Australians’ Gaza protest

The following appeared in the Melbourne Age on 1 January:

By Andra Jackson

A delegation of Australians including Jewish journalist Antony Loewenstein are among hundreds of people from around the world who will hold mass protests in Cairo and Gaza today over Israel’s continuing blockade of the Palestinian enclave.

Today marks the first anniversary of the economic blockade imposed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead offensive against Hamas-ruled Gaza, which closed off most movement of people and goods in and out of the territory.

Egypt initially denied the international activists permission to enter Gaza from Egyptian territory to hold the protest, which was initially scheduled for yesterday’s official anniversary.

But following media coverage of the protests in Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, intervened two days ago to secure permission for a smaller contingent to travel to Gaza.

Speaking from Cairo yesterday, Loewenstein said 1362 delegates from 42 countries had protested daily since December 22 over Egypt’s co-operation with Israel in maintaining the blockade that extends to medicine, food and building supplies.

The Gaza freedom march, as it is billed, includes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, French Greens senator Alima Boumediene-Thiery and Filipino author and MP Walden Bello, as well as two Melbourne men among at least 12 Australians.

The protest to highlight the long-running humanitarian crisis in Gaza, was organized by American lobby group Code Pink.

It comes just days after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to end the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, with a UN report warning destitution levels in the enclave had reached “an unprecedentedly critical level.”

Loewenstein said the protesters planned to enter Gaza to hold a Gandhi-style non-violent action with residents.

Egypt has given permission for two delegates from each country represented in the international protest to enter Gaza, Loewenstein said.

Two Sydney women have been selected as Australian representatives, including former ALP staffer, journalist and activist, Donna Mulhearn, who acted as a human shield during the US invasion of Iraq.

A spokesman for the Israel embassy in Canberra, Dor Shapira, denied there was a blockade of Gaza, saying there was a border that Israel monitored.