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“What does Israel, or the world community, expect? How can you trap 2.3 million people in Gaza, half of whom are unemployed, in one of the most densely populated spots on the planet for 16 years; reduce the lives of its residents, half of whom are children, to a subsistence level; deprive them of basic medical supplies, food, water and electricity; use attack aircraft, artillery, mechanized units, missiles, naval guns and infantry units to randomly slaughter unarmed civilians and not expect a violent response?”
Chris Hedges, journalist (“What Does Israel Expect?” Common Dreams, October 10, 2023). In prior articles I have discussed the history and root causes of the current conflict in Gaza. This article looks at facts about the living conditions and current apartheid system in the occupied territories. These facts should engender a modicum of empathy for the injustices imposed on the Palestinian people. These facts should also raise questions about our government's support for Israel and its failure to do more to stop the violence.
According to the United Nations refugee agency for Palestine, “The Gaza Strip is a war-ravaged, poverty-stricken area...living under a tight illegal blockade on land, air and sea...[which] in addition to recurrent armed violence and conflict, today remains the principle causes of the crisis in Gaza. The restrictions on movement of people and goods continue to collectively punish the civilian population, affecting every aspect of life in Gaza, undermining the local economy and threatening...human rights, in clear violation of Israel’s legal obligations under international law.”
The Gaza Strip is very small. It is only 25 miles long by 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide for an area of 141 square miles. Duluth is about the same length but only has about 80 square miles. Gaza has 2.3 million people to Duluth's 86,000. Ask yourself what Duluth might look like after a month of continuous bombing.
Ask yourself how you would feel if you and your family were trapped in the city with nowhere to flee. Human Rights Watch says the conditions in Gaza amount to “an open air prison.” If you think this excessive consider these facts.
• Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since 2005. • Today the 40-mile Israeli border with Gaza is enclosed by a three-level barrier consisting of 7-meter high wall, a fence with motion sensors, a perimeter road, a 70-150 meter wide buffer zone, barbed wire, guard towers and remote-control machine guns. There is an underground wall and sensors to detect tunneling.
• The coast has underwater barriers and all this is actively patrolled. There are only three crossings in and out of Gaza; two of them controlled by Israel and one by Egypt. Exit and entry is prohibited by sea and air. This has had severe impact on the economy, access to essential goods and freedom of movement for Gaza's residents. Even small-scale fishing is restricted to 50% of the fishing waters allowed under the Oslo Accords. Israel’s blockade has resulted in the near collapse of the economy in Gaza. It limits imports of essential goods and nearly all exports.
Unemployment is 45%, 65% of the population lives under the poverty line, 63% are “food insecure” and 80% of the population depends on international aid to live. The water supply and sanitation systems in Gaza and the West Bank are largely controlled by Israel. There are severe water shortages and crumbling infrastructure. In Gaza between one third and one half of the water is lost to leaks in the distribution system. The sewage treatment plants do not have adequate capacity, causing severe water pollution.
Reports say 78% of piped water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption. Two-thirds of the Palestinians living in Gaza are refugees, or their descendants, from the 750,00 people displaced by the 1947-48 war. Today there are 5.9 million U.N. registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank. One-third, or 1.5 million, of registered refugees live in 58 U.N run refugee camps. Two thirds live in 10 unofficial refugee camps and other areas of the host countries, Gaza or the West Bank (the Israeli- occupied Palestinian territories). Gaza and the West Bank are supposed to be reserved for the Palestinians. But since the Israeli military occupation in 1967, Jewish settlers have occupied more and more of Palestinian land. The West Bank only comprises 21.2% of the original Palestine (the British mandate excluding Jordan). It is only 2,178 square miles and 251 miles long (about the size of Bayfield County, Wisconsin).
Today the West Bank has an estimated population of 2,747,943 million Palestinians and 670,000 Israeli settlers. Just four of the 144 Israeli “settlements” have a combined population of more than 200,000. Twelve East Jerusalem “settlements” have 220,000 Jewish immigrants. Clearly the Palestinian people have many legitimate grievances. For 75 years Israel has worked to displace the Palestinians and unjustly occupy their land. A reasonable person could easily conclude this has been a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
In the article cited above Chris Hedge says, “Ask yourself, if you were a Palestinian in Gaza and had access to a weapon what would you do? If Israel killed your family, how would you react? There are many questions all of us should be asking. Why is my government supporting apartheid in Palestine? Why are my tax dollars supporting the killing of women, children, elderly and non-combatants in Gaza by supplying the weapons, ammunition and bombs for this war? Why is the United States not aggressively seeking a ceasefire and a permanent negotiated settlement? Why does Israel supposedly have a “right to defend” itself but not the Palestinians? Defending oneself is not a license to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing. Under international law defensive military actions must be reasonable and proportional to the attack. Group punishment is not allowed or justified in response to a terrorist attack. Why aren't the U.S. and other European nations taking action to stop the massive overreaction by Israel?
Unqualified support for Israel is not in our national interests nor is it important for our national defense. In fact it makes us less safe, less respected around the world and more likely to be a target of terrorists. Why do we ignore this obvious reality?
The American people should be outraged. They should be demanding more rational, neutral and humane policies by our government.