The following article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 January:
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on either side of the Israeli-Gazan border to mark a year since Israel’s three-week war in Gaza and to call for an end to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.
About 85 demonstrators in Gaza were foreigners, part of a group of more than 1000, including the Sydney journalist Antony Loewenstein, who arrived in Cairo in the hope of entering the territory but were stopped by the Egyptian authorities.
After days of negotiation, Egypt permitted a small delegation to cross the usually closed border at the southern Gazan city of Rafah
On the Israeli side about 1000 people protested, most of them Israeli Arabs but also Israeli Jews who object to the blockade. They carried banners with pictures of children in destroyed buildings.
Through the mobile phone of Talab El-Sana, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, the Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, addressed the Israelis and thanked them: “Because of international solidarity and your support we have become stronger.”
The Gaza marchers waved Palestinian flags and held banners that called for a lifting of the closure, imposed after Hamas took control in 2007. The marchers chanted “Free Palestine!” and “No to the siege!”
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Taher al-Nunu, welcomed the foreigners: “We are not alone in Gaza. We have many friends outside Palestine who came to protest the siege and the Israeli occupation.”
A year ago, Israel fought for three weeks to stop rockets being fired from Gaza into southern areas such as Sderot. About 1300 Palestinians were killed and some 4000 homes destroyed. Reconstruction material remains barred from entering, but the rockets have essentially been stilled.
In Sderot on Thursday, about 200 children holding Israeli flags attached letters of peace to white balloons and released them on a hillside towards Gaza. But the balloons flew in the opposite direction.
Loewenstein said a sudden protest on Thursday in a square in Cairo was met with brutality by state security forces.
“I was dragged and violently pushed and some activists received broken ribs and bloody noses,” he said. “We were protesting peacefully, alongside thousands in Gaza itself and on the Israeli side of the border.”