Jan 15, 2010

Gaza blockade

Rizwan Asghar

It is more than a year since Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" against the unarmed and besieged population of the Gaza Strip. The utter destruction resulting from the Gaza operation, which started with an air attack killing at least 120 people the day it was, remains. After the three-week operation which ended in late January 2009, the fear of death remains in Gaza. With each passing day, the hopelessness of Gaza's population is only increasing, because Gazans remain as vulnerable to Israeli attacks as they were a year ago.

The operation resulted in the death of almost 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 400 children, to refer to a single group of civilians butchered. According to UN figures some 6,400 homes were destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli offensive, in which white phosphorous was used against the civilian population. This war of aggression was premeditated genocide against the people of Gaza. "Those were dark days. There was killing in every street and alley," Dr Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza's emergency services, recalls.

Article 2 of the UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious, as such: killing members of a group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, the ultimate cause of the crisis which led to the war, continues with the collaboration of Egypt. The territory's land borders, air space and coast are controlled by Israel. Since the reconstruction of the thousands of buildings destroyed is made impossible by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory, the people of Gaza are spending the winter under the open sky.

In June 2006 Hamas-allied soldiers captured an Israeli soldier in reaction to Israel's frequent bloody attacks on Gaza. The assumption of power by Hamas in the beginning of 2006, after the party had swept free and fair and globally monitored elections in Gaza and the West Bank, was actively opposed by Israel and its western allies, including the Bush administration. In September 2007, the Israeli newspaper Ha'artez reported that the Israeli military was planning to limit services to the civilian population in Gaza in order to "compromise" the ability of Hamas to govern the territory, where it is the dominant party.

The Gaza Strip, the world's most densely population piece of land, lies between Israel and Egypt. It is roughly twice the size of Washington, DC, and its population of 1.5 million is being denied basic necessities of life. Gaza's economy is in a state of deep crisis because of the illegal Israeli blockade. The purpose of the blockade is to punish the civilian population of Gaza in the hope of turning Gazans against the Hamas administration.

In a recent statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, asked Israel to lift the blockade, calling it "unacceptable and counterproductive." He appealed to both sides to stop violence. He further said that the aftermath of the war showed that "there is, and can be, no military solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The only feasible solution appears to be for the international community to put pressure on Israel to change its policies. The world must make Israel realise that nothing short of implementation of UN resolutions on the Middle East, beginning with the termination of the Gaza blockade, can end the crisis.

There had been hopes that President Obama would do so. But they have been dashed by his utter failure to deal with the conflict in the region.

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