December 27, 2009 marked the first anniversary of the beginning of "Operation Cast Lead," Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza. The attack:
- Killed 1,400 people; one-third were children
- Injured over 5,300 and destroyed over 10,000 buildings and 4,000 homes
- Rendered nearly 72,000 civilians homeless, most of whom now live in tents or in the ruins of what had been their homes
In the brutal invasion, the already impoverished, mostly refugee population, was assaulted with white phosphorous bombs that destroyed the infrastructure of civil society, including homes, hospitals, water wells, sewage systems, farms, police stations, the Islamic University of Gaza, the Ministry of Education, and both the American International and UNRWA schools, one of which had been clearly sheltering innocent civilians.
Epstein in Cairo—photo by Angela Sevin
While world leaders and the mainstream media continue to turn a blind eye to the ongoing misery in Gaza, international activists converged in Cairo in December 2009 to bring humanitarian aid to the innocents in Gaza and to participate in the Gaza Freedom March. They planned to march to Gaza on New Years Eve to demand an end to the siege on the Gaza Strip. When the Egyptian government denied the over 1,300 activists entry into Gaza, hundreds of them began a hunger strike on December 28. Among them was Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who was part of a delegation of participants from 43 countries.
In 1939, when Epstein was 14, her parents sent her to England (they perished in Auschwitz in 1942). After World War II, she worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates. After moving to America, Epstein became an activist for peace and social justice causes: "It is important to let the besieged Gazan people know they are not alone. I want to tell the people I meet in Gaza that I am a representative of many people in my city and in other places in the U.S. who are outraged at what the U.S., Israeli, and European governments are doing to the Palestinians and that our numbers are growing."
The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal siege ever since Israel closed all of Gaza’s borders in June 2007 and trapped 1.5 million civilians there—half of them children under 17. Additionally the United States directly supported Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza Strip, supplying and paying for the F-16s, hellfire missiles, and ammunition used by the Israeli military. Also, U.S. corporations directly profited from Operation Cast Lead. American-made Caterpillar bulldozers were used to demolish the civilian infrastructure.
Dorothy Day, a 20th century Christian anarchist, agitator around church, state, and media issues, said, "Love is not the starving of whole populations. Love is not the bombardment of open cities. Love is not killing."
Eileen Fleming is the founder of WeAreWideAwake.org, a feature correspondent for Arabisto.com, and author of Keep Hope Aliveand Memoirs of a Nice Irish American "Girl’s" Life in Occupied Territory. She also produced 30 Minutes with Vanunuand 13 Minutes with Vanunu.