Mairead Maguire is not what you would expect of a 65-year-old woman. Last June, she spent five days in an Israeli prison after attempting to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip. One year earlier, she was shot by Israeli forces with a rubber-coated bullet while taking part in a demonstration against Israel’s separation barrier.
Maguire has spent the past 30 years working against violence. In 1976, she helped organize the largest nonviolent demonstration in Northern Ireland’s history, for which she received the Nobel Peace Prize.
“I lament every single life, but you can’t really make a comparison here,” Maguire told the Georgia Straight from Northern Ireland. “Israel has a war machine which is supported by the American government and the Palestinians have homemade rockets”¦.We’re talking about David and Goliath.”
On September 28, Maguire is scheduled to speak in Vancouver about her experiences with the Free Gaza movement. While in town, she will also attend a separate event called the Vancouver Peace Summit: Nobel Laureates in Dialogue. The Dalai Lama and other Nobel Prize winners will be there with her.
“The people of Gaza are not allowed cement, building materials; children have returned to schools with no pencils and no writing material: all of these things have been prohibited by the Israelis from being allowed into Gaza,” Maguire said. “We have to break the siege of Gaza that Israel is putting on because the children are suffering.”
In January 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories. Since then, Israel has enforced a blockade around Gaza, restricting the movement of goods, according to UN reports. In December 2008, Israel launched an assault on the Gaza Strip, killing 1,100 to 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis also died in the conflict.
A recent UN report states that during the three-week conflict, both Israeli and Palestinian forces committed war crimes. The report accuses Israel of deliberately using “disproportionate force” and of imposing a “blockade which amounted to collective punishment”, and charges that Israel’s military operation “was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole”.
Judge Richard Goldstone, who led the UN’s inquiry, has told Aljazeera that Israel “punished and terrorized” civilians in Gaza during the conflict. The report also condemns rocket attacks by Palestinian groups.
Since then, Israel’s blockade has remained in place and significantly limited reconstruction efforts in Gaza, according to BBC News.
Michael Elterman, Pacific regional chair for the Canada-Israel Committee, told the Straight during the war that Israel has maintained its blockade for security reasons. He told the Straight of the fear that permeates the lives of Israeli families living within range of Palestinian rockets.
“There is a great deal of stress and trauma that is associated with living chronically in a state of heightened expectation,” Elterman said. “Children are sleeping with their parents every night [and] there are a lot of regressive symptoms like bed-wetting and nightmares.”
Gordon Murray, an organizer for Maguire’s speaking engagement, rebutted the rocket argument. “There were virtually no rockets fired during the [six-month] ceasefire during 2008,” he said, citing a February 2009 UN report. “Even when there were no rockets, Gaza was still only receiving 25 percent of what it needed in terms of food and fuel and so on.”
In November 2008, Maguire was aboard a ship called the Dignity, which successfully sailed to Gaza with humanitarian supplies. On her second voyage, this summer aboard the Spirit of Humanity, she landed in an Israeli prison.
“I am a pacifist,” Maguire said. “But when you make comparisons here, with the occupation, we’re not talking about an equal playing field.”
Maguire said she believes that peace across the Middle East depends on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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