After weeks of the Israeli assault on Gaza, people in Canada and around the world have been shocked into a state of awareness. They have seen images of mutilated children, a father carrying parts of his son’s body in a plastic bag, whole neighbourhoods reduced to rubble and hospitals and schools used as UN refugee centres being bombed.
Protests against this war are a global phenomenon. In the UK, a government minister has even resigned to protest British complicity and called for a ban on weapons exports to Israel. The world is crying out: This carnage must stop. Everyone is holding their breath now, in the midst of a 72-hour ceasefire.
Many people also find it deeply distressing that in spite of the slaughter and mayhem, most people in Gaza support the Hamas position that there can be no permanent ceasefire until Israel ends its blockade; they are upset to learn that support for Hamas is growing, rather than diminishing, as the death toll mounts. Hamas has been consistently dismissed by Western leaders as nothing but a terrorist organization. These leaders and their followers should consider the claim of Jimmy Carter, former US president, and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and United Nations high commissioner for human rights, that they should recognize the legitimacy of Hamas “as a political actor—one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people.”
The conscience of the world would be greatly eased by a truce, any kind of somewhat permanent truce, so that people could forget this tragic business and move on. However, Palestinians in Gaza say, in a voice of quiet desperation, we cannot agree to any ceasefire that abandons us to the slow but sure strangulation of the blockade. There can be no ceasefire and no peace until the blockade is lifted.
In other words, there can be no peace without justice.
Making Gaza unlivable
The Palestinians realize that the eight-year blockade of Gaza and the present military assault are simply different aspects of the same struggle, as were the military offensives of 2008-09 and 2012. Netanyahu and his government also know this, even if many people in Israel don’t know or don’t care. Netanyahu is probably just as happy to keep his people in ignorance, and he would like nothing more than for the rest of us to remain unaware as well.
Even before the blockade, Israel consistently imposed serious restrictions that made it difficult for the Palestinian people of Gaza to carry on with business as usual. Since the blockade began in 2007 they have found that what used to be difficult is now almost impossible. Israel has been shown to count the calories they allow into the territory “to put the Palestinians on a diet”, and classified cables recently released by Wikileaks show that the Israeli government has been pursuing a deliberate policy of economic sabotage, designed to keep the Palestinian economy on the perpetual verge of collapse, since at least the 1980s.
In August 2012, the UN Country Team in Occupied Palestinian Territory issued a publication called Gaza in 2020: A Liveable Place? based on a wide-ranging series of reports by the UN and other organizations. It points out that Gaza, already one of the most densely populated areas of the world, will by 2020 have increased its population by another half-million people to a total of 2.1 million in an area of 365 km2. Already high food insecurity among 60 per cent of the population will become even worse: “In a densely populated, largely urban territory, food self-sufficiency is not an option. Such a territory will always depend on trade, services, and worker movement, all of which remain limited as a result of the closure.”
An unemployment rate of 29 per cent (47 per cent for women and 58 per cent for youth between 20 and 24 years) will also worsen because the blockade prevents normal exporting business; fishing has been confined to a three-mile limit, and 35 per cent of Gaza's agricultural land cannot be accessed because of the "buffer zone" separating Gaza from Israel. Because of the blockade, “Gaza’s economy is largely dependent on external aid, the tunnel economy . . . and remittances.”
In 2012 the coastal aquifer that Gaza relies upon for its water was already overtaxed; due to salinization from the ocean and nitrates from uncontrolled sewage, only 10 per cent of the water was safe for drinking. By 2016 the aquifer may become totally unusable, and by 2020 the damage could become irreversible.
The lack of adequate electricity and frequent interruptions also has a strong negative impact on all aspects of life in Gaza.
Two hundred and fifty new schools were needed in 2012, and with the increased population this need will increase to 440 new schools by 2020. An urgent need for safe and adequate medical services will also require an increase in the number of doctors, nurses, medical equipment and hospital beds by 2020.
As the report’s conclusion states,
“[Without] sustained and effective remedial action and an enabling political environment . . . the daily lives of Gazans in 2020 will be worse than they are now. There will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline . . . and the vision of affordable and reliable electricity for all will have become a distant memory. . . . The already high number of poor, marginalized and food-insecure people depending on assistance will not have changed and in all likelihood will have increased. . .
It is essential that the inhabitants of Gaza are able to exercise and enjoy the full range of fundamental human rights to which they are entitled. They must be able to live safe and secure lives free from the various forms of violence which afflict them at present . . . and have ready access to the world beyond Gaza for religious, educational, medical, cultural, commercial and other purposes.”
The report makes clear that the people of Gaza need the blockade to end and in its place have long-term sustainable help to overcome the damage. Instead they have been subjected to a ruthless process of ethnic cleansing using methods that vary from restrictive regulations, to blockade, to violence by a dehumanized military force against an unarmed civilian population.
As the death toll spirals towards 2,000, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin, has called for "the conquest of the entire Gaza strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters." In a letter to Netanyahu he outlines an elaborate plan to ship survivors to tent encampments in the Sinai until arrangements can be made for them to emigrate to other parts of the world. His objective is to rebuild Gaza and its suburbs "as true Israeli touristic and commercial cities."
It becomes obvious that as long as the blockade of Gaza continues, the Palestinian people of Gaza will not be free from this sadistic Israeli dream of ethnic cleansing.
What we can do
Now is the time when the people of the world must stand with the people of Gaza and demand an end to the blockade, an end to all oppression and an end to military aggression.
People around the world must show support for Palestine financially and politically. We can stand with the Palestinians of Gaza by supporting the proposal for a new international Flotilla for Peace, which will send peaceful boats to Gaza with crews from all over the world. The Flotilla will once more use the power of non-violence against the violence of the blockade.
Another non-violent method for putting pressure on Israel, one in which we can all be active participants, is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. This movement consists of refusing to buy Israeli goods, divesting investments in companies that support the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and pushing government to impose sanctions.
We must stand with the Palestinian people of Gaza and call for an end to the blockade. Only then can there be peace. Peace with justice.