An Asia to Gaza caravan is being planned from New Delhi to Gaza during the month of December, 2010, as part of the international effort to break the three year old blockade of Gaza by Israeli forces. This is probably the first time such an ambitious caravan, through land route, has been planned to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. It is to travel through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Egypt. On the way a part of the caravan will also visit Jordan and Lebanon. Meetings will be organized along the route to mobilize public opinion against the blockade of Gaza by Israel, the anniversary of which falls on 27th December. If everything goes alright the caravan will reach Gaza to coincide with this date.
A young activist from Mumbai, Feroze Mithiborwala, with Gandhian roots, conceived of this caravan about a couple of years back and with the institutional support provided by New Trade Union Initiatives he was able to give it a practical shape. A forum called Indian Life-line to Gaza was created to organize this caravan and an Asian People’s Solidarity for Palestine was formed to bring together all organizations from different countries of Asia like Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt which support the Palestinian cause. The response received was overwhelming. Activists from India, Iran and Japan are part of the caravan from New Delhi and others will join en-route. The embassies of Iran and Egypt waived the fees of Rs. 800 and Rs. 3500, respectively, required for obtaining visas for about 50 Indian activists who are part of this caravan as a gesture of support.
The struggle of the Palestinians is probably one of the most difficult ones going on around the world presently. A population has been rendered homeless in their own homes and are being subjected to continuous humiliation. Israelis have literally entered the homes of Palestinians and are now refusing to move out. Jewish immigration from Europe altered the demographic balance of the area between 1917 and 1948. It is almost an everyday struggle for the Palestinians to retain whatever they have in their possession. The US has been blindly supporting the brazen and brutal ways of Israel. A country which goes around all over the globe considering it its responsibility to establish democratic rules doesn’t care a damn about the autocratic ways of Israeli government or the blatant human rights violations of Palestinian people. US, and all western powers, follow a double standard when it comes to dealing with Israel. India, which used to be an open supporter of the Palestinian cause is slowly changing its stand since it decided to liberalize its economic policy and is falling in line with the US position. This perceptible change is also witnessed in its stand with respect to Iran. Under US pressure first it relented on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which was in its interest, and now is taking a hypocritical position on Iran’s right to run a nuclear programme after having developed its own programme.
The worst attitude of Israel is reflected in the attack in Mediterranean Sea on relief flotilla on 31 May, 2010, from Turkey. Six ships were carrying humanitanrian, construction material, etc., on behalf of Free Gaza Movement and Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief. Nine activists, including one Turkish American, on the ship MV Mavi Marmara were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire. UNHRC report describes six of the nine killings as ‘summary execution‘ by the Israeli commandoes. Other activists were detained till 6 June, 2010. This unfortunate event generated widespread worldwide condemnation.
The fifty member India delegation was flagged off from Rajghat on 2nd December, 2010, by Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar. Also present on the occasion were Syeda Hameed, member, Planning Commission and Harshmander, member, National Advisory Council. The caravan met its first obstacle at the first border it had to cross. Paksitan denied visa on 1st December but after bad publicity at home of having denied visa to an India peace delegation headed for Palestine, they gave visas to 34 members of the delegation after its flag off. On 4th December morning the India government denied permission to this group to cross Wagha border on foot. The caravan was held up for 24 hours.
Pakistan was essentially reluctant to give permission to the Indian group because the route to Iran passes through Balochistan where it claims that the movement for autonomy is being fuelled by India . So, the Indian contingent is returning from Pakistan and will fly to Tehran along with the rest of the group which has been denied visa by Pakistan . This gives an idea of what is in store for this peace caravan – hurdles at every step. But the peace activists are determined and will clear the obstacles one by one, as they come along. This peace caravan will take along with it an ambulance and medical-surgical aid worth Rs. 27 lakhs to deliver in Gaza.
As the symbol of democracy, India, more than US, where marginalized groups have found political voice should be the champion of all struggles for establishing democracy and human rights. Hence it is only appropriate that a group of Indians, albeit without their government’s support, have embarked on this journey which will express solidarity of crores of struggling ordinary Indians with the people of Palestine . The Indian delegation mostly consists of activists of people’s movements and trade unions, journalists, students and representatives of minority communities. They will share the daily suffering of Palestinian people and develop a human bond with them. It is a modest effort but of great symbolic significance. It is the might of these ordinary citizen which will challenge the forces of imperialism and authoritarianism. It will also convey to the government of India that it has done wrong by abandoning the Palestinian cause in favour of Israel . India should stand with the struggling masses of the world rather than with forces aiming to establish their hegemony over others.
(Dr Sandeep Pandey is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) for emergent leadership, who is a part of the Asia to Gaza peace delegation. He is a member of National Presidium, People's Politics Front (PPF), heads the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley, USA. He taught at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur before devoting his life to strengthening people's movements in early 1990s. He writes for Citizen News Service (CNS). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.citizen-news.org )