To coincide with Pres. Obama’s landmark speech to the Arab world Thursday in Cairo, 12 Jewish-Americans will attempt to enter war-torn Gaza on June 5 through the Israeli border as part of a 32-member peace delegation to call on the U.S. administration to push Israel to end its 21-month blockade on Gaza. They also hope to prove the Jewish-American community largely does not support Israel’s policies, and urge Obama to visit Gaza during his Middle East trip.
The delegation will meet with members of the Israeli Knesset and deliver aid and toys to Gazan children if allowed through the Israeli checkpoints. It will follow more than 100 Americans and delegates from eight other countries who entered Gaza last week through Rafah, Egypt in four separate delegations organized by the women’s peace group CODEPINK. Many delegates met with Hamas officials and helped build a playground for Gazan children. (Follow their progress on Twitter #gazacp).
“The brutal invasion of Gaza was a breaking point for me and many American Jews,” said CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, currently inside Gaza and leader of two delegations. “I’m appalled by the devastation and the suffering I see here, particularly among children. As a mother, and a Jew, I feel compelled to speak out and urge our government to push Israel to end its brutal blockade and violations of international law.”
Benjamin’s sentiments are aligned with the majority opinions of Jewish Americans. According to a recent survey by the Jewish lobby group J Street, 76 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution, 69 percent support negotiating with a Fatah-Hamas unity government, and 59 percent felt the Gaza invasion did not improve Israel’s security.
The Jewish members of CODEPINK’s delegation are seeking to amplify the voice of this majority who believe in peace. Infinity Rotbard, a student delegate on the trip and a resident of San Francisco, grew up in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family and lived in the Jewish settlements in Gaza during his rabbinic studies in Israel.
“Growing up, my beliefs about Israel and Palestine were rooted around unconditional rights of its Jewish inhabitants,” Rotbard said. “But I’m now seeking the truth beyond my childhood’s limited beliefs. I feel a responsibility to bear witness to what is happening to the people under siege in Gaza.”
Like the other delegations, this last delegation will bring toys and school supplies for Gazan children — many of the schools and playgrounds were bombed during Israel’s invasion earlier this year that killed more than 1,400, displaced more than 50,000 people and destroyed approximately 4,000 homes. They expect they will be held by Israeli authorities, as the other delegations were held by Egyptian authorities for several days before they were allowed through May 26.
If so, they will join the Israeli feminist group The Coalition of Women for Peace in protest near either the Erez or Kerem Shalom checkpoints on June 6, join a workshop on “The Role of International Community in Freeing Gaza” and several tours, and join protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank between June 10 and 14.