This post is based on two books that I have been reading this trip. The first one I have been using in other posts here by Phillis Bennis, a Jewish political analyst working at the Institute for Policy Studies in D.C. She wrote: “Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” and ” I Shall Not Hate” by a Palestinian doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, who was born and still lives in Gaza. This is not a scholarly paper. I am just offering a few bits from these books to incite some shock and interest in these forgotten human beings in Gaza. This inspiration came today as I was meditating in the synagogue chapel where there was a picture of Jesus reading the scroll from Isaiah about coming to bring good news to the poor and liberty to captives. How do we respond to these words in our world today? The people of Gaza could use some liberation. What can I/you do to help?
Doctor Abuelaish opens his book by saying that living in Gaza is being witness to a human tragedy. The U.N. reports that the highest population density in the world is Gaza- home to around 1.5 million residents many of whom have been in refugee camps for decades. The World Food Program reported 70% malnourished in June ’06, Israel has occupied the area for much of the time since the 1967 war. There is a 70-80 percent poverty rate along with rampant hunger and hi unemployment. In 2006 with the election of Hamas through a U.N. certified fair election along with the capture of an Israeli soldier, Israel responded by kidnapping half of the Hamas legislators along with half of the members of the cabinet ministry. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States. It has been linked to the use of suicide bombers and the launching of Qassam rockets into Israeli territory in reaction to the Israeli occupation. Israel also launched major attacks on the civilian populations and destroyed its only power plant causing a long, dark, thirsty summer in 2006. Loss of innocent life, demolished homes and farms, no gas, no visas, no electricity leads to the intolerable suffering of the Gaza community. This collective punitive justice approach by Israel has made Gaza the human tragedy. Targeting an entire population for the actions of a handful of fighters is against international law.
Fifty percent of the population are under the age of 18. There are 8 refugee camps in Gaza and two cities, Gaza City and Jabalia. According to the doctor, they are noisy, crowded and dirty. One of the camps called Beach Camp has 81,000 people in less than one half sq. mile. The entire area feels the unrelenting oppression of being in a state of “lockdown” with Israel controlling the borders along with Egypt who is afraid to be flooded with refugees amidst their own internal conflict. According to the doctor, the rockets many times miss their targets with little or no loss of life and are signs of desperation that invite the over-reactive Israeli counter-attack with F-16 bombers raining death on defenseless children. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “no protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not committed.” Taking hostages is strictly prohibited. The capture of enemy combatants is not forbidden. The rockets launched onto Israeli lands and people are also violations of international law and should be condemned; but they don’t compare with the devastating air and land attacks by the Israeli military.
Just a few pieces of information to get you curious and want to find out more. What I am hearing over here in Palestine is that human aid workers and medical personnel have tried to enter Gaza only to be turned back by the Israeli military at the borders. Don’t take my word on this crisis. Find out for yourselves and ask your Congress person why the US has not pressured Israel more to allow aid into Gaza and to end this illegal and unjust occupation- blockade that is literally killing the people of Gaza. Consider that the US sends 75% of its foreign aid to Israel according to the Bennis book. 1.8 billion military aid and 1.2 billion economic aid along with another one billion in grants for military supplies per year. If you also add tax exempt private aid, then the figure rises to 5 billion dollars per year. Therefore the US should have some leverage on this humanitarian crisis if it had the will to do so. This is a political problem, not a religious one. However, religion could be a motive for reaching out and helping the people of Gaza by bring the good news of liberation from this imprisonment.
Below is a link to a panel discussion led by the Brookings Institute is D.C. Notice how aid to the victims of this tragedy does not take center stage in this discussion along with the numerous violations of international law.