The first ever demostration permitted at the Erez crossingDec. 31
The gathering at the Erez Crossing from Southern Israel into Northern Gaza on New Year’s Eve was no champagne-popping celebration of a new decade. Rather, the assembled crowd were there to soberly plea for the removal of a political and physical cork that keeps them apart from their brothers bottled in what has been dubbed “The world’s largest prison.”
The old school
The protesters were Palestinian residents of the State of Israel, as opposed to the West Bank or Gaza. In what seemed like a charm offensive, the local police commissioner (who is said to be of a liberal persuasion) had for the first time granted them permission to voice their anger over the penning in of the Gaza Strip – the Egyptians block access from the south, and the Israelis control movement on the strip’s western and northern land borders, as well as its coastline.
About 500 protesters - the majority male, but with a sizable female contingent - had been bused in from across Israel.
On the high ground of grassy banks surrounding the crossing, dozens of heavily armed Israeli soldiers overlooked a sea of black, white, green and red Palestinian flags, and placards in Arabic, English and several other languages aimed at pressuring Israel and its US godfather to "end the siege."
"Please don't cause any trouble, lads"
The demonstrator's chants were passionate, well drilled and reverberated across the concrete, across the security gate, across the separation (or security, or apartheid, depending on which side you stand) wall and most probably into Gaza itself.
In their eyes, which betrayed a sadness, and their faces, which rarely smiled, seemed to be a burning determination to be united with their Gazan friends and families, and indignity at the daily discrimination they face in their lives.
They acted with great dignity. After about two hours of chanting - to my Arabic immune ears, they seemed to be supporting the Hamas government - to a man, they solemnly turned to Mecca, prayed, and walked back to their buses.
Nice way to end the demo
Backing them were a number of left-wing Israeli groups, and other Israeli individuals sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Angelo Aidan, a Libyan Israeli said, "The fight for freedom is more important than love."
Several pro-government Zionist Israeli's were also present, with a tent dedicated to seeing the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has been help captive by Hamas in Gaza since 2006. Hamas has demanded the return of 1,000 Palestinians in return for Gilad's release, something they believe they can get away with because of the Israeli government's stance of "leaving no man behind."
Foreign peace activists and local and foreign press also were well represented, with reporters from organisations such as AP, AFP, Reuters and Xingua.
One can only speculate as to whether further protests will be tolerated by the Israeli authorities, and whether they will have any impact on government policy, but the depth of feeling is apparent and inshallah may one day influence Middle East policy in Washington, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, London, Paris and, most pertinently, Jerusalem. I'd certainly drink to that.