I thought people might find it interesting to learn a little of the history that preceded Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright’s exciting upcoming Gaza Freedom March.
About six years ago I proposed a similar march (though this one was to enter from Jordan, and I was especially targeting people in my age bracket for participation). I wrote a short essay announcing it, and a colleague created a website for it, “March for Humanity.” Below is my essay:
March for Humanity
In September 2003 hundreds of American elders of all ethnicities and backgrounds will march on Israel in a nonviolent quest for human rights, for global peace and stability, and for a reversal of the world’s wild drive into an ever-darkening future.
They will be joined by others from around the world determined to fulfill their obligation to their consciences and to their children, and by an equal number of Israeli citizens seeking an end to their government's violent oppression of their Palestinian sisters and brothers.
Together, this group of peaceful marchers -- who have decided that in the final third of their lives they will, briefly, trade comfort for discomfort, security for inconvenience -- will join together to save innocent lives that would otherwise be lost. With their reading glasses and stiff knees, graying hair and sore feet, this peace brigade will march on behalf of justice for Palestinians, peace for the world, and the end of a brutal and brutalizing system for Israelis.
For almost three years the Palestinian people have been pleading for an international presence to decrease the tragically escalating violence. Such an international presence would have saved lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, would have left children walking today who will now be forever crippled, would have left mothers happy who will now forever grieve.
Israel and the United States, however, inexplicably blocked the United Nations from providing such a life-saving body. But then, from around the world, individuals – some old, most very young – began to flow into Palestine to fill this need. They did what the world should have done, but didn’t, and some of them were beaten, imprisoned, maimed, and, finally, killed. Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall took the place the world should have filled, and paid with their lives for our negligence.
Now we have decided that it is our turn. No more will we allow our children’s courage to dwarf our own, our children’s vision of a compassionate world to be crushed by the forces of evil that we have feared to oppose. It is our time to step forward, and we will not be crushed.
Let the Israeli military – blithe destroyer of small bodies, breaker of young bones, crusher of sweet spirits – face a battalion of seasoned senior soldiers, veterans of life, survivors of youth.
Let the Israeli military -- who so courageously crushed young Rachel, who with such bravery shot 21-year-old Tom in the back of the head, who with such skill daily train their American-supplied sniper scopes on ragged, rock-throwing children -- let this valiant vanguard of violence now face a thousand nonviolent marching mothers, fathers, grandmothers and aunts, as the world’s cameras roll and history’s note-takers look on, ready to transcribe Ariel Sharon's attempt to stop the unstoppable.
Let the world – and particularly the American public – finally awake to our responsibility, and to our power. Let us bring an end to this carnage. It is long past time, and no one else will do it.
Please join us.
I also proposed it be a project of the Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and submitted an official proposal (I changed the target date out of time considerations):
Proposal for a mass human rights march to the Palestinian Territories to take place in December
1. Submitted by If Americans Knew, with support from the Council for the National Interest, the International Solidarity Movement, Citizens for Fair Legislation, and the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition.
2. We propose that hundreds of Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds - many of them elders - converge in Jordan in December in a nonviolent, Gandhian march to the Palestinian Territories on behalf of human rights, global peace and stability, and a reversal of the world’s wild drive into an ever-darkening future. Modeled on the civil rights marchers and Freedom Riders of the past who went to the American South to oppose racism and injustice, this march will shine light on the responsibility of Americans – whose tax dollars are empowering Israeli atrocities -- to bring an end to the violence.
3. A national – and international -- action. In discussing this idea with people from Connecticut, Utah, California, Washington D.C., Canada, Palestine, and Norway we have found considerable excitement. We are asking prominent figures to participate, and anticipate that the immensity of the march and the diversity of the participants will compel media coverage.
4. This event will require energetic outreach to Americans of all political, ethnic, and religious backgrounds; media coordination; and extremely detailed logistical organizing. We will need organizers in each state, internationally, and a team to make arrangements on the ground in Jordan and Palestine.
This was the only proposal to be submitted by the alleged deadline. However, someone decided to extend the deadline and other proposals were finally created.
At the conference, our proposal was never mentioned or discussed, even though all the proposals were supposedly going to be presented and debated.
When I finally realized that such a discussion was never going to occur (I’m sometimes very naïve about behind-the-scenes decision making), I finally stood up in the middle of the proceedings on the final day and objected.
This caused considerable embarrassment and confusion. Naturally, my action felt abrupt and impolite, but many people at the conference were fully committed to Palestinian human rights, were aware of If Americans Knew and my work, and were concerned to learn that our proposal had been discarded without any public discussion.
People spoke both for and against considering the proposal, and it was finally decided that the March would be included under one of the other proposals in the voting that was to follow; it ended up receiving many votes.
After the conference I continued to work on the project, and found considerable interest. The project, of course, was going to be a huge one, particularly since a major part of it was to build a grassroots media effort in the US in which each participant would be followed by their local community media, neighborhood organizations, churches, etc.
As I explored the project further, however, I became concerned that the message that reached Americans about the march might ultimately be inaccurate and possibly even hurtful toward efforts for justice and peace. It occurred to me that what would quite likely happen would be that this giant peace march would not be openly stopped or hampered by Israel – therefore making clear to Americans Israel's power and violence as an occupying force – but would instead be stopped by its proxy, Jordan.
As a result, the average American, not knowing Jordan’s proxy role, would simply see a march full of peace-seeking Americans and internationals being stopped by Arabs. This would not only NOT help the cause of justice and peace and an informed American electorate, it might actually work to set these all back. For that reason I felt it would be better to cancel this project and instead focus on other more effective ways to educate Americans on the facts.
Since that time several other groups have undertaken such projects, among them Free Gaza (with an extremely important success), Viva Palestina, and others.
My hopes for the Gaza Freedom March
I have many friends who will be participating in the Gaza Freedom March and I wish them and all participants the best of luck and my most fervent support! I participated in the Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza in July and time and resources prevent another such attempt. Instead, I will do my best to get the information out to Americans here in the US.
My hopes (in no particular order) are:
1. That everyone will be allowed into Gaza, and that no one will be killed, injured, imprisoned; that when the marchers are gone and the cameras departed none of the Gazans who participated will be targeted by Israel
2. That the mainstream media will cover the march (likely) fully and honestly (less likely)
3. That the project will make Americans fully aware of the fundamental facts of this issue, including Israel’s massive ethnic cleansing in 1948, its efforts in this regard ever since, and its oppression of Palestinians within the 1948 borders, whom the media call “Israeli Arabs”
4. That the project will regularly and thoroughly acknowledge those who came before them, especially the Free Gaza Movement, which confronted Israel directly; that it will coordinate efforts with others working on similar projects and allied causes
5. That the oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank will not be forgotten; that it will be exposed, addressed, and decreased; that the prisoners being held in Israeli prisons will be mentioned, that their intolerable suffering, and that of their families, will be conveyed
6. That the project will explain accurately the power of the Israel Lobby: its power in driving US policies; its role in the defeat of Cynthia McKinney, Earl Hilliard, Paul Findley, Pete McCloskey, Charles Percy, et al; its prevention of a multitude of candidates of integrity from serving in our government; its role in blocking scholars of honesty and intelligence from being promoted, tenured, retained; of preventing journalists from doing their job and of eliminating those who did; its role in pushing wars against Iraq; its ongoing effort to foment violence against Iran; its fundamental role in creating a "clash of civilizations" and a terror-filled "war against terror"
And I hope for so much more, in Gaza and everywhere... that cruelty will be rolled back; suffering diminished, freedom brought closer. That children will flourish and parents laugh; that the land will bloom. I hope that justice will come, compassion will reign, there will be peace on earth, good will toward all, joy to the world.
I hope for a world of beloved children who belong to all of us, without exception.
It's not complicated.