Protests to mark 40 years of Israeli occupation

155.jpgOCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli and Palestinian peace groups are staging demonstrations this week to protest at 40 years of Israeli occupation following the 1967 war that changed the shape of the Middle East.

The events run from June 5 to June 10, marking the anniversary of the war which saw Israel capture East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights in six days.

“The present suffering and bloodshed in Gaza and Sderot are a direct outcome of the policy of occupation, settlement and killing,” the peace groups said in a statement, referring to the southern Israeli town that has been reeling from rocket fire from Gaza.

“Only the end of that policy and the signing of a just peace could put an end to violence and to the continuing injustice against the Palestinian people,” the statement said.

Among the planned events for the 40-year anniversary are simultaneous rallies in Tel Aviv and the Anata neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday.

In Tel Aviv, organisers will erect a duplicate of a checkpoint to bring home to the Israeli public the “reality” of the occupied West Bank, dotted by more than 500 such checkpoints that impede freedom of movement and feed resentment.

The Peace Now anti-settlement group is also planning a rally against continuing settlements in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron on Tuesday.

“We’d like to take this opportunity to focus on the issue of settlements and to say to the Israeli public that the policy of settlements is hurting Israeli interests and the Zionist dream,” Yariv Oppenheimer, head of the group, told AFP.

“We’re going to the most difficult place to make our point.” Hebron has long been a flashpoint, home to several hundred hardline Israeli settlers who live in a tightly-guarded enclave around the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, and often clash with their 170,000 Palestinian neighbours.

“Of course, one demonstration cannot do everything, but it’s very important that our voices will be heard this week,” Oppenheimer said. “And eventually bring about a change of policy.” The main demonstration in the occupied West Bank is due to take place on Tuesday in Ramallah, where sirens will sound and a minute of silence will be observed at 0900 GMT.

In Nablus, protesters plan to march to an Israeli checkpoint in the south of the city, a symbol of the occupation.

The centrepiece of events in Israel will be a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday, to coincide with protests against the Israeli occupation being staged in cities around the world, including Rome, Paris, Berlin, Washington, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels and Canberra.

Among other events planned in Israel is an exhibition by photographers, journalists and graphic artists in Tel Aviv, a bicycle and roller skate convoy, presentations of testimonies from the occupied territories, a festival of peace and music, and an academic conference.

No demonstrations celebrating the anniversary were planned.

Amnesty International issued a report on Monday to mark the anniversary, charging that Israel plunged the Palestinians into unprecedented levels of poverty and despair through 40 years of occupation but failed to ensure its own security.

But Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres dismissed the criticism, saying Palestinian suicide bombers were to blame for the controversial separation barrier that Israel is constructing in the West Bank.

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