Life in Occupied Gaza

Life in Occupied Gaza

by Stephen Lendman

Life in occupied Gaza was never easy, but conditions
worsened markedly after Hamas’ surprise January 2006
electoral victory. Israel refused recognition along
with the US and the West. All outside aid was cut off,
an economic embargo and sanctions were imposed, and
the legitimate government was isolated. Stepped up
repression followed along with repeated IDF
incursions, attacks and arrests. Gaza’s people have
been imprisoned in their own land and traumatized for
months. No one outside the Territories cares or offers
enough aid. Things then got worse.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, in
league with Israel and the US, declared a “state of
emergency last June 14 and illegally dismissed Hamas
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his national unity
government. On June 15, he appointed former IMF and
World Bank official Salam Fayyad prime minister even
though his party got only 2% of the votes in the 2006
election. On June 17, Abbas swore in a new
(illegitimate) 13 member “emergency” cabinet with
plans for future elections, excluding Hamas.

Israel and the US showed gratitude. The West Bank
embargo ended, Israel began releasing frozen
Palestinian tax funds, and the US and European Union
(EU) resumed aid to the PA but continued isolating
Hamas in Gaza that since 1995 has been designated a
terrorist organization. After passage of the 1996
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the
State Department included Hamas among the first 30
groups designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations
(FTOs) in October 1997. It makes it illegal to provide
funds or other material support. It also ignores how
Israel once embraced Hamas in the 1980s.

It’s name means courage and bravery, and it’s also an
abbreviation of Islamic Resistance Movement in Arabic.
It grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood (that had roots
in Egypt) and was formed in 1987 during the first
Intifada. At the time, Israel offered support and used
Hamas to counter the PLO’s nationalist threat under
Arafat. Ever since, it’s been an effective resistance
movement against repression, occupation and much more.
It provides essential social services like medical
clinics; education, including centers for women; free
meals for children; financial and technical help to
Palestinians whose homes Israel destroyed; aid to
refugees in the camps; and youth and sports clubs for
young people.

Hamas is also a formidable defender, and that gets it
in trouble. It established the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam
Brigades, an elite military wing, and other security
forces like its Tanfithya Executive Force for
self-defense and law enforcement. Washington and Tel
Aviv call it “terrorism” because Hamas wants the
occupation ended, won’t surrender its sovereignty like
Fatah did under Arafat and Abbas, is willing to
recognize Israel (though that’s never reported), but
only if Palestinians get equal recognition and what’s
rightfully theirs - an independent homeland inside
pre-1967 borders or one “state for all its citizens,”
Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and others.

Instead, Hamas got isolated, hammered and called a
“hostile entity” by Israel’s security cabinet. It was
announced on September 19, sanctions on Gaza were
tightened, and it was decided to “reduce the amount of
megawattage provide(d) to the Strip, and Hamas will
have to decide whether to provide electricity to
hospitals or weapons lathes.” There was more as well -
cutbacks in fuel, food, other essentials and even
tighter border crossing restrictions.

Even before the latest crisis, Gaza was devastated.
Its industrial production was down 90%, and its
agricultural output was half its pre-2007 level. In
addition, nearly all construction stopped,
unemployment and poverty topped 80%, and by now it may
be 90%. After September 19, it got worse when shops
began running out of everything. Israel allows in only
nine basic materials, their availability is spotty,
and some essentials are banned, like certain
medicines, and others restricted like fruit, milk and
other dairy products. Before June 2007, 9000
commodities could be imported. Today, it’s down to 20,
people don’t get enough food, and the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was unusually blunt
in its criticism. In a November 2007 report called
“Dignity Denied in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories,” it said:

“....Palestinians….face hardship (in) their (daily)
lives; they are prevented from doing what makes up the
daily fabric of most people’s existence. (They) face a
deep human crisis, where millions of people are denied
their human dignity. Not once in a while, but every
day (and the people of Gaza are) trapped (and) sealed
off.” The “humanitarian cost (is) enormous,” people
can barely survive, “families unable to get enough
food increased by 14%, (and) Palestinians (are) being
trampled underfoot day after day. (In) Gaza (under
siege, Palestinians) continue to pay for conflict and
economic containment with their health and
livelihoods. Cutting power and fuel further compounds
their hardship.”

Let ‘em eat cake, walk, and live without light or heat
is apparently Israel’s solution, and noted Israeli
historian, Ilan Pappe, took note. He calls it
“genocide….to describe what the Israeli army is
doing in the Gaza Strip.” Knowing the facts, who can
disagree.

Then there’s the matter of energy. With electricity
restricted and fuel supplies reduced, Israel went
further. It sealed its borders and cut all fuel
shipments in response to Palestinian rocket attacks in
and around the border town of Sderot. They’re fired in
self-defense and used in response to repeated Israeli
attacks that in the week of January 17 - 23 alone:

—killed 19 Palestinians along with three others from
previous IDF-inflicted wounds;

—extra-judicially executed seven of the victims,
including two women;

—wounded 71 Palestinians, including 24 children and
three women;

—made 33 IDF incursions in the West Bank and five in
Gaza;

—arrested 58 Palestinian civilians, including seven
children, in the West Bank, and 32 in Gaza, including
3 children;

—destroyed five homes and razed agricultural land in
Jabalya in northern Gaza;

—allowed further settler attacks against civilians
and property in Hebron.

The same pattern continued the following week through
Janauary 30 with more Israeli incursions, attacks and
arrests. In the West Bank:

—Nablus was targeted and several Palestinian
civilians arrested; several homes were also searched
and ransacked in the villages of Kufer Kalil, Beit
Dajan and Beit Fourik;

—the IDF seized six Palestinians in Jenin in a
pre-dawn invasion; another followed theire several
days later, the Israeli army opened fire randomly, one
civilian was injured, four others arrested and a home
was ransacked; several civilian homes were attacked
and ransacked in the town of Qabatiya and village of
Abu Da’eif in the northern West Bank; local sources
reported unprovoked random gunfire by heavily armed
troops in civilian neighborhoods;

—the IDF invaded Bethlehem, killed one civilian,
arrested another, and injured seven others;
eyewitnesses reported that local journalists were
prevented from witnessing and documenting the
incursion;

—several other West Bank cities were targeted and
six civilians arrested: the Al Toor neighborhood in
northern Jerusalem; the village of Beit Rima near
Ramallah; Tulkarem city and the nearby Nur Shams
refugee camp; and Jenin city.

These are malicious acts of aggression, abductions and
wanton killing. Mostly civilians are targeted, and
when Palestinians respond with crude Qassam rockets
and children throw rocks, it’s called “terrorism.”
Israel’s response - fiercer attacks and incursions in
the Territories on any pretext or none at all and
further tightening of its medieval siege on Gaza.

Its border crossings have been closed since June 2007,
and severe restrictions were imposed on movement.
Finally, food and fuel supplies were cut. Gaza’s power
plant exhausted its supply, shut down, and the Strip
went dark on January 20. Israel remained defiant, and
Prime Minister Olmert announced….“as far as I am
concerned, every resident of Gaza can walk because
they have no gasoline for their vehicles,” and Foreign
Ministry spokesman, Arye Meckel, told AP the blackout
was “a Hamas ploy to pretend there is some kind of
crisis to attract international sympathy.”

The Director of Gaza’s main Shiffa hospital, Dr.
Hassan Khalaf, had a different view. He described the
situation as “potentially disastrous.” Already
Israel’s siege was directly responsible for 45 deaths,
and he said cutting hospital power would cause 30
premature babies to die immediately. The World Health
Organization was also alarmed. It said insufficient
electricity “disrupt(s)....intensive care units,
operating theatres, and emergency rooms (and) power
shortages have interrupted refrigeration of perishable
medical supplies, including vaccine.”

To operate at full capacity, Gaza needs 230 - 250
daily megawatts of electricity. Its only power plant
supplies around 30% of it, but people in central Gaza
and Gaza city are totally dependent on what can’t be
supplied if industrial diesel fuel the plant depends
on is cut off. The result is critically ill people are
endangered, bread and other baked goods can’t be
produced without electricity to power ovens, food is
already in short supply, so is fresh water, and
sanitation conditions are disastrous.

Michele Mercier of the International Red Cross said
hospital medications were running out and wouldn’t
“last for more than two or three days.” In addition,
allowable food shipments are endangered according to
UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman,
Christopher Gunness. He explained that the agency
would have to suspend distribution to 860,000 people
because of a fuel and plastic bags shortage.

Israel was unapologetic with Internal Security
Minister, Avi Dichter, saying the IDF must “eliminate
the rocket fire from Gaza, irrespective of the cost to
Palestinians.” Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, added:
“We are impacting the overall quality of life in Gaza
and destroying the terror infrastructure.” He meant
civilians as did Ehud Olmert claiming: “We are trying
to hit only those involved in terrorism, but also
signaling to the population in Gaza that it cannot be
free from responsibility for the situation.”

Israel makes no distinction between civilians
(including women and children) and resistance
fighters, and B’Tselem stated that Yuval Diskin, head
of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), “defines every
Palestinian killed in the Gaza Strip as a terrorist,”
including small children and the elderly infirm. The
world approves, the Security Council debates and
abstains, the dominant media is silent, and innocent
Palestinians suffer and die - over 75 killed in
January and several hundred injured. Who cares and
who’s counting. They’re just Arab Muslims.

They’re also needy human beings, now desperate, and on
January 23 they responded courageously. No help is
coming so Hamas acted preemptively. It destroyed 200
meters of metal barrier separating both sides of Rafah
that was divided in 1982 as part of Israel’s peace
treaty with Egypt. About 40,000 people live in Egypt
and another 200,000 in Gaza in the original town and
an adjacent refugee camp. Until the outbreak of the
second Intifada in September, 2000, crossing both ways
was uncomplicated. That ended as violence increased,
and Israel erected a barrier. Now it’s breached,
Gazans took advantage, and some called it a “jail
break.” Hundreds of thousands entered Egypt for needed
essentials unavailable at home. Finally, the media
noticed.

On January 24, The New York Times tried to have it
both ways. It called Hamas’ border breach “an act of
defiance” and continued indifferently. Unmindful of an
18 month siege, mass impoverishment, a humanitarian
crisis and daily killings, correspondent Steven
Erlanger made things seem festive in his report.
Almost flippantly he said “Tens of thousands of
Palestinians…. crossed the border for a ‘buying
spree’ of medicine, cement, sheep….gasoline, soap
and countless other supplies that have been cut off.”

Most Gazans can barely afford food and essentials and
struggle daily to survive. Yet, Erlanger said they
stocked up on “Coca-Cola, Cleopatra and Malimbo
cigarettes, and satellite dishes” and on January 25
added “televisions (and) washing machines.” It was a
party, “Egyptian merchants greeted them with a
‘cornucopia of consumer goods,” and Hamas joined the
festivities by “mak(ing no) visible effort to control
or tax” purchases. Those who could afford it indeed
took advantage. Merchants bought items for resale at
lower Egyptian prices. Most Palestinians, however,
bought essentials - food, fuel, medicine if available
and various household items.

Earlier on January 21, Israel relented to
international pressure and a PR disaster impossible to
ignore. Haaretz highlighted it in a January 26
editorial headlined “The siege of Gaza has failed.”
Hamas ended it “via a well-planned operation and
simultaneously won the sympathy of the world, which
has forgotten the rain of Qassam rockets on Sderot,
(and Israel looks foolish) entrenching itself in
positions that look outdated.” Only a week ago, the
government was crowing. Triumphantly, it claimed its
policy was “bearing fruit.”

Today, it’s all bitter with Olmert in denial. In a
speech at the January Herzliya Conference, he said:
“Mistakes were made; there were failures. But in
addition, lessons were learned, mistakes were
corrected, modes of behavior were changed, and above
all, the decisions we have made since then have led to
greater security, greater calm and greater deterrence
than there had been for many years.” Haaretz had
another view, and it was harsh. It stated events in
Gaza “completely (contradict) his statements. If that
is what learning lessons looks like, if that is what
deterrence means, the Olmert government has precious
little to boast about.” So it acted.

AP reported on January 21 that authorities “agreed
today to ship diesel fuel and medicine into Gaza on a
one-time basis,” easing its blockade, but it wouldn’t
continue unless rocket firings stopped. Everything
then changed on January 27.

Aljazeera, The New York Times, Haaretz and other
sources reported that the Olmert government relented.
It agreed to resume fuel shipments to Gaza, easing its
blockade. The decision came on the same day Israel’s
Supreme Court addressed the petition of 10 human
rights organizations to order a resumption and prevent
a humanitarian disaster. No decision was rendered, but
state authorities acted anyway.

They agreed to supply 2.2 million weekly liters of
industrial diesel fuel, the minimum amount needed to
power central Gaza and Gaza City, but it’s not enough
overall according to Rafiq Maliha, the project manager
at An-Nuseirat’s power plant location. It’s only
two-thirds the amount needed, a mere fraction was
delivered the first day, and Maliha said Gaza’s gas
companies would strike and resist this “Israeli plot”
masquerading as humanitarian aid. His doubts are
well-founded. On the same day fuel shipments resumed,
Israeli warplanes struck northern Gaza in two separate
raids. Hamas sources said two missiles hit a
Palestinian car and others targeted a Hamas’ Al-Qassam
Brigades position causing four injuries.

Human rights groups are also dismissive. They noted
previous promises made, then broken, and the GISHA
group (the Israeli NGO for freedom of Palestinian
movement in the Territories) spokesperson said that
Israel “repeatedly promised that it would ship 2.2
million litres (of fuel) a week into Gaza and has
repeatedly broken that promise.” Why believe
authorities now, and with events so fluid it seems
every day, a new policy.

At the same time, Hamas and Egyptian security forces
are cooperating to close the border eight days after
it was breached. On January 28, Haaretz reported that
openings were being sealed by barbed wire, but not
entirely as some two-way traffic continues as of
January 30. Hamas and Egyptian forces now man the main
Salah Eddin gate, most cars and trucks aren’t passing
through, but pedestrians still in Egypt “scoured
(nearly) empty stores for food and consumer products
to take back to the Gaza Strip….in fear of an
imminent border reclosing.”

What’s next is anyone’s guess, but Israel’s Supreme
Court will affect it. On January 30, it upheld the
government’s Gaza sanctions and its right to restrict
fuel and electricity. In its statement, the
three-judge panel left no doubt where it stands. It
wrote:

“We emphasize that the Gaza Strip is controlled by a
‘murderous terror group’ that operates incessantly to
strike the state of Israel and its citizens, and
violates every precept of international law with its
violent actions.” Israel, nonetheless, will supply
enough fuel and electricity to “fulfill the vital
humanitarian needs of the Gaza Strip at this time.”

Israeli human rights petitioners were quick to
respond, and their message was clear and harsh. For
its part, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority
Rights called the ruling a “dangerous legal precedent
that allows Israel to continue to violate the rights
of Gaza residents and deprive them of basic
humanitarian needs in violation of international law.”
Hamas spokesperson, Fawzi Barhoum, was equally
pointed. He added: The High Court’s decision “reflects
the criminal, ugly face of the occupation.”

Things are now back to square one, Israel’s siege has
been sanctified, and an unworkable 2005 security
arrangement remains in place. Hamas wants it replaced
with a new one and demands justice for Gaza’s 1.5
million people. Its main objection is Israel controls
all movement and monitors it with cameras and
computers to track everyone entering and leaving Gaza.
On January 27, Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said: ‘We
don’t accept a continued Israeli veto on the movement,
the exit and entry through Rafah.” It’s time for a new
system.

Getting one is another matter, according to Israeli
officials. They commented on January 28 saying “Israel
will not allow the continuation of the current state
where its security interests are being compromised,”
and Olmert and Abbas met on January 27 to discuss it.
Initial reports were that Israel wanted Egypt to
control the border, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
wants Abbas to do it, he, in turn, agrees to anything
Olmert and George Bush want, and they at first
rejected putting Abbas in charge, but that’s now
changed according to Haaretz.

On January 29, it reported “Israel does not plan to
block….Abbas from assuming control of Gaza’s border
crossing with Egypt (if Cairo agrees).” Abbas, in
turn, says it does as well as the EU, Arab League and
Condoleezza Rice. Hamas reacted angrily through its
spokesperson, Sami Abu-Zuhri. He called the plan an
“Israeli-led international conspiracy (against the
legitimate government) with the participation of some
regional parties. We tell all parties that we will not
allow the return of old conditions at the crossing.”

So the beat goes on. Nothing has changed, and
unconsidered is what Palestinians want, need and
deserve. After decades of abuse, forces they can’t
control continue buffeting them, yet they persist and
endure.

Now there’s the latest crisis, and consider Haaretz’s
January 27 report. It was after Olmert and Abbas met
“for a two-hour tete-a-tete….in Jerusalem” at which
Olmert again made promises. He said Israel wouldn’t
let a humanitarian crisis develop in Gaza, when, in
fact, one has existed for months, his government
caused it, and it’s accompanied by daily attacks,
killings, arrests and a vast array of human rights
abuses against an isolated population barely hanging
on.

On January 23, various Palestinian factions met in
Damascus with plenty to say. With little hope of being
heeded, they called on Abbas to end the “ridiculous”
negotiations he insists must continue with Olmert.
Among those attending were Khaled Meshaal of Hamas and
Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad. Their message was
strong: “I want to ask our brothers in Ramallah (Fatah
headquarters), what exactly are you waiting for?”
While you’re talking, Palestinians in “the biggest
prison in history (are) being massacred.”

Even Abbas supporters are dubious, and Palestinian
writer, Hani Al-Masri, expressed their view: “It
doesn’t make sense for negotiations to continue while
Israel is changing facts on the ground and undermining
the chances for a just and acceptable solution.” The
Arab League also responded, but not with teeth. It
denounced Israel’s siege, but does nothing to end it.
That’s Hamas’ view with Khaled Meshaal saying the
League could force change but instead prefers words,
meetings, resolutions and more meetings in Arab
capitals.

Still more are planned. Cairo is involved. So are the
Saudis, but most of all Washington and Tel Aviv.  They
control everything and will decide what’s next with
one thing assured. Gazans are isolated, locked in the
Territory, children and the elderly are dying, so are
the sick without medical care, daily attacks kill
others, and no end is in sight.

The plight of Palestinians won’t change as things
continue lurching from one crisis to another the way
they have for decades. It won’t end until world
leaders buckle to growing world sentiment that no
longer will injustices this grave be tolerated. How
much more suffering must be endured, how many more
deaths are acceptable, when will justice finally be
served? People of conscience want answers. It’s about
time they got them.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Also visit his blog site
at sjlendman.blogspot.com.


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