Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Open letter to the NDP: Will you join us in opposing inhumane blockade of Gaza?

David Heap
June 8, 2011

I am writing to you to ask for your public support for the Canadian Boat to Gaza to challenge the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade.

I am one of the more than 30 Canadians who will embark on that journey later this month, and whose safety depends in part on whether politicians like you have the courage to take a public stand in support of our opposition to the siege of Gaza.

Some of you have expressed concerns about the risks involved in our non-violent direct action to challenge the blockade. I would ask you to consider this: solidarity often entails risks.

When we shelter battered women in our communities, there are risks. When we give sanctuary to refugees and war resisters, there are risks. And, in a case which should be familiar to many of you from the trade union movement, when we step into the street as part of a picket line, there are very real risks.

Those opposed to justice will always try to intimidate those who stand on the side of the oppressed: our work must always be to face these risks non-violently and not give in to intimidation. These risks are greatly reduced (though not eliminated) by solidarity: we are safer when we walk with others on a picket line, and we will be safer on the Canadian Boat to Gaza because of the many Canadians who have contributed to our campaign and who will be following our progress towards Gaza.

Will you stand with us, and with them? Or will you stand on the sidelines of history?

Pulitzer winning author Alice Walker , who will be on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, has called our Freedom Flotilla the "Freedom Ride of this era".

Some of you may recall my father Dan Heap, former MP for Trinity Spadina and member of your caucus in the 1980s and early 1990s. Long before that, in 1965, dad answered Martin Luther King's call and joined the walk for human rights in Alabama: not because it was a safe thing to do (it certainly was not safe), but because it was the right thing to do.

Another former NDP caucus member, Jim Manly, has also come out in support of the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Though I do not share their religious faith, I walk humbly in their footsteps along with Canadian Christians, Jews, Muslims and others. Will you join us?

We are deeply appreciative of Alex Atamanenko's courageous and principled stand in support of our campaign, and we hope others in your caucus will join him soon.

Many of us are frankly very disappointed that Jack took a public position in the media about our campaign after meeting with a foreign ambassador and without even taking the time to meet with the many Canadian organizations such as Independent Jewish Voices who support our campaign. We would hope the voices of Canadian civil society would be heeded at least as much as that of a foreign power.

Canadians already know what to expect on these issues from the two (now one-and-a-half) old-line parties. Many Canadian voters are looking for fresh new leadership that takes bold positions in support of human rights and international law. Will you be that leadership? Will you stand with us and with the Palestinians of Gaza?

In solidarity,
David Heap
London, Ontario


  1. Egypt has opened the border to Gaza. There is no longer a blockade, illegal or otherwise.

  2. The 2007–2011 blockade of the Gaza Strip refers to a land, air, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt since June 2007, a more severe version of restrictions which began in 2001.

    In 2006 Hamas won the Palestinian legislative election, triggering the 2006-2007 economic sanctions against the Palestinian National Authority by Israel and the Quartet on the Middle East. In March 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a Palestinan authority national unity government headed by Ismail Haniya. Shortly after, in June, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in the course of the Battle of Gaza,[1] seizing government institutions and replacing Fatah and other government officials with its own.[2] Following the takeover, Egypt and Israel largely sealed their border crossings with Gaza, on the grounds that Fatah had fled and was no longer providing security on the Palestinian side.[3]

    The Gaza Strip has land borders with Israel and Egypt, and a sea border. Since 2007 Egypt and Israel largely keep their borders with the territory sealed. Israel allows only limited humanitarian supplies from aid organizations into the Strip.[4] In 2009 the amount of goods Israel allowed into Gaza was one quarter of the pre-blockade flow.[5][6] The Israeli navy maintains a sea blockade from three nautical miles offshore. Egypt is constructing an underground steel barrier to prevent circumvention of the blockade through tunnels.

    Israel maintained that the blockade is necessary to limit Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on its cities and to prevent Hamas from obtaining other weapons. Prior to its 2011 opening of the Rafah crossing, Egypt maintained that it could not fully open its side of the border since completely opening the border would represent Egyptian recognition of the Hamas control of Gaza, undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian National Authority and consecrate the split between Gaza and the West Bank.[7] United Nations have called the blockade illegal according to the Geneva Conventions on a number of occasions, a call also echoed by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Both organizations repeatedly urge Israel to lift the blockade.[8][9][10][11][12]

    The blockade has been criticized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Human Rights Council[13][14] and other human rights organizations. It has been officially supported by United States administrations,[15] although in June 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the situation in Gaza is “unsustainable and unacceptable.”[16]

    Facing mounting international calls to ease or lift their blockade, Egypt and Israel lessened the restrictions starting in June 2010, when the Rafah border crossing from Egypt to Gaza has been partially opened by Egypt, and Egypt’s foreign ministry has made it clear that the crossing will remain open mainly for people, but not for supplies, to go through.[17] In June 2010, Israel announced that it will allow all strictly civilian goods into Gaza while preventing certain weapons and dual-use items from entering Gaza.[18] However, Israel continues to severely restrict and/or prevent people from entering or exiting Gaza,[19][20][21] and according to a July 2010 report by the Israeli NGO Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Israel continues to prevent normal functioning of the Gazan economy (i.e., limiting exports from Gaza, and blocking imports of raw materials necessary for civilian industry and manufacturing – such as textiles and industrial-sized buckets of margarine).

    Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing permanently on May 28th 2011. Women of all ages and men aged below 18 and above 40 are able to enter Egypt without a visa.[22]