Upwards of 300 Palestinians, with a number of international supporters, rallied at the road to the Erez crossing in northern Gaza on Wednesday morning, calling for the crossing to be opened and an end to the 3 year long siege, in place since shortly after Hamas was elected in early 2006 and escalated dramatically following June 2007, when Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip.
Women were a strong presence in the demonstration, as were elderly, and children. A number of ill and disabled Palestinians highlighted the importance of the crossings being opened. Nearly 340 Palestinians have died as a result of denied medical care, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Amidst the crowd of demonstrators, 5 year old Mohammed Nasser el Ghneim, a child with multiple ailments needing medical care outside. “He doesn’t see well, cannot hear, cannot speak, doesn’t walk yet, and has heart problems,” said his mother, imploring for outside help for her son.
On the other side of Erez crossing, for the past few days, members of the Coalition of Women for Peace and of Code Pink have held near-daily rallies, along with Israeli activists, calling for the opening of Erez and the passage of humanitarian aid, as well as materials to build playgrounds for the children of bombed-out Gaza.
On Monday these activists were joined by an American activist-doctor, nicknamed ‘Patch Adams’, who has long been active in medical care for Palestinians. The activists brought with them many of the everyday items Israel has banned from entering Gaza: tea, coffee, chocolate, clothes and shoes, books, hair conditioner, wood, plates and glasses, furniture, light bulbs, toys, iron, cement, paper, candles and matches, sheets, blankets, musical instruments, semolina, tahina, jam, and nuts were on the list.
Demonstrations at Erez are occurring more often, in tandem with demonstrations at the southern Rafah crossing, controlled by Egypt. At the same time, increasing numbers of delegations, aid workers, doctors, investigative teams, and journalists are, with much difficulty (and for many without success) entering via Rafah to see the post-war on Gaza devastation and the consequences of the on-going siege.
The last major delegation to enter was a 66 member Codepink delegation, whose activists met with different war survivors, civil society organizations, political figures, and who erected 3 playgrounds in Gaza. The Hope convoy days before Codepink brough truckloads of medications, as well as 25 ambulances and hospital equipment.
A UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission, led by the Justice Richard Goldstone, also passed via Rafah after having been denied permits from Israeli authorities. The 4 member team visited sites of destruction and of possible war crimes committed during Israel’s 3 week bombardment of Gaza.
Organized by the Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege and the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), Wednesday’s demonstration was joined by various Palestinian civil society groups, including a women’s rights NGO, the General Union of Disabled Palestinians, 3 different agricultural groups: the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), the Palestinian Farmers Union (PFU), Arab Center for Agricultural Development (ACAD), Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC).
As the demonstration wrapped up, news came that the delegation of 41 European parliamentarians and mayors of European cities, representing 15 countries, headed by Luisa Morgantini, vice-president of the European Parliament, had crossed into Gaza.
As the gates of Rafah closed behind them, numerous Palestinians waiting to enter Gaza were left behind, the siege still in place for non-dignitaries.