Report from Gaza
Report from Gaza
The Israelis have a political term that isn't applied as much as it should be to the current conflict. 'Tahalikh Medini," means "settling state affairs." Wipe away all of the humanitarian masking on this topic and you are left with Israeli pragmatism. Unchallenged in any serious political manner by either the Palestinians or the Israeli left, PM Ariel Sharon is simply proceeding as he wishes to settle his affairs and to move on. It's a callous, one-sided calculation to say the least, but it goes much further to explain things than UNRWA or the Red Cross will ever be able to do in the rubble of Jenin.
The human rights organization I work at, Al Mezan Center, issued a press release on April 16, warning that the situation is becoming dire in the Gaza Strip. It isn't a case of interrupted services and destroyed infrastructure s is the case in the West Bank - a far far more dire situation - but rather one of slow and unnoticed strangulation. The Israeli government has been quietly squeezing the life out of the Gaza Strip. Because they are in total control of the passage of goods and transit inside the Strip, they can shut down Palestinian life here at will. And this happens constantly without any fanfare or attention from the outside world, as Sharon settles this matter out of the limelight.
The Gaza Strip of course, despite perceptions in America, has never been fully free of occupation. Indeed, tiny Israeli settlements continue to prosper, where some 6,900 Israelis along with their security cordon, occupy about 40% of the total area of Gaza while 1.2 Million Palestinians share the remainder. What's more, small incursions into Palestinian controlled areas in towns like Rafah, Khan Yunis and Beit Hanoun are so frequent, the press typically just ignores them. Most of these incursions leave dead or wounded civilians along with a few demolished homes and bulldozed farmland. Only on occasion does anything happen that the world takes note of, and even then it is quickly forgotten. Take the case of the January 10, 2002 incursion into Rafah where fifty-three Palestinian residences were reduced to rubble, leaving eighty-three poor families to live in tents. The West quickly forgets such horrible activities here, but now things could get much worse without any notice. Since the Israeli destruction of the Gaza International Airport and regional port facilities, goods can only enter the Strip through one of three land routes: Erez and Karni in the north and Sufa in the south. With the commencement of the Israeli invasion of the West Bank three weeks ago, both Erez and Sufa have been completely closed. At Karni, the Israelis have greatly reduced the hours during which goods can come in, severely strangling the entire Gaza Strip. Essentially, the Israelis have enacted a siege on the entire area, letting only a trickle of basic foodstuffs in to keep the people alive. If the situation does not improve, the poorest people of Gaza may begin to starve.
At Kissufim and Netzarim junctions, the two arteries of road where Israeli settlers must pass to go from their settlements in Gaza to Israel proper, the Israeli army has begun arbitrarily closing them to Palestinian passage. While this is nothing new, it has become more frequent and severe in recent weeks. These closures essentially subdivide the Gaza Strip into three sections, and since goods and food only come in from the North, their passage to markets in the South is greatly hampered. Those who suffer the most from these closures happen to be the poorest in all of the Palestinian Occupied Territories - the people of Khan Younis and Rafah in the extreme south.
The best illustration of the effects of this siege is in the price of flour, the staple of the Palestinian diet. Since the outbreak of the current Intifada until the end of March, the price of flour per kilogram rose only from 6.5 NIS to 6.8. In the past three weeks, the price has skyrocketed to 8.0 NIS per kg. Given the extreme poverty of most people in Gaza and the soaring unemployment rate, this is not a situation that can long remain. What's more, with the best water wells monopolized by the Israeli settlements, most Palestinians living in refugee camps only have access to unsafe, somewhat saline water supplies. This makes bottled water essential, however the new Israeli blockades threaten these supplies.
Clearly, these are not aspects of Sharon's "war on terror" that he is advertising to the press. Instead, it formulates a collective punishment on all people of the Gaza Strip, a policy made illegal under Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention. What Gazans fear more perhaps than an outright invasion and re-conquest is to be completely cutoff and forgotten by the outside world. Abdel Karem Ektefan, a student in Gaza City, explains to me how he cannot understand that the world sits by and watches: "In the 1940s there were no cameras to witness the holocaust, yet the world was outraged and finally acted. Now with all the mass media, the world can see what is happening here if it wants, but still no one acts. Why?"
While the world is rightly in uproar over the potential humanitarian disaster openly committed by the Israeli army in the West Bank, the international community had best not ignore the quiet disaster looming in the Gaza Strip. That is, unless the world is truly content with having Sharon quietly settling his state affairs on the side while no one is watching.
Benjamin Dov Granby Volunteer at Al Mezan Center For Human Rights Gaza City, Gaza Strip Work: 972-8-245-3555 Mobile: 972-59-362148 http://www.mezan.org
Address in Gaza: 55/517 Hassan El Shawa Building El Shuhada St. Gaza City, Gaza Strip via Israel
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