January 14, 2009
Dear Mr. President Barak H. Obama,
We, citizens of 43 countries, gathered in Cairo in December 2009, to travel to the occupied Gaza Strip to show solidarity with Palestinians who endured a massive and inhuman Israeli assault one year ago. We wanted to show them that we, citizens of the world, remember what our governments want us to forget: we remember that human beings live in the Gaza Strip. Men, women and children: mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, grandmothers and grandfathers: people like you and I.
We, citizens of democratic countries from 6 continents, who were forcibly stopped by the puppet Egyptian state from travelling to the Gaza Strip want to tell you that we remember the horror that was unleashed on the Gaza Strip a year ago. This week marks one year since US-ally Israel ended its lethal attack on the Gaza Strip: a year since phosphorus bombs, DIME bombs and other weapons of death and destruction deliberately targeted the defenseless civilian population of Gaza.
In your much quoted Cairo speech, you said,
“Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”
And yet, Palestinians have seen nothing but more death and destruction since then. Your fine words in Cairo did not even result in Palestinians getting cement to rebuild their homes, mosques and schools.
The siege of occupied Gaza is collective punishment of the entire population, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. As a lawyer, you must know this Convention is binding on all its signatories, including the United States, who are required to ensure the Convention is upheld. Yet, over the last few weeks, the infamy of the Israeli siege has been compounded by the construction of a new wall which will inevitably tighten still further the siege of Gaza and the humanitarian crisis which the siege was always designed to inflict. This new wall is being constructed by the Egyptian government with technical assistance from the US Army Corps of Engineers. Last month, the US authorised $1,040,000,000 in Foreign Military Assistance to Egypt including “border security programs and activities in the Sinai”.
The collective punishment of occupied Gaza in the name of “border security” – in direct violation of the 4th Geneva Convention – is the policy of your government.
You must also be aware that in Israel’s war of aggression on the occupied Gaza Strip, many civilians were massacred by Israel’s indiscriminate bombing – an act condemned by UN experts, including the respected South African, Judge Richard Goldstone – and leading human rights organizations, as war crimes and crimes against humanity. And yet you, a lawyer, ignore this incontrovertible evidence and continue to prop up the apartheid Israeli state. The assault in December 2008-January 2009 left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, predominantly civilians, of whom 431 were children. Another 5380 Palestinians were injured. These are not facts that we will forget, as we have not forgotten Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila, Jenin, Nablus, Beit Hanoun and over 60 years of Israeli genocide against the Palestinian people.
In your Cairo speech, you acknowledge the Palestinians’ right to nonviolent resistance. You even gave them advice to pursue it like African Americans, Indians, and South Africans:
For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia.
And that is precisely what we wanted to do in the Gaza Strip, Mr. President: We wanted to walk together with the people of Gaza to register our abhorrence of the collective punishment that has been imposed on them; We wanted to demand an end to the hermetic siege that has been imposed on them since the democratic elections of 2006. And yes, we were also citizens from South Asia, from Eastern Europe and from South Africa, all gathered together in Cairo, so we do know both the humiliation of segregation and the power of collective action. And we intend to use that power to support our Palestinian brothers and sisters as they fight to regain their stolen homeland.
We, the undersigned, call upon you to end the siege, Mr. President. It is an ethical and moral responsibility that you cannot avoid. We, 1400 international activists from 43 countries planned to be in Gaza on December 31 to march with the Palestinians of Gaza and demand that Israel lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip immediately and permanently. We could not do so because the Government of Egypt, an ally of the US, refused to allow us to cross into the Gaza Strip even as they began construction of a new wall to tighten the siege. We were denied the right to show Palestinians that we support their right to their homeland as guaranteed under international law. We were denied the right to show Palestinians that we remember their pain and suffering.
We were denied our right to show Israel and the United States that we will not watch what it does to the Palestinians and remain silent. But we refused to be denied the right to walk in solidarity with the oppressed, even if from afar: and we did. We chose to walk and protest in solidarity with the people of Gaza in Cairo.
You, President Barak Obama, choose to walk in solidarity with the oppressor. You choose to ignore the pain and dispossession of the Palestinian people. Like your predecessors, Reagan and Thatcher, who said in 1987 that Nelson Mandela would never be the President of a democratic South Africa, you too, choose to ignore the will of the people.
You are on the wrong side of history, President Obama, because we, citizens of the world, will not accept a Palestine that is occupied.
You are on the wrong side of history, President Obama, because our collective action, together with the action of Palestinians inside and outside Palestine and millions of people who recognise their just cause, will ensure a free Palestine in our lifetime. Of this we are certain.
1,361 international citizens from 43 countries