One Year After Israeli Assault, Gaza is Still on the Brink as Global Opposition to Blockade Mounts

On 27 December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on the Gaza Strip with the announced objective of stopping Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, most notably in the town of Sderot close to the northern border between Israel and Gaza, and halting the flow of arms through tunnels from Egypt into Gaza.

What was touted as a “war” between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement that controls Gaza, was much more of a one-sided assault which left 1,417 Palestinians dead, including 116 women and 313 children (926 civilians, 255 police, and 236 combatants), versus 13 Israelis killed (3 civilians and 10 soldiers of whom 4 were killed by friendly fire). The Israeli invasion destroyed or severely damaged 22,000 buildings — including 24 mosques, 34 medical facilities, 31 police stations, 240 schools, and 700 factories and businesses. Even clearly-marked ambulances were targeted, killing paramedics and preventing them from evacuating the wounded. The attacks displaced an estimated 50,000 people.

The Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, chaired by South African Justice Richard Goldstone, himself sympathetic to Zionism, found that both the IDF and Hamas had committed war crimes, though it laid most of the blame on Israeli forces. In defiance of serious human rights concerns, on 3 November 2009 the U.S. House of Representatives shamefully passed H.Res. 867 condemning the Goldstone Report.

While Israel withdrew its settlements and occupation forces from Gaza in September 2005, its control over Gaza’s borders has only tightened. Once it became clear that Hamas would win the democratic election of January 2006 for the Palestinian Legislative Council, Israel sealed all border crossings with Gaza, allowing in less than a third of Gaza’s minimum import requirements for water, food, medicines, fuel, and essential supplies. With a population density twice that of most Western suburban cities, Gaza cannot possibly feed itself. After the destruction of one year ago, Israel has completely banned the importation of building materials, making it impossible for Gaza residents to rebuild their homes. Some border crossings, such as Kissufim and Sufa, have been obliterated. Today Gazans are trapped in what is often called “the world’s largest prison.”

Even United Nations relief supplies pile up at the border crossing because Israel will not allow much of it into Gaza. Crumbling infrastructure damaged by Israeli bombing – water treatment, sewage treatment, and electricity generation – cannot be repaired replacement equipment and spare parts. Water contaminated with nitrates is causing young children fall chronically ill. With only a small fraction of the amount of fuel needed to sustain a subsistence economy getting in, most areas of Gaza have at best a few hours of electricity per day. The tunnels under the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza that both Israel and Egypt would like to seal are truly the lifelines that now prevent famine.

Israel argues that the blockade is necessary to weaken Hamas’ rule over Gaza, claiming that Hamas seeks to “obliterate” Israel and all Israelis. In my interviews with Hamas leaders, none ever advocated such an outcome. The sentence so often cited by Israel in Hamas’ Covenant uses the word “invalidate” in reference to Israel as the exclusively Jewish state that systematically denies Palestinians the right of return to their ancestral homes, yet grants a “birthright” for young American Jews, many of whom have never previously set foot in Israel.

Naturally, Palestinians cannot accept such exclusion and subjugation under Israeli rule any more than Jews can accept being pushed out of Palestine. So any solution must accept both peoples regardless of where they came from, whether in a single democratic state or in two sovereign states side-by-side sharing Jerusalem as their capitals. Hamas, like Fatah, has officially committed to a two-state solution even though it would leave the right of return largely unresolved.

The blockade of Gaza must be lifted to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Non-governmental relief organizations, such as Oxfam, have rightly blamed the United States and European powers for their acquiescence to the blockade. One key element of a roadmap towards peace is the recognition of Hamas as the democratically-elected representative of the Palestinian people, which Israel must include in peace negotiations.

In response to the siege of Gaza that began after the beginning of the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) in September 2000, and turned into a veritable blockade after January 2006, opposition to the blockade has come from around the world. First, it was the Free Gaza Movement that sent two small wooden fishing boats from Cyprus to Gaza City, arriving on 23 August 2008 with 43 human rights activists. This was followed by several more boats until the IDF rammed one and boarded another before forcing it to Ashdod. With the sea once again sealed, no boats could break the siege in 2009. But several delegations have, with difficulty from Egyptian authorities, broken the siege by entering from Sinai.

On the first anniversary of the Israeli assault, the Gaza Freedom March of 1,360 human rights activists from 42 countries, another Viva Palestina convoy, and peace activists from Israel will converge on Gaza to challenge the siege in an unprecedented show of solidarity with the residents of Gaza. Some 50,000 Palestinians are preparing to join them in an historic non-violent march to the Erez Crossing.

Unfortunately, the Egyptian government that plays a part in enforcing the blockade on Gaza frequently makes it difficult for international delegations, and next to impossible for Palestinians and Egyptians, to cross the Gaza border. Days before the announced entry dates of 27 and 29 December 2009, the Egyptian authorities declared that the Rafah border, through which the two international delegations plan to enter Gaza, will be closed for “security reasons” pending delicate Egyptian-mediated negotiations over an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hamas. Then the Egyptian government gave the green light to Viva Palestina, while continuing to withhold permission from the Gaza Freedom March, claiming its papers were “not in order.” Just as abruptly a day later, the Egyptian government reversed itself, reportedly refusing Viva Palestina entry from Jordan into Egypt after the prisoner exchange negotiations broke down. With interlocking issues and intense external pressure from both sides, it is as if there was a tug-of-war going inside the Egyptian government. The situation continues to change from moment to moment.

Despite the obstacles, participants in the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina convoy are determined to press forward. The eyes of the world are watching. This is about Palestinians, Israelis, and people from around the world uniting together, sowing justice to reap peace.

Sharat G. Lin is president of the San José Peace and Justice Center. He writes on global political economy, the Middle East, India, and public health. He lived in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, and spent time in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Captured by a Palestinian militia in 1973, he has first-hand experience of their internal workings. Read other articles by Sharat.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Maryb said on December 28th, 2009 at 7:11am #

    On the first anniversary of the shoah, this is the latest news about Hedy Epstein, one of the marchers now in Egypt, as the brutal stooge Mubarak combines with others to put his boot on the protesters whilst the evil boot of the Occupier stays on the Palestinians.
    Monday 28 December 2009

    Group of grandmothers to stage march protest
    Holocaust survivor to stage Gaza hunger strike

    The hunger strike in Cairo is to protest at Egypt’s refusal to allow a Gaza solidarity march to proceed (File)


    An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was among a group of grandmothers set to begin a hunger strike in Cairo on Monday to protest at Egypt’s refusal to allow a Gaza solidarity march to proceed, organizers said.

    American activist Hedy Epstein and other grandmothers participating in the Gaza Freedom March will stage a hunger strike at 1200 GMT, Ann Wright, a march organizer told AFP.

    Egyptian authorities had said it would not allow any of the 1,300 protestors who have come straight to Egypt from 42 countries to take part in the march to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing, the only entry that bypasses Israel.

    Israel does not include East Jersusalem in a pause in building in the West Bank.

    Israel has announced plans for nearly 700 homes in mainly Arab East Jerusalem – despite Palestinian and international demands that it freeze building there.

    The move follows plans announced last month for 900 homes on occupied land in Gilo, south of Jerusalem.

    Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, in a move not recognised internationally.

    The Palestinians, who want to locate their future capital in East Jerusalem, condemned the move.

    They said the plans showed Israel was “not ready for peace”.

    “The Israeli government proves every day that it is not ready for peace,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

    But Israel says that East Jerusalem is part of the “indivisible and eternal” Israeli capital.

    Israel’s annexation of the east of the city has never been recognised by the international community.

    About 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in settlements illegal under international law.

  2. jon s said on December 28th, 2009 at 3:42pm #

    Your use of the term “shoah ” in the context of present-day Gaza is offensive.
    On the “siege” :
    Here’s a challenge for you all: Where does Gaza get its electricity from?

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 29th, 2009 at 3:05am #

    It is good to see decent humane Jews like Hedy Epstein standing up for human decency. One can only hope that they will triumph in their own tribe, and put the Zionazis to flight. As it is the powerful Jews, the Israeli elites who revile our common humanity and who are as bloodthirsty a gang as one can imagine, and the Zionist lobbies that control the West, are as pitilessly sadistic, as aggressive, as astoundingly mendacious, as ever. I just experienced that familiar feeling of nausea one often suffers when hearing or reading some Zionist abomination. It was Ivan Lewis, the Zionist hack, part of that Jewish cabal that runs UK foreign policy. He was, as the Zionists are so determined to do, spreading hatred against China. He was, he pompously intoned, ‘sick to the stomach’ at China’s execution of a UK drug runner. There followed one of those nauseating, and deeply hypocritical lectures concerning how China should behave if it is to be accepted by the ‘international community’ (translating from the gibberish, those Western countries who rule, and terrorise, the world, and who, in turn, are controlled by their Jewish lobbies)based on nothing more than the increasingly hysterical assertion of delusions of racial and civilizational superiority.
    This, of course, is the same Ivan Lewis who, far from being sickened to the stomach by the Israeli slaughter of 1400 Gazans, including hundreds of children, in the cruelest and most barbaric manner imaginable, was an enthusiastic supporter and apologist for it. Truly, in my opinion at least, hypocrisy and vicious double-standards do not come more vile than this,but this creature, who I see from Google, is also a sex pest, and who it seems, is amenable to representations from BigPharma drug companies, is a rising star in the Zionist cabal that controls UK politics. Truly amazing. The very definition of a kakistocracy, the rule by the worst in society.

  4. jon s said on December 29th, 2009 at 1:54pm #

    sorry about the typo: terminology

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 30th, 2009 at 4:28am #

    mary, having cruel thoughts towards the goyim, and saying unkind things is the very picture of the Zionazi. It is well to remember that this type is the dregs, of Jewry and humanity, and many, many, decent Jews are just as outraged by Israeli brutality as any decent goy.

  6. Maryb said on December 30th, 2009 at 4:41am #

    I know Mulga. U was just looking up the weather in Gaza but of course no such location exists on the BT Yahoo weather site. The only Palestinian places mentioned are Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I have therefore selected Tel Aviv which is on the coast and a little further north than Gaza. Here are the averages. Could Jon s picture himself in a flimsy tent in the cold and wet of January peering out on a grey landscape of rubble and flattened buildings with a few stewed lentils in his stomach?

    Month Avg. High Avg. Low Avg. Precip
    January 24.0 °C 2.0 °C 13.97 cm
    February 27.0 °C 2.0 °C 8.89 cm
    March 31.0 °C 3.0 °C 6.10 cm
    April 36.0 °C 6.0 °C 2.03 cm
    May 38.0 °C 9.0 °C 0.25 cm
    June 36.0 °C 13.0 °C
    July 34.0 °C 16.0 °C
    August 33.0 °C 17.0 °C
    September 34.0 °C 15.0 °C 0.00 cm
    October 33.0 °C 11.0 °C 2.79 cm
    November 31.0 °C 6.0 °C 7.37 cm
    December 26.0 °C 3.0 °C 14.48 cm

  7. jon s said on December 30th, 2009 at 2:35pm #

    I wanted to point out that Israel provides Gaza with most of its electric power? (even during Cast Lead). How about the Hamas repeatedly trying to hit the power plant in Ashkelon with their rockets – the power plant that provides their own people with electricity?
    I also said earlier that I abhor any and all forms of racism and fascism. I also hate wars, having had to take part in two of them, up close and personal…