WATERVILLE, Maine — One year ago, as the world celebrated the end of 2008, tensions between Israel and Gaza erupted in an invasion by the Israeli army called “Operation Cast Lead.”
The 1,400 Palestinian civilians who died were the latest victims in decades of bloodshed between Arabs and Jews in the region. Gaza has been held under a military blockade ever since.
According to some of the speakers during a 90-minute rally Thursday in downtown Waterville’s Castonguay Square, the blockade amounts to a “slow starvation” of a million Palestinians. Worse, they said, most of the weapons used by the Israelis are of American origin. Now many Gazans struggle to obtain the most basic necessities, such as food, water and medicine.
“The American taxpayer has paid for those tanks. You’ve paid for those guns. You’ve paid for those F-15 [fighter jets],” said Peter Sirois, of Madison, one of several speakers who addressed a total of about 25 people. “They’re slowly starving these people to death. This is a holocaust.”
Several of the speakers didn’t appear to take sides in the conflict, but objected to the siege as a human rights issue, and no one voiced pro-Israel views. Israel has defended the action in news reports and on Web sites by citing the firing of hundreds of rockets by Hamas, a militant Islamic political organization, from Gaza into towns in Israel.
Desiree Dow, of Southwest Harbor, read a letter written for the event by her partner, Tom Jackson, who is in Gaza and Israel shooting a documentary film for the American Friends Service Committee.
Jackson’s letter described a dire situation in Gaza, including a 40 percent unemployment rate, a shortage of water and food and frequent deadly clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. Many homes and public infrastructure lay in ruins from bombings.
Lisa Savage, of Solon, a local coordinator for a group called CODEPINK, urged the group to stay educated about Gaza and to share that education with as many people as possible. She also suggested putting pressure on Congress to end American military support for Israel.
Seven participants read a short play called “Seven Jewish Children” by British author Caryl Churchill, a Palestinian supporter. The story, told in the form of statements to a child that begin “Tell her …” or “Don’t tell her …,” traces the history of the Jewish people from the Holocaust to their migration to Palestine and through many of the major events in the region since then, including last year’s Israeli invasion.
“Tell her we’re fighters/Tell her we’ve got new land/Don’t tell her about the bulldozers/Tell her it’s a building site,” read the actors. “Don’t tell her what she doesn’t ask/Tell her we’re making new towns in the desert.”
Several members of the audience had tears in their eyes toward the end of the performance.
“Tell her we kill more of them,” read an actor, who was then cut off by “Don’t tell her that!” from another.
A pause, then: “Tell her that.”