade and bringing attention to what Amnesty International has called "a flagrant violation of international law." However, in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, May 31, showing a terrifying disregard for human life, Israeli naval forces surrounded and boarded ships sailing to bring humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip. On the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, Israeli commandos opened fire on civilian passengers, killing at least 9 passengers and wounding dozens more.

Following the attack, the Israeli government faced outrage from the international community for both its deadly response to the flotilla and its continued collective punishment of the people of Gaza. In response, the Israeli government announced in June of 2010 that it would ease the blockade by allowing anything that could not be used for Hamas' military purposes. Since then, however, the blockade continues to restrict the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. According to a report released by leading humanitarian organizations in November 2010, construction materials were entering the territory at only 11% of pre-blockade levels. As United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) representative Chris Gunness has stated, "Even if the blockade is eased it remains illegal under international law as it is a collective form of punishment on a civilian population."

After the attack the Israeli government resisted facing an independent, international inquiry into the events of that morning, and instead pursued its own internal investigation. On January 22, 2011, eight months after the attack on the flotilla, the investigative commission appointed by the Israeli government released their findings that neither the attack on the flotilla nor the siege itself is illegal. Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director, responded by saying that the findings of Israel's investigation "will serve only to reinforce the widespread view that the Israeli authorities are now unwilling and incapable of delivering justice and accountability for abuses of international law and human rights violations committed by their forces." As of February 2011, organizers were planning a much larger Freedom Flotilla to mark the anniversary of the violent attack.

Iara Lee's Footage from the Flotilla

Cultures of Resistance director Iara Lee was one of hundreds of participants in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. After the Israeli navy's violent attack on her vessel, she was detained in the port of Ashdod and deported to Istanbul before returning home. Despite the Israeli government’s thorough efforts to confiscate all footage taken during the attack, Iara Lee was able to retain some of the video she captured. Shortly after her release, Iara presented her exclusive footage at an event organized by the United Nations Correspondents Association. Below you will find footage from Iara's presentation at the UN and the full-length, unedited footage from the moments leading up to and during the Israeli commandos’ assault on the Mavi Marmara.

Iara Lee at the United Nations Correspondents Association

Unedited Footage from the Attack on the Mavi Marmara

Below is a 15-minute version of the footage that has been edited from the video above and it can also be viewed on our page.

Book Collaboration: Midnight on the Mavi Marmara

OR Books, the original publisher of New York Times bestseller Going Rouge: Sarah Palin – An American Nightmare, has published a book about the illegal attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Midnight on the Mavi Marmara features the work of activists, journalists, and analysts who piece together the events of May 31, 2010 and examine their implications for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Below you can watch a short promotional introduction to the book, to which CoR director Iara Lee will be a contributor. Click here to buy the book.

Gaza Fishermen Under Siege

The Israeli government's ongoing siege of Gaza has had particularly devastating consequences for Gaza's roughly 3,000 fishermen. Although permitted by international law to fish within 20 miles of the Gaza coast, these fishermen are currently restricted to 3 miles by the Israeli navy, and as a direct result many have fallen into poverty. In addition, the fishermen report being frequently harassed by the Israeli navy. In December 2009 Cultures of Resistance investigated the situation in the following short film.

The Gaza Freedom March

During New Year's week 2009, Cultures of Resistance took part in the Gaza Freedom March, organized by the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza to mark the one-year anniversary of Israel’s attack. The Freedom March brought more than 1,300 protesters from more than 43 countries to Egypt’s border with Gaza. While the Egyptian government allowed only a small delegation to cross into Gaza, the Coalition nevertheless staged high-profile, nonviolent actions at the French embassy and United Nations offices in Cairo, in concert with other demonstrations in Israel and in cities around the globe. The the Caipirinha Foundation sponsored a live satellite link to transmit news from the Freedom March, and Cultures of Resistance was also on hand with our own film crew to document the proceedings. Our short film about the Gaza Freedom March includes footage from the entire week of action.

How You Can Help

Much critical work to promote human rights and uphold international law in Gaza remains to be done. The following organizations offer opportunities to join with others who are actively working to help Palestinians in Gaza gain their right to self-determination:

• The Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) has worked for more than two decades to bring direct humanitarian aid to Gaza in the form of food, medicine, and financial support for local development projects. Some highlights of their courageous work include a four-ton shipment of medical supplies and the installation of fresh water systems to provide clean drinking water in Gaza's elementary and middle schools. Find out about the next opportunity to get together with other activists and help pack a shipment of goods.

• The Free Gaza Movement (FGM), one of the organizers of the Freedom Flotilla, helps concerned citizen groups connect with guest speakers from previous aid convoys. If you want to organize an event in your community to raise awareness about the situation in Gaza under the blockade, FGM will work with you to find a guest speaker who has on-the-ground experience delivering humanitarian aid in the territory. Click here for a list of their registered speakers in countries around the world.

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation urges people to combat the pro-Israeli lobby by sending letters to members of Congress demanding an end to the siege of Gaza. Beyond this, organizations in the Campaign's network periodically organize delegations to Gaza to see first-hand the state of affairs in the territory. Click here to join a delegation of other concerned citizens, and visit the Campaign's website to find the resources you need to stay informed.

Additional Organizations

We recommend the following additional organizations that are working in solidarity with the people of Gaza and bringing aid to Palestinians caught in the humanitarian catastrophe.

   Al Mezan Center for Human Rights |
   Palestinian Centre for Human Rights |
   International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza |
   American Near East Refugee Aid/ANERA |
   CARE |
   Gush Shalom |
   Kinder USA |
   Palestinian Medical Relief Society/PMRS |

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