- 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
- -- wounded 71 Palestinians, including 24 children and
- -- made 33 IDF incursions in the West Bank and five in
- -- 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
- -- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.