OVER 250 supporters of the struggle for justice for Palestine converged on the beaches of Strandfontein, Cape Town, on Saturday August 26 to show their solidarity with the inhabitants of Gaza.
The international Swim for Gaza event was simultaneously launched across the world, in 25 countries, in solidarity with the people of Gaza who have been under siege for 16 years following the blockade of the enclave by the Zionist regime. Swimmers in Gaza also took to the sea, joining the international event.
There are currently 2.3 million people living in the Gaza strip, a small sliver of land 40 km long and only 3.7 km wide. As Haidar Eid, an associate professor at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, points out: ‘The United States and Israel have worked together to transform my homeland into what even the most mainstream NGOs describe as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.’
According to Sherene Hartley, the convenor and driving force behind the event in Cape Town, this first Swim for Gaza will be the template and footprint for even a bigger Swim for Gaza next year.
‘Our first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, said we will only really be free when the people of Palestine are free. This humanitarian event shed a further light on the plight of the Palestinians.
‘It was an honour to have been part of this global awareness campaign. We are hoping may humanitarian organizations, athletes, business schools and swim schools will come on board for our next event next year. We have a year to plan something bigger and better. For instance, we will definitely introduce T-shirts for children. I was very moved when parents bought adult t-shirts for their kids and pinned it with safety pins so that it could fit.’
Professor Usuf Chikte, spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, delivered a powerful and impassioned opening speech as he addressed the crowd.
‘Gaza is the most densely populated area on earth, a concentration camp, an open air prison. The Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza has deprived Palestinians of the basics of life, especially water, 96% of which is undrinkable and has made Gaza uninhabitable for humans.
‘People in Gaza feel isolated and forgotten in the hard lives they live. We want to get involved in this moment with them to show that there are people across the world that care and are thinking about them.
‘The Swim with Gaza campaign has three main aims. Firstly, to raise awareness for the struggle of Palestinians in Gaza in our local community. Secondly, to raise funds for swimming lessons for Palestinian children and thirdly, to send the message to the people of Gaza that around the world there are people who recognise their struggle. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, millions of people in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank “struggle to live in dignity under Israeli occupation”.
‘In the context of the ongoing siege of Gaza, we are glad to be part of the Swim with Gaza campaign and we are especially pleased that through this campaign, the children who have benefited are from amongst the most deserving homes; many of whose parents have been martyred or who are prisoners of the Israeli apartheid regime. With acts of solidarity like the Swim with Gaza, we can put an end to this horror.’
In her address to the crowd that came out to support the awareness programme, Advocate Shameemah Dollie Salie made it very clear that the conditions in Gaza are sub-human.
‘It is important to protect our religion, our rights and our freedoms. The people of Palestine suffer under oppression, they suffer under extreme conditions.
‘Recently we hosted a few young people from Gaza who were visiting South Africa but unfortunately one of them had to go back home as his mother was ill. I spoke to him last week. He has lost hair, he is extremely thin and he is trying to find his way out again. Please make the intention of visiting Palestine. They don’t need our money; they need us to be there for them, physically, in order for us to assist them. That’s all they ask. When I go to Ramallah, the West Bank and to Al Aqsa, all they say is: “Please tell our brother and sisters in South Africa to please come and help us”.’