Three years in the making finally paid off- in early January 2011, the Asia to Gaza aid caravan successfully penetrated the illegal siege of Gaza, against the will of Israel. People from all over Asia, including Malaysians, Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians, Indonesians, New Zealanders, Kuwaitis and UAE, battled the Israeli “defense” forces in order to give much needed aid to innocent Gazan men, women and children. I had a chance to interview the head of the Asia to Gaza convoy, Mr Feroze Mithiborwala, who has been actively campaigning for Palestinian rights since the 1980’s. He, along with countless other activists, showed no restraint to resist oppression and to make the Palestinian story come alive.
Although, it was not as easy as it seems. It was a war between simple human beings and a monstrous Israeli regime. With the massacre of nine Turkish activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla ship “Mavi Marmara” still fresh on the minds of Palestinian activists everywhere, you might think that traveling to Gaza would become a lost cause. But that definitely was not the case for determined Asia To Gaza activists. Though the Israeli army drew threats and tracked activists, the determination was still there and it wasn’t going anywhere.
First, a quick walkthrough of Gaza. Gaza has been made victim of an illegal siege for over 3 years after the resistance group Hamas drew out Israeli occupiers and settlers from the strip. Since then, Israel has imposed a crippling blockade, prohibiting the simplest of items from entering Gaza including clean water and medical supplies. 1.8 million people strive to live day by day from supplies grown within the strip, which are scarce, and items smuggled through tunnels built underneath the Egypt-Gaza border. Gazans spend thousands of dollars building these tunnels and depend on them greatly. Israel claims Palestinians use these much needed tunnels for weaponry to attack Israeli citizens, so they are often a target of air raids. Egypt, who has made peace with Israel in 1979, is threatening to build a steel wall underneath the shared border putting the lives of Gazans at risk.
In a war that started in December 2008 and led into the new year of 2009, Israel brutally attacked densely populated areas in Gaza killing 1,400 civilians, mostly women and children. Israel committed illegal acts on Gazans, the most startling being the use of white phosphorous in civilian populated areas. After the war, nearly 80 percent of Gaza’s population was left underneath the poverty line and majority of it’s children suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression. Until this day, civilians are still unable to rebuild homes destroyed by Israeli air strikes because of the inhuman siege prohibiting imports of building material into the Gaza strip.
The war left civilians trapped and unable to leave making Gaza the center of attention and on the tongues of human rights activists all over the globe. Quickly, activists stood up to rightfully defend Gaza and supply it’s people with crucial aid . Through air, through water, through land…nothing was going to stop faithful activists from giving much needed supplies to the besieged Palestinian people who had just witnessed a 22 day long massacre.
I asked Mr. Mithoborwala a few questions about how he came to be a Palestinian activist, who his inspirations were and if he will ever visit the Gaza strip again.
When did you decide that you needed to go and help the Palestinians in the Gaza strip?
Firstly, we were not there to ‘help’ the Palestinians. Ours is a movement of ‘solidarity’ with the people’s resistance for the liberation of Palestine. I have been involved in the Palestinian question since 1987 and even before the First Intifada. As for the current initiative to ‘End the Siege of Gaza’ and challenge the Israeli blockade, the process started after the siege was imposed. I was amongst the few Indians who was involved with the Palestinian questions and maybe the only one from my generation. As destiny to have it, I also started my own political activities in 1987. I come from the Gandhian, Left, Phule-Ambedakarite (the struggle of the oppressed lower and untouchable castes) and the stream of Liberation Theology. So, especially since 2008, I have been trying to organize a ship or a land caravan from India. I was and am also the National Coordinator for the Free Gaza in India. It was finally after the attack on the Mavi Marmara (31st May, 2010) that the process gained momentum. I also happened to be in Iran during that period. It was thus my Indian friend, Shahid Pradhan studying in Qom, who put me in touch with Roohulla Rezvi & Salim Ghafoori. And then the process began to gather steam.
What was your first reaction when you entered the strip?
The first reaction, was a feeling of accomplishment and the fulfillment of a dream, a dream of having reached the ‘Holy Land’. The emotions were high and I thanked and prayed to God for having heard my plea.
Did anyone condemn you for wanting to make this trip?
Not really, the support was very good. Some peple did refer to the problem of Kashmir though. But since I have been working on the Palestinian question for more than two decades, people did understand my initiative.
Who was your biggest inspiration? And who could you not have completed this trip without?
My biggest inspiration comes from the Palestinian people and the love that I have for the Holy Land, especially for Jerusalem. I have a deep spiritual connection to the land.
I also was inspired by the initiatives of the Free Gaza and the Viva Palestina movements. I would say to myself that it is time for the Asian people to take the initiative and stand united for the cause of Palestine.
Will you ever go again?
Yes, we will continue to march until Palestine is free. We will continue to sail until Palestine is free. Today we have begin our march to Gaza, but tomorrow we will march to Jerusalem.
The land of our Prophets and Saints will be liberated and of this I am convinced. It pains my heart and my spirit to see that today Hebron lies divided, Bethlehem surrounded by the apartheid wall and Jerusalem and the Haram-i-Sharif are being destroyed. But I have a vision, a vision and the belief that the Holy Land will be free. I see a time when Palestine will be liberated as one Holy Land for the Muslims, Christians and Jews and as the common spiritual heritage of all of humanity. I see a time when millions of people from across the world will march to Jerusalem and redeem the Holy Land of Palestine. That will also be the time of a spiritual revolution and evolution amongst all of humanity, that will draw humanity closer to God.
That is how critical the battle for Jerusalem is. It is for the very soul of humanity and for our freedom. Thus the battle for Palestine, will determine the very future of humanity.