by Dee Newman
Until Israel withdrew its forces in 2005, it had militarily and illegally occupied Gaza for nearly forty years. Since then, it has continued to maintain a stranglehold on the area and its citizens, controlling the Gaza territory, its air space and territorial waters.
In violation of international law and the Geneva Convention, Israeli helicopter gunships and F-16 jet fighters have repeatedly inflicted collective retribution on the nearly one million civilians of Gaza.
The Israeli government’s illegal blockade – preventing food, medicine, fuel, and other necessities from entering Gaza through international relief organizations, the withholding of millions of dollars of tax revenue, and the prevention of relatives, professionals, friends and the news media from entering the area – has created one of the worse humanitarian crisis of our times.
When you systematically imprison 1.3 million human beings in an enclosed space, the rising tide of human misery eventually takes its toll and factional fighting among the imprisoned becomes a reality.
Was this the result the Israel government intended, all along?
The silence of the international community has been deafening, especially from the United States.
Each day, as the misery worsens and the deaths of the innocent increase, one wonders how the Bush Administration, the United States Congress, and the Press can remain so conspicuously mute. How our government can continue to provide billions of our taxpayer dollars to support a policy of vengeance that has never and will never work to reduce the hostilities?
The course of action that our government has chosen to support is not only illegal and immoral, it is also, extremely disproportionate. Examine and compare the numbers.
According to B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), the crude and primitive rockets launched from Gaza into Israel by Hamas have killed no more than thirteen Israelis in the past four years, while more than a thousand Palestinians in the occupied territories have been killed by Israeli forces in the past two years alone.
Nearly half of those killed by Israeli forces were civilians and nearly half of them were children.
These numbers do not take into account the loss of life from malnutrition, contaminated drinking water, the lack of medical supplies, and a crumbling infrastructure brought on by the illegal Israeli bombardment and blockade.
Though a comparison between 2007 and 2006 by B’Tselem reveals a decrease in the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, dropping from 657 killed in 2006 (523 in Gaza, 134 in the West Bank including 140 minors) to 373 killed in 2007 (290 in Gaza, 83 in the West Bank), the number of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians has also dropped from a mere 17 in 2006 to just seven in 2007. This is the lowest number of Israeli civilian casualties since the beginning of the Intifada.
And yet, Israel continues its illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza.
While the B’Tselem’s figures for 2007 show an overall reduction in civilian casualties for both the Palestinians and the Israelis, the facts still give cause for concern.
• In 2007, there was an increase of 13% in the number of Palestinians held in administrative detention without trial, which averaged 830 people.
• Israeli settlement population grew by 4.5% (compared with 1.5% population growth inside Israel).
• The number of Palestinian houses demolished in East Jerusalem rose by 38%, to 69 homes.
• Palestinians continue to face severe discrimination in the allocation of water in the West Bank, causing serious hardship in the summer.
• The number of Palestinians killed in intra-Palestinian clashes was the highest throughout the Intifada. At least 344 persons were killed, almost all in the Gaza Strip in the first six months of 2007. At least 73 of the dead, among them 22 minors, were not taking part in the fighting.
Sad, but true! In spite of the fact that nearly two thirds of Israelis would like their government to hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza and that Hamas has repeatedly offered the Israeli government cease-fire proposals, the Israeli prime minister has rejected them, outright.
Once again, silence has allowed a strident and belligerent minority to prevail.
If the Bush Administration, the Congress, and the Press were truly serious about peace in the Middle East, they would be actively and overtly supporting the united Israeli and Palestinian peace movements [lead by such organizations as the Parent Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis who have lost love ones in the conflict and who are promoting reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge]. They would be providing these peace groups a platform on which they could voice their non-violent initiative and push for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
We can no longer afford to sit silent and allow the hostility of a small but vocal and violent minority of extremists and religious fundamentalists from both sides influence and dominate the political landscape of the region.
The time has come for all of us to speak out and join hands with the peace-loving majority of Palestinians and Israelis and allow them to determine the future of the Middle East.