The current situation in the Gaza Strip

November 14, 2006 10:28

A question & answer sheet about the current situation in the Gaza Strip compiled by the End the Siege on Gaza Campaign. The Campaign represents a coalition of groups from the Israeli peace movement composed of the following: Coalition of Women for Peace; Anarchists Against the Wall; The High School Seniors Letter; Taayush; Rabbis for Human Rights; Hadash, ICAHD,The Students Coalition - Tel Aviv; Yesh Gvul.


In the summer of 2005 Israel implemented its plan for "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip designed, among other things, according to the government of Israel at the time, to create "potential for the improvement of the Palestinian economy and living conditions". Ever since then, Gaza has been under siege, bolstered periodically by Israeli military attacks-overland, aerial and sea. The combination of violence and hunger now pose a dire threat to the lives of 1.4 million people who are living in the Gaza Strip-women and men, elderly and children, combatants and a vast majority of civilians. This policy has nothing to do with the security of Israel's citizens. On the contrary, turning the Strip into a giant powder keg means a threat to all Israelis, including, first of all, the Israeli residents of the areas adjacent to Gaza some of whom are among the most poverty stricken people in Israel.

"Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip and it didn't help-the violence didn't stop; what do the Palestinians want?"

Israel evacuated the settlements in the Gaza Strip unilaterally, without conducting negotiations with the Palestinian Authority or reaching an agreed settlement on the future of the Strip. The unilateral evacuation, as well as the failure to negotiate agreed accords, meant a missed opportunity to advance a political solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, this combination worked to undermine the status of the Palestinian Authority.

"The occupation of Gaza is over. Israel is no longer responsible for what takes place in the Strip".

When Israel evacuated the settlements and the military forces from Gaza, it declared and end to the military government of the Strip. Today, however, while there is indeed no permanent military presence within the Gaza Strip, Israel continues to exert nearly full control over every aspect of life within the area. Gaza's shores, its airspace and the overland passage between the Strip and the West Bank are all fully controlled by Israel. Israel also retains complete control of the entry and exit of goods into and out of the Strip, as well as the entry and exit of people. In addition, Israel controls the registration of births, deaths, marriages and people's place of residence, including the administration of requests for family reunion. Under the Oslo Accords Israel also continues to control major portions of the taxation system of the Palestinian Authority.

"The Palestinians are firing Qassam rockets into Israel, aimed at killing civilians, while the Israelis are fighting a war on terror."

While armed Palestinian groups are indeed firing Qassam rockets at Israeli towns, a total of 480 rockets in all have been fired between June and November 2006, injuring a total of seventeen Israelis. At the same time, the Israeli military assault against the Gaza Strip since Corporal Gilad Shalit was taken prisoner has taken over 350 Palestinian lives, at least half of them civilians including 80 children, while injuring over 800 Palestinians. The Israel Defence Force has caused enormous damage to the infrastructure of the Strip-half of the power supply in Gaza has been cut since the bombing of the power plant, causing severe damage to the water pumping system and the sewage system. The summary executions referred to by Israel as "targeted assassinations", often carried out from helicopter gunships, as well as the recurring artillery fire place the lives of the 1.4 million citizens of the Gaza Strip in constant jeopardy. The sonic "booms" created by Israeli Air Force planes have no military justification whatsoever. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself described their intent precisely: "no one in Gaza will be able to sleep ".

"How can Israel be held responsible for the economic situation in Gaza?"

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 and up until the Oslo Accords in 1993, development in the Occupied Territories was totally arrested. Over those years, Israel found it very convenient to exploit the Palestinians as a cheap labour force and therefore intentionally prevented economic development both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. In 1991, Israel began a process of gradually lowering the number of Gazan workers who were allowed access to Israel, finally blocking the entry of workers altogether. Some of the workers who were laid off in this process were then employed by the Palestinian Authority. However, since the elections that brought Hamas into power, Israel has stopped transferring the taxes that it legally owes the Palestinian Authority. Consequently, in addition to hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers, employees of the Palestinian Authority have received no salaries since March 2006, that is for 8 months now. Moreover, due to the economic blockade on Gaza the unemployment has soared to 40% and the number of families living in poverty has reached an unprecedented 80%. Seventy-five percent of the inhabitants of the Strip are currently suffering food shortages.

"There's no point in Israel conducting negotiations with a nation that elected a terrorist organization as its leader."

There is full international consensus that the elections held in the Palestinian Authority were truly democratic and that Hamas was legally elected. In past, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and it's largest component movement, Fateh, were also defined by Israel as terrorist organizations, a fact that Israel's government tends to ignore at its convenience. The leaders of Hamas have declared time and again that they are willing to conduct negotiations with Israel, under the direction of PLO leader and Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). It is clearly in the interests of the people of Israel to have their government negotiate with an elected Palestinian government that is enjoys full public trust. The Prisoners Document and the Saudi Initiative are excellent foundations for dialogue between Israel, the Palestinian leadership and the Arab countries. If Israel continues ignoring and sidelining the elected leadership of the Palestinian people, more and more Palestinians may arrive at the conclusion that the only way forward is armed struggle.

"What's the problem with closing the borders-isn't it simply a legitimate way to prevent terrorist attacks?"

Closing the borders has clearly failed to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets or the digging of tunnels. On the other hand, it imposes direct and severe damages upon the entire population of the Gaza Strip. It was intended to do so in order to exert pressure upon the government led by Hamas. Israel controls the closing and opening of the borders between Gaza and the outside world, including the operation of the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. Since the capture of Corporal Shalit, Israel has kept the borders closed most of the time, preventing the passage of people and goods, in contravention of agreements brokered by the U.S. and signed by Israel. The siege of the Gaza Strip is a form of collective punishment which is being imposed upon every resident of the Strip, turning the entire area into a huge prison and denying its residents work, vital goods, appropriate medical care and basic human rights.

"The only solution is a re-occupation of Gaza."

The military operations conducted by Israel in the Strip have not brought back the prisoner of war Gilad Shalit. They have failed completely to end the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel. As the recent war in Lebanon failed to provide a solution to the conflict with Hezbollah, in Gaza and the West Bank too, military actions will provide no solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The security of Israel's residents will only be ensured though a political settlement putting a true end to Israeli rule in the occupied territories and incorporating a recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people. Re-occupying Gaza will not solve anything and, moreover, its cost in terms of the lives of both civilians and soldiers will prove unbearable-both for Israeli society and for Palestinian society. At this moment, however, before all else, the siege of the Gaza Strip must end immediately.

Thanks to Viviane Lerner for bringing this item to our attention.