Wednesday, November 11, 2009

24 Hours in Gaza: A Black Perspective

24 Hours in Gaza: A Black Perspective

by Russell Curry

On July 15, 2009 200 men and women from cities all over the United States entered one of the most dangerous places on earth and one of the final vestiges of colonial rule in the world; the Gaza Strip, Palestine. I was lucky enough to be one of them as a member of the Viva Palestina USA aid convoy under the leadership of British MP and pro-Palestinian activist George Galloway. The convoy had a jointly political and humanitarian mission: break the Israeli siege – considered illegal under international law – currently engulfing the territory of Gaza and deliver desperately needed medicine and medical supplies to the Palestinian people who are deprived of their most basic necessities.

With a population of nearly 1.5 million, the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world. The aforementioned siege denies basic goods and services from entering while at the same time denying Palestinians from leaving, and has consequently earned the Gaza Strip the title of the world’s largest, open-air prison. This illegal, ongoing humanitarian crime maintained by the Apartheid, Zionist state of Israel, which has committed more violations of United Nations resolutions than any other country, is able to survive mostly because of aid paid to Israel in the form of United States tax dollars and weapons[1] combined with an American public misinformed by Israel-biased media.

During my time as a student-activist at UCI as a member of Afrikan Student Union, Umbrella Council, etc. I gained an immense desire to learn about struggles for social justice and human rights worldwide, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Nowhere was this more obvious and familiar to me than in Israel/Palestine. The product of a largely untold political history[2], the struggle of the Palestinian people against their Zionist oppressors[3] is part Manifest Destiny – land stolen from indigenous peoples and (mistakenly) justified with a supposed divine right to it – and part Jim Crow – a segregated system where Palestinians aren’t allowed citizenship or access to the same resources as their Israeli neighbors. Is it surprising that the architect of these two systems of domination, the United States, would be the world’s strongest supporter of their continuation in the world? But we’re past all of that, right? After all, we have a Black President. At any rate, when I understood the nature of the oppression of the Palestinian people, I knew that for me to be an activist at home for the sake of Black people meant that I must be an activist abroad as well for the sake of the Palestinian people. I signed up to join the Viva Palestina USA convoy as soon as I had the chance.

I arrived in Cairo, Egypt on July 5, 2009 to start preparing for our humanitarian mission along with those 200 other remarkable people I mentioned earlier. During our stay in Cairo I saw the pyramids, the Nile River, joined a press conference for the convoy, met victims of Israeli violence in Cairo’s Palestine Hospital, helped buy medical supplies and so much more. But something I took to myself was personally documenting why other Black activists joined the convoy, since I knew the community back home was so divided on the issue if they knew anything about it at all. In my various video interviews I found that almost everyone was there for the same reason that I was, because the struggle was so similar to our own that we couldn’t just sit idly by.

Black activists were about 10% of the convoy, almost representative of the nation’s makeup of 12% African-American, but, more importantly the actual on-the-ground leadership of the convoy was Black people! The two unspeakably admirable individuals that MP Galloway placed in charge were former Congresswoman, Presidential candidate and outspoken human rights activist Cynthia McKinney[4] and former Black Panther and current New York City Councilman Charles Baron. Not enough can be said about their contribution to the convoy or how much they’ve inspired me personally. These two were the ones who negotiated our entry into Gaza with the Egyptian government and led us through with flying colors.

Our reception was warm and affectionate. The besieged people of Gaza, elated that we were there to show our solidarity, showed us hospitality that most think is reserved for royalty. Amid destruction that we sponsored we were provided amenities that many Gazans themselves enjoy rarely if at all, and were told so insistently to take, though we came only to give. But to them we did, and we were often reassured that we were the gift, not the medical supplies, and that we would have been welcomed just as warmly had we brought nothing but ourselves and our intentions.

I came face to face with true oppression. I saw with my own eyes the mosques, homes, farms and the UN and American schools that were annihilated; the evidence of war crimes against Israel. I met and talked with the people who have lived through all of the facts, numbers and news stories that I obsessed over for a year prior to leaving. All of this I experienced in 24 hours in the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen of the 10 countries I’ve been lucky enough to visit. But this is only part of the story.

Those of us who went now have the duty of informing the world of what we saw and what we experienced, to balance out the bias. But this is just a first step toward a free Palestine because actions must have a foundation of knowledge. I hope that the little bit of work I have done, and will continue to do, contributes to the eventual goal. Viva, viva Palestina!

All Sources for factual claims can be found at Anna Baltzer’s website ( as well as in the documentary Occupation: 101

[1] The United States gives more money each year in foreign aid to the state of Israel than the entire continent of Africa.

[2] Contrary to popular belief, the origins of today’s Israel/Palestine conflict are indeed political and not religious and only really date back to 1948.

[3] It is important to note that Zionism – supporting the establishment of the state of Israel – and Judaism are two different things. One cannot be labeled anti-Semitic simply for critiquing the state of Israel, nor is it the stance of all Jews that Israel even has a right to exist.

[4]Ms. McKinney was deported from an Israeli prison not a week earlier for attempting to bring supplies by boat to the people of Gaza. Her dedication to Palestinian human rights nearly cost her her life on two separate occasions at the hands of the Israeli navy.