Time To Set Gaza Free

There is a an international solidarity march taking place in Gaza on New Years Day, 2010.  I believe it will be a big part of what sets Gaza free, and in the long run, maybe Israelis, Tamils, Sri Lankans and others.  Be like Chomsky and others: endorse the march here and sign up to join the march here.

Amnesty International has called the blockade of Gaza a “form of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Human Rights Watch has called the blockade a “serious violation of international law.”

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has said the people of Gaza are being treated “like animals,” and has called for “ending of the siege of Gaza” that is depriving “one and a half million people of the necessities of life.”

One of the world’s leading authorities on Gaza, Sara Roy of Harvard University, has said that the consequence of the siege “is undeniably one of mass suffering, created largely by Israel, but with the active complicity of the international community, especially the U.S. and European Union.”

I have only been following it in recent years and will be commenting only on those.  The recent history of the Gaza strip is one of almost unmitigated suffering of various kinds.  Successive Israeli governments (not Jewish people, not Jews, not Israelis) have engaged in a blockade of the area since the middle of this decade in an act of collective punishment of several hundreds of thousands or millions of peoples. Their wrongdoing consists mainly of living in a territory controlled by Hamas, a party whose rise, fall, politics, and combat over the last three decades has at times been supported, at times been targeted by the Israeli state and the U.S. state in a divide and rule strategy designed to undermined Palestinian resistance to Israeli and U.S. state policies.  

Then this happened in November 2008, as recounted by the above-mentioned Sara Roy:

On 5 November the Israeli government sealed all the ways into and out of Gaza. Food, medicine, fuel, parts for water and sanitation systems, fertiliser, plastic sheeting, phones, paper, glue, shoes and even teacups are no longer getting through in sufficient quantities or at all. According to Oxfam only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza in November. This means that an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered the strip compared to an average of 123 in October this year and 564 in December 2005. The two main food providers in Gaza are the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP). UNRWA alone feeds approximately 750,000 people in Gaza, and requires 15 trucks of food daily to do so. Between 5 November and 30 November, only 23 trucks arrived, around 6 per cent of the total needed; during the week of 30 November it received 12 trucks, or 11 per cent of what was required. There were three days in November when UNRWA ran out of food, with the result that on each of these days 20,000 people were unable to receive their scheduled supply. According to John Ging, the director of UNRWA in Gaza, most of the people who get food aid are entirely dependent on it. On 18 December UNRWA suspended all food distribution for both emergency and regular programmes because of the blockade.

The WFP has had similar problems, sending only 35 trucks out of the 190 it had scheduled to cover Gazans’ needs until the start of February (six more were allowed in between 30 November and 6 December). Not only that: the WFP has to pay to store food that isn’t being sent to Gaza. This cost $215,000 in November alone. If the siege continues, the WFP will have to pay an extra $150,000 for storage in December, money that will be used not to support Palestinians but to benefit Israeli business.

The majority of commercial bakeries in Gaza – 30 out of 47 – have had to close because they have run out of cooking gas. People are using any fuel they can find to cook with. As the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has made clear, cooking-gas canisters are necessary for generating the warmth to incubate broiler chicks. Shortages of gas and animal feed have forced commercial producers to smother hundreds of thousands of chicks. By April, according to the FAO, there will be no poultry there at all: 70 per cent of Gazans rely on chicken as a major source of protein.

Banks, suffering from Israeli restrictions on the transfer of banknotes into the territory were forced to close on 4 December. A sign on the door of one read: ‘Due to the decision of the Palestinian Finance Authority, the bank will be closed today Thursday, 4.12.2008, because of the unavailability of cash money, and the bank will be reopened once the cash money is available.’

The World Bank has warned that Gaza’s banking system could collapse if these restrictions continue. All cash for work programmes has been stopped and on 19 November UNRWA suspended its cash assistance programme to the most needy. It also ceased production of textbooks because there is no paper, ink or glue in Gaza. This will affect 200,000 students returning to school in the new year. On 11 December, the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, sent $25 million following an appeal from the Palestinian prime minister, Salaam Fayad, the first infusion of its kind since October. It won’t even cover a month’s salary for Gaza’s 77,000 civil servants.

On 13 November production at Gaza’s only power station was suspended and the turbines shut down because it had run out of industrial diesel. This in turn caused the two turbine batteries to run down, and they failed to start up again when fuel was received some ten days later. About a hundred spare parts ordered for the turbines have been sitting in the port of Ashdod in Israel for the last eight months, waiting for the Israeli authorities to let them through customs. Now Israel has started to auction these parts because they have been in customs for more than 45 days. The proceeds are being held in Israeli accounts.

During the week of 30 November, 394,000 litres of industrial diesel were allowed in for the power plant: approximately 18 per cent of the weekly minimum that Israel is legally obliged to allow in. It was enough for one turbine to run for two days before the plant was shut down again. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company said that most of the Gaza Strip will be without electricity for between four and 12 hours a day. At any given time during these outages, over 65,000 people have no electricity.

No other diesel fuel (for standby generators and transport) was delivered during that week, no petrol (which has been kept out since early November) or cooking gas. Gaza’s hospitals are apparently relying on diesel and gas smuggled from Egypt via the tunnels; these supplies are said to be administered and taxed by Hamas. Even so, two of Gaza’s hospitals have been out of cooking gas since the week of 23 November.

It was at this point that the Israeli military was ordered by the previous Israeli administration  to begin bombing and then invade Gaza for a period of several weeks.  The casus belli claimed by the Israeli government were rocket attacks by Hamas into Southern Israel.   Given all of the facts, this strikes me as pompous, farcical, and cynical.  Here are some excerpts from the archives of  B'Tselem:


Testimony: Five girls killed when IDF bombs near-by mosque
Samirah Bau'lusha, 36, lost 5 of her daughters when her house was destroyed after the Israeli Air Force bombed a mosque next door. Four of her other children were also hurt during the attack. According to Ba'aloosha, many houses near by were damaged as a result of the mosque bombing.

Testimony: three-year-old killed in Gaza bombing
On 27 Dec., Ahmad and Maryam Sinwar, aged three and six, stepped out of their home to feed chickens in the yard. Before they reached the coop, the house was hit by the bombing of a nearby building. Ahmad was killed.
Testimony: children witness two women shot in taxi
On 4 January, soldiers opened fire from a tank toward a passenger taxi outside Gaza City. The four children in the taxi witnessed their mother and another woman killed.
Testimony: Family trapped in house that was shelled
The al-'Ayadi family lives in an agricultural area in which a number of families reside. When the hostilities began, the family gathered in one house. On Saturday night, the house was shelled. Since then, the family, eight of whom were lightly injured in the shelling, has been staying in a structure in the yard.


I will leave you to read the scores of other pieces of documentation of abuses by the Israeli government, both before and after the war, in the group's archives.  I can't do it.  The shortest version of a 'scorecard' for the war would read thusly:

After over 1400 Palestinians have been killed and over 5000 wounded alongside 13 Israelis, Israel and Hamas have agreed a brief cessation of violence and the army withdrawing.

A longer version might include the election of a new, astonishingly and unapologetically rightwing government in Israel, the continuation of the blockade on Gaza and bombings by Israel as recently as February (that I know of).  Of course, scorecards tend to lose sight of a lot of important things:

The scenes of the massive destruction that resulted from the Israeli attacks hasn't gone away leaving people in a great ordeal.

Today while walking past my home, I met a woman called Rawia Hamda sitting on a piece of stone and looking sadly at her practically destroyed house. I took her aside and starting looking at her while she was in deep thought with her sons around her. Then I realized what was circling in her mind. I then decided to get this chance of writing about this women's suffering during the war as they usually shared these feelings only with their husbands.

"It is not that we are scared of poverty, but the destruction of our home. Our lives have been turned up side down after the Israeli war that took place in the Gaza Strip" Those were Rawai's words when I simply asked her WHY????...

This is the story of Rawia Hamda from Al Nuserat Refugee camp, in the middle of the Gaza Strip, where she lives with her family which includes her jobless husband, six sons and a disabled daughter.

As a Palestinian living on this narrow piece of land called the Gaza Strip, Rawia has her own experiences about the war as a woman. Rawia and her family dwell in a house that is no longer a home. The 'ceiling' is the sky. The roof is slowly being replaced with asbesto sheets except for the bathroom that is cover with a concrete roof.

"During the war there were daily bombings and attacks in our area. We never felt safe anywhere in our home except the bathroom because of the concrete ceiling".

"One of the most terrifying times occurred on the 14th day of the war. We were trying to eat a fast lunch. I was surrounded by my family when there was the sound of a big explosion taking place just beside our home. We ran to take shelter in the bathroom as usual. After a while another explosion sounded. In terror, I took my young sons find another safe place. I later discovered that the house next to ours was hit by two F16 rockets and totally destroyed"

Rawia received a leg injury due to the flying shrapnel. Her house was partially damaged and it is now covered with shrapnel inside. Additionally, the nearby chicken farm that Rawia's family used to depend on was also damaged leaving the family without any source of income.

"The ferocity of the attacks and the scene of my evacuation reminded me of my grandmother's story of their evacuation in the year of 1948 but this seemed much worse."

Now Rawia is waiting to get her house rebuilt and to attempt to live a decent life with her family.

So that is where we are.  Waiting to get her house rebuilt and to attempt to live a decent life with her family.

There is, however, one really good piece of news in all this.  There is, as far as I can tell, a massive escalation in the international Palestinian solidarity movement.  This might be small consolation, but we have to take what consolations we can if we follow human rights abuses around the world on a regular basis.  If this movement can grow and  take on the cause of other stateless or quasi stateless peoples or other victims of ethno-nationalist conflict like the people in refugees in camps in Sri Lanka, for women, LGBT people, ethnic minorities, dalits, poor people, and others in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, for a prosperous and decent future in Nepal and an overturning of the coup in Honduras.....well...it can be a start for something now, and something later, if we make it that:

There is a an international solidarity march taking place in Gaza on New Years Day, 2010.  I believe it will be a big part of what sets Gaza free, and in the long run, maybe Israelis, Tamils, Sri Lankans and others.  Be like Chomsky and others: endorse the march here and sign up to join the march here.

An International solidarity march will take place in Gaza on New Years 2010. Be there or be square.

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