As tensions rise on the Gaza Strip, activists around the world are trying to speak out about the injustices being done to the Palestinian peoples. Issues began to rise at the Israel-Palestine border three months back when Palestinian protesters gathered together to denounce Israel’s policies as well as demand justice for the current problems facing their nation. These problems range from unsuitable living conditions; Such as having no other option but to consume contaminated water and receiving only 4 hours of electricity daily to issues such as 45% unemployment and soaring depression rates among children. Another major cause for protest in these past few months was the anniversary of Al-Nakba; on May 15, every year since 1948, Palestinians commemorate “The Catastrophe”, a period of forced exile from home during the Israeli “War of Independence” in which Zionist forces expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, committed 31 massacres and destroyed 531 Palestinian towns. To add salt to open wounds this May, the United States deemed Jerusalem the capital of Israel, even though under international law this territory belongs to Palestine. This led to higher turnout during protests and eventually led to extreme military measures taken by the Israeli government at the Palestine-Israel border, as well as through the ongoing Israeli blockade. As of March 30th2018, 106 Palestinians have been killed including 15 children and over 2000 people have been injured, and so with death tolls rising and the number of injured persons increasing by day, it is important to look back at the cause and effect of the Israeli border and blockade.
In an interview conducted via Democracy Now, guest speaker Norman Finkelstein spoke out about the origins of the Israeli blockade, and its consequences. Referencing Amira Hass, a journalist for the prominent Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, he reminded readers that the blockade initially began after the first Intifada, Palestinian uprising, in 1991. The blockade was then strengthened and reinforced by Israel in January of 2006 when Hamas gained the favour of the Palestinian public and won the parliamentary elections; this move by the Israeli government gained support from the United States and the European Union. The blockade resulted in the ban of basic goods such as livestock, fuel and hygiene products but it also resulted in the ban of harmless items such as potato chips, chocolate and even crayons.
Later on, when Hamas led the Battle of Gaza in 2007, Palestine was sectioned off further into the West Bank, governed by the Palestinian National Authority, and Gaza came to be governed by Hamas; this gave Israel the opportunity to ramp up the blockade further. Now, almost a decade later, numerous reports have been collected from organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Council on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and various other United Nations organizations about the causation of the situation in Gaza. While the simple answer may be to place the blame on Hamas, these reports mutually agree that the Israeli blockade holds a significant amount of responsibility for the current condition of Palestine.
The existence of the blockade is a violation of international law, it has turned Gaza into, quite literally, an uninhabitable area. In 2015 UNCTAD predicted that by 2020, the Gaza Strip would be beyond habitation, but as of 2017 Robert Piper of the UN stated that Gaza has already breached that threshold, and is currently dilapidated, 3 years ahead of schedule. This means that the living conditions in Gaza, home to 2 million people, 51% of which are children, are uninhabitable. In fact, statistics show that 97% of all drinking water is contaminated and Sara Roy, a leader in the study of Gaza’s economy, has said, “Innocent people, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink”.
While Israel defends its actions under the pretence that any country in the world would be obliged to do the same in order to defend its people and its border, world leaders and even respected Israeli news sources have contradicted this. Conservative British Prime Minister, David Cameron, referred to Gaza as an “open-air prison”, while Haaretzreferred to Gaza as the “Palestinian Ghetto”. Arguably, the Israeli border serves more to contain than it does to protect; as Gaza is deemed unliveable but it’s people are imprisoned within.
Israel’s desire to confine Palestinians behind their border originated from the deterioration of the two-state solution, which was agreed by Palestinian national congress in 1988 and then again in 1993. Israel does not want to have a two-state solution or revert to the borders of 1948. The government of Israel has stated multiple times that its goal is to take Palestinian land and rule from river Jordan and Mediterranean Sea. Netanyahu has said several times there will be no Palestinians state and that is why Israel has been building illegal settlements in West Bank, destroying Arab homes and villages in Israel and taking more and more land in Gaza. In addition to this Israel does not allow the refugees to return to their home land, defying United Nations laws – claiming it will disrupt the Jewish majority and increase apartheid in Israel, as the Arabs living in Israel face apartheid and do not have the same rights as a Jewish Citizen of Israel. Officially, there is no border with Israel, Israel has not declared its borders, what exists are armistice lines of 1949 and 1969.
After covering the legality of the border, the implications of the blockade and the current state of Gaza, one critical issue still remains unmentioned; the extensive use of force by the Israeli government, which has been referenced by not only the citizens of Gaza, but also by observant human rights organizations. It can be stated that Israel does not have the right to attack a defenceless population, half of which are children, and even if they did have the right, they would still be under the moral obligation not to do so. Unfortunately, international laws, global outcry and moral obligations cannot stand in the way of Israel’s border and blockade.
As Israel continues its most recent attacks on Gaza in response to Palestinian protests at the border, figures continue to rise, with 60 Palestinians killed on May 15thalone. The reports for the injured are even more staggering with 12,000 wounded persons, 3500 of which were wounded by live ammunition. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein referred to Palestinians as a people who have been “caged into a toxic slum”, a people who have been denied dignity and humanity by Israeli authorities and are no longer allowed to even protest for their rights. The 28thSpecial Session of the Human Rights Council concluded that there have been “Violations of international law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including east Jerusalem”, and the resolution draft was adopted by the voters with 29 in favour, 14 abstentions and 2 votes in opposition.
According to Finkelstein, the next course of action to be taken would be to “Assemble an international team of respected jurists”, which would include John Dugard, a member of the International Law Commission for the U.N., Alfred de Zayas, a former secretary for the U.N. Human Rights Commission among many other accomplishments, and James Crawford, a judge for the U.N. international Court for Justice. Finkelstein believes that investigations that have had no impact must be ceased and instead, action must be taken; “And that action means, first and foremost, that the illegal, inhuman, immoral blockade of Gaza has to end”.
On a more personal level, every Canadian individual who feels passionately about human rights can take the following steps; The Palestinian Canadian Congress has created an easy, automated Action Alert to send an e-mail to MPs and the Prime Minister about the Gaza crisis, and can be visited at http://pccaction.ca/. Canadians can also Call their local MP’s office and let them know that they are opposed to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the genocide of the Palestinians. Donations can be sent to http://islamicreliefcanada.org/appeals/palestine/; Canadians can also participate in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality at https://bdsisraemovement.net/what-is-bds. It is also important to understand that criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, Israel has occupied and annexed Palestine. If citizens wish to also support Jewish character, honour and dignity have formed Jewish Voice for Peace, and they can do so at https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/. In the end it is crucial for people to support those in need, commit to justice and return the land of Palestine to its people by restoring the original borders of 1948 and advocating for the two state solution.
Dr. Mukarram Zaidi
Canadian Muslim Research Think Tank
Think for Actions