By Jared Malsin
Erez Crossing – Ma’an – Some 500 demonstrators called on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza during a demonstration at the Erez crossing point on Thursday, as part of the Gaza Freedom March initiative.
The demonstrators, mostly Palestinians living inside Israel, said they came to express solidarity with Gaza residents.
“We want to lift the siege of Gaza,” said Mouad Khatib, 24, a translator from Haifa.
“But our other demands, which are equally essential – I would not call them secondary – are to call on the Egyptian government and President Hosni Mubarak not to participate the siege,” he said.
“We also say to the Palestinian people in Gaza: We are one people, and we are with you all the way. We ask them not to stop defending their land,” he added.
Asked if he thought demonstrations would have a significant effect on Israeli or Egyptian policy, he said: “I don’t think so – They’re not listening to their own people. But at least we’ll be internally, in our own souls, comfortable that we are not just watching this take place.”
Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in June 2007 after the elected Hamas government took full control of Gaza during a period of violent infighting with the rival Fatah movement.
The prime minister of the Gaza-based government, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, addressed the protesters via mobile phone.
“Because of international solidarity and your support, we have become stronger," Haniyeh declared, according to a report by German news agency DPA. "The Palestinian nation will never give up its national aspirations or its right to Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine and the Islamic people."
Thursday’s march was intended to coincide with a thousand-strong march of international protesters from the Gaza side of the crossing. However, Egypt denied entry to the Strip to most of the Gaza Freedom March’s participants.
Nonetheless, a spirited crowed appeared on the Israeli side of the border, most arriving on buses organized by the Higher Arab Follow-up Committee.
Surrounded by Israeli police in riot gear, including some on horseback, demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans, including “No, no, no to the siege,” and “Oh Fatah, oh Hamas, unity is fundamental.”
They also held banners including one reading, “ISRAEL: End your PERSECUTION. WORLD: End your INDIFFERENCE.”
International and Jewish-Israeli activists also joined the demonstration.
Sergio Yahni, an Israeli and the program director of the NGO Alternative Information Center (AIC), which organized busses to the protest, said he thought demonstrations would have some effect on the Israeli government.
“These types of actions, with Palestinians, internationals, and Israelis together, have a commutative effect – It’s not just one action,” he said.