Why I’m Going to the Gaza Strip

As you read this, I am on my way to Gaza – a tiny, crowded patch of Palestinian land where 1.5 million impoverished people live under siege by Israel. About the size of Outer Cape Cod, the Gaza Strip has been called the world’s largest open-air prison; much of it remains covered with rubble from a devastating Israeli attack earlier this year. Gaza is not exactly a typical summer destination for a guy from Dorchester, so let me explain.

Israel launched its military attack on Gaza last December and January, leaving 1,400 Palestinian dead, along with many thousands of wounded – mostly non-combatants, according to the Red Cross and human rights organizations. Vast swathes of housing and civilian infrastructure were pulverized. Months later, Gaza remains a humanitarian catastrophe.

Tragic, certainly, but you might wonder why an American should feel responsible to do something about it. Here’s why:

Although the bomber pilots and troops attacking Gaza were Israeli, the planes, helicopters, bombs and artillery shells they used were “Made in the USA.” Our government gives - not sells - $3 billion worth of military hardware to Israel every year. The Bush administration even signaled a green light for the Israeli assault – rushing shipments of our latest high-tech bombs to the Israeli air force in the weeks before they attacked.

Today, Israel maintains a total blockade of the Gaza Strip, refusing to allow passage of adequate food or medical supplies. It has banned the import of any construction materials for rebuilding and restoring public infrastructure, leaving many Gazans living in tents or desperately trying to rebuild their houses with bricks made out of unbaked mud. This policy has been condemned by international aid agencies and Israeli human rights organizations alike.

Earlier this year Dorchester’s Congressman, Steve Lynch visited Gaza and saw the destruction in Gaza first-hand – including the rubble of a US-financed American School that was targeted by the Israelis. Senator Kerry also visited Gaza and was shocked at what he observed. They have joined other voices from Congress to tell the Israelis to lift the siege. Lynch has endorsed letters – along with U.S. Rep. Capuano and several other Massachusetts House members – protesting the humanitarian disaster imposed on Gaza. President Obama has also recently pushed the Israelis to allow more supplies into Gaza. But still Israel continues its blockade.

In this emergency, human rights supporters and private relief efforts are not waiting for governments to act. A few days ago an international group – including an Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner and a former U.S. Congresswoman – attempted to sail a small ship loaded with medical supplies and construction materials from Cyprus to the Port of Gaza. Their boat was seized by the Israeli navy in international waters – an act of piracy – and the passengers were arrested and detained in Israel.

Next week I plan to join a US Gaza Relief Convoy bringing humanitarian supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip overland from Egypt. The effort is organized by disabled Vietnam-era veteran and anti-war leader Ron Kovic (who was portrayed in the 1989 film “Born on the Fourth of July”), in collaboration with British Member of Parliament George Galloway. Galloway led an earlier successful relief convoy from the UK. Participants left from New York City on July 4 to pick up vehicles in Cairo and transport medical donations via the Rafah Crossing. This narrow Egyptian border with Gaza has been mostly closed due to pressure from Israel, but we hope to be able to gain permission to pass through to deliver our relief supplies.

This is a chance to stand up for the 1.5 million people who have been suffering under a strict blockade since 2006 – imposed by Israel and supported by the Bush Administration because they elected a government led by a majority from the militant organization Hamas. We don’t have to approve every decision the Palestinians or their representatives make – and certainly there are Hamas policies that we oppose – in order to condemn attacks on civilians and collective punishment of a population. This policy is immoral, as well as a clear violation of international law.

And when this humanitarian disaster has been abetted and enabled by our own government, we all have a responsibility to say no. That is why I’m going to Gaza.

Jeff Klein is a retired local union leader and long-time resident active in Dorchester People for Peace. If you want to know more about Palestine or the situation in Gaza you can reach him by email at jjk123@comcast.net.