As the Gaza Strip continues to reel under a crippling Israeli siege, a Holocaust survivor has gone on hunger strike to protest Egypt’s refusal to allow a solidarity march to enter the sealed off coastal enclave.
"It is important to let the besieged Gazan people know they are not alone," Hedy Epstein, 85, told the Massachusetts-based Salem-News website on Tuesday, December 29.
"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 US who are outraged at what the US, Israeli and European governments are doing to the Palestinians and that our numbers are growing."
Flanked by hundreds of foreign supporters outside the UN building in Cairo, the American activist began a hunger strike late Monday.
"I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how my body will react, but I’ll do whatever it takes," Epstein told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Hundreds of activists from 43 countries had gathered in Cairo to mark the first anniversary of the deadly Israeli onslaught on Gaza, which killed more than 1,400 people and wounded thousands.
May wore T-shirts with the slogans "The Audacity of War Crimes" and "We will not be silent."
Other held a giant Palestinian flag, chanting "Freedom for Gaza" in various languages.
The activists are seeking permission to cross into Gaza but Cairo argues that the march is illegal and describes it as a threat to its national security.
"We met with the UN resident coordinator in Cairo James Rawley and we are waiting for a response," Philippine Senator Walden Bello told protesters.
"We will wait as long as it takes."
Epstein and the other foreign activists had arranged to join Palestinians in a protest march to Gaza’s Erez border with Israel, where they were to demand the crossing point be opened and the three-year blockade lifted.
"I never saw a government deny humanitarian aid before," the Holocaust survivor told The Indypendent, a New York-based free newspaper.
"I’ve been in human and civil rights struggles for a long time, and I’ve never been on a hunger strike before.
"There comes a time in a struggle when you have to put your own life on the line."
Epstein said the Gaza solidarity march aims to drum up support for lifting the Israeli siege on the 1.6 million people of Gaza.
"(It) is trying to break the siege of Gaza imposed by the Israeli government," she explained.
"And I suspect that the Egyptian government is under pressure by the US and Israeli governments.
"So I decided to go on a hunger strike to try to persuade the Egyptian government to let us go."
Epstein only developed interest in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after the 1982 massacre of Sabra and Shatila.
Since then her primary cause became the Palestinians and the end of the Israeli occupation.
On April 18, 1948, Palestinian Tiberius was captured by Menachem Begin’s Irgun militant group, putting its 5,500 Palestinian residents in flight. On April 22, Haifa fell to the Zionist militants and 70,000 Palestinians fled.
On April 25, Irgun began bombarding civilian sectors of Jaffa, terrifying the 750,000 inhabitants into panicky flight.
On May 14, Jaffa completely surrendered to the much better-equipped Zionist militants and only about 4,500 of its population remained, and Israel was created on the rubble of Palestine.
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)