The Siege of Gaza

Gaza seige

By Zainah El-Haroun

In the words of Kyung-wha Kang, UN Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian affairs:

“Every seven-year old girl and boy in the Gaza Strip today has lived their entire life under siege. This is their third major conflict and humanitarian catastrophe…They deserve to know more than war and siege.”

Approximately half of the Gaza Strip’s 1.8 million residents are children. After the latest crisis, according to the UN, 1,462 civilians have been killed. Children make up 495 of the dead, now reduced to cold statistics and body counts. Around 108,000 people have had their homes completely destroyed or severely damaged. The question that we have to ask ourselves is – why has it come to this?

As civilian casualties mounted up, the infrastructure of cities in Gaza flattened, the world has watched in horror as the people were trapped in what can only be described as an open air prison, and bombarded by the largest military power in the Middle East. I watched parents screaming over their dead children, not acting as human shields for Hamas, but sheltering in a school designated as safe by the UN.

The most harrowing part, however, was one man screaming into television cameras, ‘we would rather this than the slow death under blockade.’ Surely this raises serious concerns about the kind of life people face under siege, and most of all, our failure to protect them.

Despite this, people still insist on bringing up the 1947 partition plan, the 1967 war, and the 2006 elections. To those people, I’d like to say enough with the cold references to history: you cannot justify this brutality by past wars, elections and partitions made in 1947. Those children have been born into the most brutal form of politics, oppression, occupation and siege. Those children were not around in 1947, they have not taken part in elections, yet they have cruelly had their innocence stolen from them.

I write this now as a long term ceasefire has been agreed upon by both Hamas and the Israeli government. The ceasefire agreement involves loosening some of the brutal and illegal restrictions of the blockade. For example, fishermen in Gaza are permitted to fish within a six mile distance from the coast without being fired upon.

I frankly look upon this ceasefire in disgust. It took this level of death, destruction and torment to give the citizens of Gaza a slight relief from the inhumane conditions which they currently live in, not the United Nations nor the Western liberal democracies which we praise for their values and human rights. I call this an abject failure of our international justice system.

If anything, this should highlight the fact that more than 45 resolutions have been passed by the United Nations General Assembly, demanding that the brutal occupation and siege should be lifted, that Israel should stop alienating the rights of Palestinians, that Israel should stop demolishing the homes of Palestinians. The list goes on, but they all follow the same pattern – a veto by America once they reached the Security Council, followed by an explanation stating that a resolution against Israel would hinder peace talks. In what world does asking an occupier to comply with the basic demands of dignity and rights for the people it is occupying hinder peace?

The other peaceful option to achieve justice for the unnecessary loss of life and illegal policies against the Palestinian people is the International Criminal Court. This would provide some kind of accountability for Israel’s actions and discourage them from repeating them. Similarly, both the British and American government are exerting extreme pressure on the Palestinian Authority not to do so, making threats to cut aid to the Palestinians.

This worryingly echoes the plight of the black population of South Africa, where there was clear human rights abuse and UN condemnations against the apartheid system implemented by the South African government. Yet similarly, the Western governments refused to impose sanctions in response to this, and just as with Palestine, prevented UN action to liberate South Africa’s black population.

People can debate and argue for hours about who fired the first rocket. What is clear is that this latest crisis, like the others was a result of the occupation, siege, and our failure to protect the Palestinians from daily persecution. What is also clear is that this will not be solved by a military operation; it can only be solved politically.

The latest operation ‘Protective Edge,’ has done nothing for Israel’s security. It achieved marginally more freedom for the people of Gaza, at the expense of their homes and family. Above all, it has created hatred. A child who has lost their parents, siblings, friends, home, who has witnessed their whole world burning, will hate the people they believe are responsible for this. Is this an achievement? The hatred has been dragged onto the next generation. It is time for Israel to end the occupation and siege of Palestine and it is time to remove the relevance of armed resistance. We can only do this by making non-violent and diplomatic methods towards peace work.

In 2012, UN agencies joined organisations from all over the world such as Amnesty International, Save the Children and CARE International unanimously calling for the lifting of the Gaza blockade. In a joint statement, they said:

“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We, the undersigned, say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now.'”

Alongside these 50 organisations, dedicated to peace and human rights, we need to stand for the rights of the Palestinians. As long as they are persecuted, we will never make meaningful steps towards peace. Putting an end to the persecution, the seemingly endless occupation of Palestine and siege of Gaza is what the international community should focus on. It is the only way we can put a stop to this cycle of violence and insanity.

Alongside these 50 organisations, dedicated to peace and human rights, we need to stand for the rights of the Palestinians. As long as they are persecuted, we will never make meaningful steps towards peace. Putting an end to the persecution, the seemingly endless occupation of Palestine and siege of Gaza is what the international community should focus on. It is the only way we can put a stop to this cycle of violence and insanity.

Zainah EL-Haroun is the President of the Durham Friends of Palestine Society, and is a trustee for the Durham Palestine Educational Trust. She can be found on Twitter at @ZainahElHaroun

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