Israeli Blockade Continues the War against the Palestinian People
Posted on December 29, 2009
By Kenneth J. Theisen
A year ago Israel launched a criminal war against the people of Gaza. This war against the one-and-a-half million people of Gaza was condemned by much of the world’s population, but was in effect supported by the U.S. government then led by President George W. Bush.
Bush and other U.S. imperialist leaders provided political cover for the war crimes of Israel by pretending that the attack by Israel was merely a defensive reaction to rocket attacks launched by Hamas against Israeli territory.
From the Gaza Freedom march: Revolution reporter Alan Goodman’s blog; photos by Bill Perry
But this should be no surprise – Bush used the 9/11 attacks to justify invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel was just following the lead of its imperialist backer by using a similar excuse in Gaza. The major fighting stopped in January of this year, but the crimes of Israel continue against the Gazan people.
Today Gaza is a large prison for the population there. Israel utilizes a blockade to deprive the Palestinians of Gaza from receiving basic necessities, including medical supplies, potable water, and enough food to adequately feed the people living there. A September 2009 United Nations fact-finding mission declared that the blockade of Gaza "amounted to collective punishment." It also stated that the blockade may constitute a war crime and a crime against humanity. It further recommended that the issue be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation and possible prosecution.
The Goldstone report stated: “"Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed."
The U.S. is complicit in the crimes against the Gazan people. It supplies billions in aid to the main enforcers of the blockade. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the Middle East. This includes economic and military aid. The second largest aid recipient is Egypt, Israel’s other collaborator in the blockade.
Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Barack Obama, has called for the blockade to be lifted in words only. Like his statements that he is making war to bring about peace, his statements about lifting the blockade are hypocritical. He has taken no actual steps to force the blockade to be lifted. Not once has he even hinted at restricting billions in U.S. aid to Israel to force such an action. In fact he repeatedly defends Israel. But then Israel is a critical ally to the U.S. in its domination of the Middle East. A million or so Palestinians in Gaza do not matter to the U.S imperialists, any more than the millions of people in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are merely collateral damage in the U.S. war of terror. During the period between the two Iraq wars the U.S. enforced murderous sanctions (somewhat similar in effect to a blockade) against the Iraqi people that killed more than half-a-million Iraqis.
[Here is the letter Candidate Obama wrote to the U.S. UN ambassador while he was running for office. This was his comment on the blockade before the Gaza War.
Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,
I understand that today the UN Security Council met regarding the situation in Gaza, and that a resolution or statement could be forthcoming from the Council in short order.
I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condemn the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel…
All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this… Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.
The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks… If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.
The Gaza strip has been subjected to the blockade since Hamas seized control there in June 2007. Hamas is a reactionary Islamic fundamentalist group that arose within the occupied Palestinian territories in reaction to the brutal Israeli occupation. Initially Hamas received Israeli support because Israel hoped to use it to oppose nationalist forces among the Palestinians. But like the support that the U.S. once provided to similar reactionary Islamic forces in Afghanistan, Israel’s support for Hamas ultimately resulted in “blowback” against Israel. Hamas became the enemy of Israel. But even though it now opposes Israel, Hamas can not bring about the true liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian people.
The blockade of Gaza has not resulted in the destruction of Hamas, but it is destroying the Gazan people. Ironically the blockade has probably strengthened support for Gaza because of its resistance to the Israeli oppressor.
The people of Gaza now receive less than a quarter of the supplies they received four years ago from the outside world because of the blockade. Israel has stated that it will allow only basic humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip, but often even these are cutoff. UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees, has stated that the following items have been refused entry on various occasions: light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee, chocolate, nuts, shampoo and conditioner. Other items such as automobiles, trucks, appliances, construction materials, and computers are generally refused entry into Gaza.
As a result of the blockade the Palestinians of Gaza suffer from food shortages. UN agencies consider between half and two-thirds of Gazans to be "food insecure". Half of the population must rely on UNRWA for their basic food supply. These rations provide only about two-thirds of dietary needs. The UNRWA food must be supplemented by dairy products, meat, fish and fresh fruit and vegetables. But many Gazans can not afford these foods, which are often in short supply and command higher prices due to the blockade. But despite this reliance on UNRWA food supplies, since June of 2007 Israel has repeatedly suspended even UNRWA food distributions.
The problem of getting enough food to eat was severe even before the war a year ago and its aftermath intensified the blockade. A 2008 U.N. report stated that more than half Gaza’s households had sold their disposable assets and were relying on credit to buy food. The survey indicated that 3/4ths of Gazans were buying less food than in the past, and almost all were eating less fresh fruit, vegetables and animal protein due to lack of money. To make matters worse the war limited the production of food within Gaza itself. The U.N. estimated that the war caused $180 million of damage to the Gaza agricultural sector. As one example, a chicken farmer had to slaughter 165,000 chicks because he did not have the fuel for the incubators to keep the chicks alive. Fruit trees, livestock, greenhouses and nurseries were destroyed during the war. The United Nations estimates that 15% of agricultural land was destroyed as a direct result of the war.
In addition to hampering agricultural access to food, the Israelis have also created a problem at sea. Gaza borders the sea and seafood used to supply a good deal of the food to the local population. But now Israel also enforces a sea blockade. Gaza fisherman can only go out three miles to fish. The sea blockade has caused the near collapse of the Gaza fishing industry according to observers. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has estimated that Gaza fishermen need to be at least 12-15 nautical miles for adequate fish catches.
The lack of food is causing serious health problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that 1/3 of children under five and women of childbearing age are anemic. Thousands of children are malnourished as a direct result of the blockade.
And even if people get food, preparing it is a problem as well. In June of this year2009 the U.N. reported that only half the cooking fuel needed was allowed in by Israeli authorities. An inadequate supply of electricity is also a major problem. A European Union operated power plant in Gaza is frequently forced to shut down due the lack of fuel to run it because its supply is cutoff by the blockade. Even when it runs, it is at reduced capacity for lack of an adequate supply of fuel. Oxfam research has shown that Gazan homes are without power up to one-third of the time.
Because of the lack of the spare parts that are not permitted to be brought in, even the water and sewage networks in Gaza are being damaged. Because power supply is unreliable, generators have had to be used to run water and sewage pumps. But the generators also lack spare parts and fuel. According to WHO, even before the Gaza War the Gazan population had only half the water they needed and that 80% of the water in Gaza did not meet minimal WHO drinking standards. Raw or poorly-treated sewage pours into the nearby sea due to the shortages of fuel and spare parts for the sewage network. Other sewage is stored in huge sewage lagoons because it can not be treated at this time. One lagoon broke and killed 5 people.
The United Nations has stated that the Gazan economy has been irreversibly damaged due to the blockade. The U.N. has found, that if aid is discounted, that eight percent of the population is living in poverty. Exports from Gaza have virtually ceased. Before the blockade exports were approximately $500,000 per day. Production within the strip has come to a virtual halt due to the lack of raw materials being allowed to be imported. According to the Palestinian Trade Center 3,900 industrial businesses were operating in Gaza before the blockade began. By June 2008, only 90 were still in operation. According to the Palestinian Private Sector Coordinating Council the Gaza War caused $140 million in damage to Gaza businesses. The World Bank says the war resulted in the closing of "many" of the remaining businesses.
Much of the infrastructure of Gaza was destroyed by the Israeli war against Gaza. This included numerous businesses and homes. The U.N. reports that during the war 52,400 houses, 800 industrial properties, 204 schools, 39 mosques and two churches were damaged or totally destroyed. Construction supplies are badly needed to facilitate reconstruction. But the entry of building materials such as cement, concrete, steel, and wood are almost always refused by Israel. As an indication of how restrictive the blockade is – as of June 2009, UNRWA reported that not one pane of glass had entered Gaza from Israel to replace the thousands of windows blown out during the war. Why these restrictions on such aid? Israel claims that in the past Hamas has diverted such aid for its own use. But international relief agencies say they have stringent monitoring systems in place to avoid this happening now. But Israel still refuses to allow entry of most items.
WHO reports that the blockade has made already bad health conditions in the Strip worse than before. WHO reports the blockade has "accelerated the degeneration" of the health system. The blockade is a major factor in the "dire state" of much of Gaza’s medical equipment. There are extensive delays in approval of machines and spare parts. Engineers are denied access to install or repair medical equipment. As in other sectors, electricity and fuel to run the machines and backup generators is often lacking.
During the war, 6 Gaza hospitals suffered damage. Repairs due to lack of building materials are slow or non-existent. Due to the lack of glass, plastic sheets substitute for real windows that were blown–out during Israeli attacks. In many critical cases the Gazan medical system is not equipped to adequately treat patients. Human rights groups state that many people have died during the blockade while waiting for, or even being denied, security clearance to enter Israel for necessary medical treatment. Israel claims it needs to conduct extensive security screening of patients. You never know when some comatose patient may attack an Israeli tank.
It is bad enough that Israel is engaged in the blockade of Gaza along its joint border and at sea. But since June 2007, the number 2 recipient of U.S. aid is also engaged in this murderous project. Gaza shares a 14 KM border with Egypt which has collaborated with Israel in strangling Gaza.
Egypt is presently constructing a new barrier along the border. It consists of a series of steel sheets and pipes that will be buried deep into the ground to prevent the construction of tunnels used by the Gaza people to bring in critically needed supplies. The tunnels are alleged to be used to bring in weapons too. Egypt has destroyed large numbers of these tunnels, using detection equipment provided by the United States. Just like his actions toward Israel, Obama has not done anything about Egypt’s participation in the blockade. But I guess supplying detection equipment to locate the tunnels makes clear where the U.S. really stands on the blockade.
This week sixteen human rights and aid groups have recently criticized the international community for failing to compel Israel to bring an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip. In a statement, Oxfam International’s executive director Jeremy Hobbs said, “They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action to attempt to change the damaging policy that prevents reconstruction, personal recovery and economic recuperation." Hobbs did not mention Obama by name, but Obama is one of the hand wringers.
In another statement the International Committee of the Red Cross stated, “Today, because of the closure, large-scale reconstruction remains impossible. The population lives under constant threat of a collapse of water, sanitation and electricity services."
But not every one is standing by or just wringing hands. Next week some 1,300 international delegates from 42 countries intend to join the Gaza Freedom March which was due to enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December to protest the ongoing blockade. We should support this march and further expose what is going on with this blockade. We also need to expose the complicity of the U.S. government in Israel’s and Egypt’s actions.
We know U.S. imperialist wars kill. We learned that sanctions in Iraq can result in mass murder. Blockades also kill. All of these imperialist actions must be opposed.