Israel must be forced to lift its blockade on Gaza
Israel just concluded its two-day military assault on the Gaza Strip in which it killed 44 Palestinians, wounded 360, and destroyed over 700 homes, either partially or fully.
This tiny piece of land has been Israel’s punching bag over the past decade and a half, with a tradition of bombing it every now and then as well as imposing an inhumane blockade that robbed the Palestinians of their basic dignity.
Over 15 years have passed since Israel imposed a suffocating blockade on the Gaza Strip, as a result of which more than two million Palestinians started to live into, what mainstream human rights organisations describe as the world’s largest open-air prison.
The land, sea and air blockade of Gaza has dilapidated and crumbled every aspect of Palestinian life, including the health sector, nutrition, electricity, water and sanitation.
It has completely devastated Gaza’s economy and pushed more than one million people below the poverty line and cost the strip over $16 billion in just its first 10 years, according to UN reports.
''The severe restrictions have perhaps taken its heaviest toll on Gaza’s youth. An entire generation in Gaza has grown up only knowing life under a blockade. Four out of five children in the Gaza Strip suffer from depression, grief and fear, according to Save the Children. More than half of Gaza’s children thought about suicide, and three out of five are self-harming.''
In addition to this, Israel’s bombardment of Gaza every few years, has left the coastal enclave completely unliveable.
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, commenting on the 2009 Israeli offensive on Gaza, said: “Never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then been deprived of the means to repair itself”.
Israel has since blockaded Gaza another 13 years, and launched three more devastating military operations, as well as numerous escalations, on the enclave.
The situation today is so much worse.
As a result of Israel’s assaults, over 4,000 of civilians were murdered by the Israeli warplanes. Tens of thousands were injured, and considerable portions of Gaza’s infrastructure has been destroyed including, homes, schools, and hospitals.
The cumulative effect of the suffocating siege has also led to catastrophic humanitarian conditions. Around 2.3 million Palestinians are held captive in the Gaza Strip, 80% of people rely on humanitarian assistance, over 64% suffer from food insecurity, and around 60% are living in poverty.
The vast majority are unable to travel to the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and internationally. There are heavy restrictions on exports to the outside world, as well as on the entry of numerous goods to Gaza.
Furthermore, over 96% of the water is unfit for human consumption. On Electricity, the people endure severe power cuts that currently - during the summer - average 14 hours per day.
The healthcare system is dilapidated; suffering from severe shortages in essential equipment, electricity, medical supplies and life-saving medications. In 2021, 36% of over 15,000 patients’ requests for permits from the Israeli authorities to exit Gaza were either rejected, delayed, or ignored, thus preventing them from accessing the care they desperately needed.
The severe restrictions have perhaps taken its heaviest toll on Gaza’s youth. An entire generation in Gaza has grown up only knowing life under a blockade.
Four out of five children in the Gaza Strip suffer from depression, grief and fear, according to Save the Children. More than half of Gaza’s children thought about suicide, and three out of five are self-harming.
These facts and figures are textbook examples of crimes against humanity and collective punishment. Yet, the injustices are routinely justified by Israel on ‘security grounds’.
The purpose of the blockade is based on the traditional colonial practice of divide and conquer. Israel has always worked to fragment the Palestinians from one another, isolating Gaza and its demographic weight from the rest of the occupied territories fits into this plan.
This all initially began in the early 1990s. Restrictions were then increased following Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Since 2007 onwards, Israel introduced its last draconian chapter of isolating Gaza, in the form of the brutal comprehensive blockade that lasts to this day.
Israel’s blockade is also a part and parcel of its war of attrition on the Palestinians. And the primary target of this is the Palestinian economy and livelihoods.
For Israel, Palestinians with no economic backbone are weakened and left distracted with survival, as opposed to their struggle for liberation.
Ahmed and Momen Al-Nairab. Two little boys, brothers, killed in Israel’s airstrike on north of #Gaza last night. This is not defensive force but violence intended to terrorize a people to surrender & submit to siege, exile, deprivation #Apartheid #Colonial pic.twitter.com/0RiykiIAJX— Noura Erakat (@4noura) August 7, 2022
Every industry in Gaza has been attacked, and undermined by Israel. This includes the agricultural sector as many Palestinian farmers are not allowed to access their farmlands near the border, as well as the fishing sector with fishermen attacked on a near-daily basis for fishing even in the Israeli-allowed 3-6 nautical miles near the Gaza beach.
Israel’s blockade is calculatedly designed to keep Palestinians vulnerable and below the poverty line.
There’s also another side to the blockade, namely, the inherent sadistic nature of the colonial regime, that involves bullying and humiliating the oppressed. For example, there are times when Israel inexplicably banned towels, toilet paper, soap, cheeses, toothbrushes, and toothpaste from entering Gaza.
All in all, Israel doesn’t view Palestinians in Gaza to be deserving of freedom and dignity, and views them to be beneath the international law. Tragically, its belief was never challenged by the international community, but it was rather boosted by its unwillingness to stand up to Israel and hold it accountable for its brutal blockade.
In reality, this blockade, which has already lasted more than 15 years, will extend for years and years if the international community keeps looking the other way. We all have a collective duty to act swiftly to uphold the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people in Gaza.
Most importantly, international intervention to lift the blockade has to go beyond just pushing for minor humanitarian gestures. Israel doesn’t mind offering meagre and insignificant measures to Palestinians every now and then because ultimately this represents a victory for the status quo. It means that it gets to keep the comprehensive and permanent brutal blockade.
No more than ever, especially in light of the recent military attacks, political pressure on Israel to fully lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip is the only real solution to the tragic situation.
Ahmed Zed is a journalist and researcher whose work focuses on issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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