Besieged and Blockaded: What Gaza is fighting Back Against

Ed. note: When war breaks out there is a tendency to focus on the nitty-gritty detail of tit for tat. But all wars have a back story. The inhumane and frankly creepy Israeli treatment of the Palestinians of Gaza is the back story for today’s conflict. AFSC explained the situation as it unfolded toward the present disaster

AFSC

For thousands of years, Gaza has been an important seaport and trade community, exporting agricultural produce to other areas of historic Palestine and serving as a way station for traders traveling along the Egypt-Syria trade route. Located in the southwest most corner of historic Palestine, Gaza is home to a wealth of natural resources including fertile agricultural land, rich fishing grounds, and large offshore natural gas reserves. Gaza also has beautiful beaches, a rich history, and a moderate climate, all of which make it a potentially attractive tourist destination. Add to this a highly educated and youthful population (60 percent under the age of 18, and over 40 percent age 14 or younger), and you might expect  that Gaza’s development prospects were positive. 

Unfortunately this is not the case. Gaza’s wealth is largely unreachable as a direct result of Israel’s occupation and blockade. Most agricultural land is located in places declared closed military areas (“no go” zones) or has been destroyed during military attacks. Access to traditional fishing grounds is restricted by the Israeli navy. Development of the natural gas reserves is forbidden by the Israeli government. All of this while the movement of people into and out of Gaza is severely restricted and both the import of goods and the export of products from Gaza is strictly limited. Military attacks over the last 13 years have also resulted in the near complete destruction of Gaza’s business and manufacturing base. As a result, the unemployment rate among Gaza’s 1.7 million residents is over 35 percent  and poverty rates are even higher. More than 80 percent of the population is now dependent on international assistance for survival. Yet the people of Gaza have not lost hope, continuing to dream about and work for a better future.

This paper provides additional information about Gaza and the impact of Israeli policies on the people living there.

Is Gaza occupied?

While Israel has argued that it ceased occupying Gaza in 2005 when it unilaterally redeployed its troops outside of Gaza and withdrew its settlers from Gaza, Gaza continues to be occupied in accordance with international law and in the views of the international community, including the U.S.[i], the EU, and the U.N.[ii]. Israel’s continued responsibility as the occupying power in Gaza results from several factors.  First, Israel continues to exert effective control over Gaza including control of the borders, airspace, waterways, population registry, currency, the movement of people, trade, electrical supply, water supply, and more. Second, Israel maintains and exerts a right to conduct regular military operations in Gaza, giving it effective military control over the territory. Under international law[iii], effective control is the key measures of occupation. 

Who is the ruling authority in Gaza?

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections and took control of the Palestinian government. The international community, led by Israel and the U.S., quickly imposed sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority because Hamas is considered a terrorist organization. A failed attempt by Fatah[iv] to push Hamas out of government in 2007 led to armed conflict between the two factions, which resulted in Hamas gaining control of Gaza. Since 2007, Hamas has been the de facto government in Gaza, although its government is not recognized by the international community. 

While Hamas continues to support the use of violence in resisting Israel’s occupation and has not disavowed attacks that target civilians, for the last several years it has played an important role in limiting the use of violence by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza and in providing internal security to the people of Gaza. Since at least mid-2008, Hamas has taken serious steps to curb rocket fire from Gaza, and according to most outside observers, Hamas is not the party responsible for most rocket fire over the last several years. Hamas has also expressed a willingness to discuss a long-term truce with Israel within the framework of a two state solution to the conflict. 

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) does not condone the use of violence by any party and does not support many positions taken by Hamas. However, we also believe that engagement with Hamas and other proscribed Palestinian factions is essential for realizing a just and lasting peace.  

What limits are placed over the movement of both people and goods into and out of Gaza? 

The movement of both goods and people into and out of Gaza is severely restricted by Israel and has been restricted for decades. Prior to 1991, Palestinians could move with relative freedom between the West Bank and Gaza. In 1991, Israel imposed a general closure over the occupied Palestinian territory and started to require that all Palestinians acquire military issued permits if they wanted to move between the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza. This permit regime was formalized as a part of the Oslo Accords and until today, Palestinian movement into and out of the Gaza Strip (and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory) is only possible for those Palestinians who have received travel permits from the Israeli military. 

After the start of the second intifada in September 2000, Israel strengthened the general closure that was already in place over the occupied Palestinian territory, more closely regulating travel by Palestinians and placing increased restrictions on the import and export of goods. Restrictions in place over Gaza were further tightened in 2005 when Israel unilaterally withdrew its settlers and redeployed its troops from Gaza. Following the redeployment, Israel placed new and increased restrictions over the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza.  

In 2006, following the Hamas victory in parliamentary elections, Israel and the international community enforced sanctions[v] against the Palestinian Authority, including limitations on imports to and exports from all of the occupied Palestinian territory. In 2007, following the Hamas-Fatah split that saw Hamas seize control of the Gaza Strip, sanctions against the Palestinian Authority were ended in the West Bank, but strengthened in Gaza. These strengthened sanctions effectively placed a blockade over Gaza, severely limiting exports and imports and banning nearly all travel by residents of Gaza. Between 2007 and 2010, even basic necessities such as cooking gas, water filtration equipment, toilet paper, tooth paste, clothes, noodles, candy, and spices were blocked from entering Gaza. In 2010, the Israeli government announced an “easing” of the blockade and allowed for a limited increase in imports such as clothing and food. However, severe restrictions on the import of many goods including raw materials necessary for industrial production, construction materials, medical supplies, fuel and many consumer goods were never lifted, and there was no easing on the restrictions imposed over exports from Gaza and the movement of people out of Gaza. 

The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dire, and the International Committee of the Red Cross[vi] and the United Nations both make clear that the blockade constitutes collective punishment under international law. 

What is the impact of the blockade on people in Gaza?

The blockade has had a devastating impact on the Gaza population, affecting all aspects of life.  According to UN OCHA[vii], as of June 2013:

  • Less than 200 people per day were allowed out of Gaza via Israel in the first half of 2013.
  • Less than one truckload of goods per day were allowed out of Gaza during the first half of 2013.
  • 57 percent of Gaza households are food insecure, and approximately 80 percent receive some form of food assistance.
  • 35.5 percent of those able and willing to work are unemployed – one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.
  • Due to fuel shortages, there are power outages for up to 12 hours per day in most areas of Gaza.
  • Only 25 percent of households in Gaza receive running water every day, and then only for a few hours.
  • Over 90 percent of the water extracted from the Gaza aquifer is unsafe for human consumption, while needed filtration equipment cannot be imported to Gaza. 
  • Nearly 90 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage is dumped into the sea off of Gaza every day while equipment needed to build new or maintain existing treatment facilities are banned from entering Gaza.

It must be emphasized that, despite the terrible human suffering caused by the blockade, the situation in Gaza should not be viewed as a humanitarian crisis that can be resolved through the provision of international aid and assistance. Rather, the current situation in Gaza is a political crisis that can only be resolved through political action. All of the impacts outlined above are the direct result of Israeli actions and policies, and ending the crisis in Gaza therefore requires ending the blockade and Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territory, which are at the root of the crisis.  

What is the Gaza “restricted access area”? 

The Gaza “restricted access area” (often referred to as the buffer zone) is an area along the wall that has been built between Gaza and Israel.  In this area any Palestinian can be shot on sight by the Israeli military.[viii] The restricted access area was first created during the second Intifada when Israel began enforcing a 150-meter no-go zone along the Eastern border of Gaza. At that time Israel also began systematically demolishing homes and structures in areas near the Gaza borders in the north and south of the Gaza Strip. In May 2009, the Israeli military announced an expansion of the restricted access area in leaflets they dropped on Gaza that warned people that anyone coming within 300 meters of the border could be shot. Additional homes and structures in this area were subsequently destroyed. In addition to the official 300-meter restricted access area, Israeli forces conduct regular raids one and two kilometers into Gaza and constantly monitor all areas up to two kilometers into Gaza. The land included in the restricted access area accounts for 17 percent of the total Gaza land area and includes 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land.[ix]

Did the 2005 Israeli redeployment from Gaza end Israeli military operations in Gaza? 

No, while Israeli did withdraw its military bases from Gaza and redeployed its forces to bases outside of Gaza in 2005, it continues to carry out daily military operations in and attacks on Gaza.  According to Defense for Children International – Palestine, during the first year after the disengagement the Israeli military fired over 15,000 shells into Gaza, conducted over 550 airstrikes on Gaza, and carried out regular military incursions into Gaza.  A total of 525 Palestinians were killed and 1,527 injured during these attacks.[x]  This period included two major military operations.  Operation Summer Rains during June 2006 left at least 256 Palestinians dead and 848 injured.  At least 85 more Palestinians were killed in Gaza during a November 2006 military offensive which was codenamed Operation Autumn Clouds. 

The next major Israeli military operation in Gaza was Operation Warm Winter in February and March 2008.  During this attack Israel killed 120 (34 children) and injured 269 (at least 63 children) Palestinians.[xi]  A ceasefire negotiated between Hamas and Israel in June 2008 dramatically lowered violence until Israel killed six Palestinians during an incursion into Gaza in November 2008.  Tit for tat attacks between Gaza and Israel escalated over the next month until Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008.  More than 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, were killed by Israel during Operation Cast Lead and over 16,000 Gazans were permanently displaced from their homes which were destroyed during the attack.  Finally, Israel carried out Operation Pillar of Cloud in Gaza during November 2012 killing 168 Palestinians and destroying hundreds of homes.[xii]  Between all of these operations Israel conducted military incursions into Gaza or fired into Gaza using ground artillery, naval forces, and airstrikes on a daily basis.

What about the Palestinian firing of rockets at Israel from Gaza? 

Thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel over the years causing both physical and psychological harm to Israelis.  AFSC agrees that the firing of all rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly into civilian areas, must end. 

However, we believe that it is important to look at the firing of rockets by Palestinian armed groups in context.  For example, of the grad rockets, homemade rockets, and mortars fired by Palestinians between January 1and November 1,  2012, approximately 70% were fired during three distinct periods of escalation in March, June, and late October.  Each of these escalations correlates with an assassination/killing, incursion, or other Israeli military action.  Only a small percentage of the other rockets and mortars that were fired during 2012 were fired in isolation from Israeli military actions in Gaza.[xiii] 

During that same time period Israel carried out military invasions of Gaza several times a week. These invasions involve the entry of Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers, jeeps, and ground forces into Gaza where they destroy agricultural property, destroy homes, attack armed groups, arrest wanted individuals, and attack civilian targets.  In addition to these invasions, Israel airstrikes, naval shelling/fire, and shelling and firing from ground forces targeted locations in Gaza several times a week. 

During the period between January 1st and November 6th 2012, 19 Israelis were injured by Palestinian attacks originating from Gaza.  During the same period 71 Palestinians were killed and over 300 injured by Israeli attacks on Gaza. 

It should be clear that the firing of rockets is intertwined with these ongoing Israeli military actions in Gaza.  Rocket fire and violence from Gaza will not be ended through the use of increased military force, rather ending violence by armed Palestinian groups requires engagement with them and ending the blockade and the occupation of the Palestinian territory.   

Has the ceasefire agreed to by Hamas and Israel in November 2012 been respected? 

Operation Pillar of Clouds, the Israeli military attack on Gaza which occurred during November 2012, ended with a ceasefire signed on November 21, 2012.  The terms of the agreement were that both Palestinians from Gaza and the Israeli military would stop their attacks on each other and that Israel would allow for increased freedom of movement for both people and goods into and out of Gaza. 

While attacks from Gaza on Israel immediately ceased and largely stopped for several months after the finalization of the ceasefire agreement, the Israeli government never implemented its side of the agreement.  On the 22nd of November one Palestinian was injured by Israeli shooting into Gaza and on November 23rd one Palestinian was killed and an additional 10 injured during attacks on Gaza.  Israeli attacks on Gaza have occurred on a nearly daily basis since that period although both deaths and injuries have significantly decreased since the ceasefire was signed.[xiv] 

According to the Gaza NGO Security Office, between December 1, 2012 and September 18, 2013 Palestinians fired a total of 84 rockets or mortars towards Israel or Israeli naval forces (although many fell within Gaza).  No Israelis were injured or killed as a result of these attacks.  During the same period Israel made 55 military incursions into Gaza, bombed Gaza from the air nine times, shelled or fired on Gaza from naval ships 121 times, and fired into Gaza from the border area 135 times.[xv]   According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs these attacks resulted in the deaths of four Palestinians and the injury of 54 more.[xvi] 

What role is the U.S. playing in this situation?

The United States is complicit in the current situation, playing a key role in sustaining both Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory and the Gaza blockade. Both the current and past administrations have given Israel a green light to carry out attacks on Gaza and have asserted an Israeli right to self defense while failing to recognize an equal right to self defense for Palestinians.  The U.S. also continues to support the isolation of Hamas and the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza, which it views as a legitimate tool for undermining Hamas, regardless of the blockades’ impact on the general Gaza population.  The U.S.’s refusal to engage with Hamas has also led it to actively oppose reconciliation between Hamas and the PA through a threatened cut in all assistance to the PA if it reconciles with Hamas.  This policy has helped entrench political divisions within the Palestinian polity. 

Further, the United States provides more than $3 billion in military assistance to Israel each year.  This unconditional U.S. military assistance subsidizes and allows Israel to maintain its occupation in Gaza.  More specifically, weaponry purchased by Israel from the U.S. using U.S. military assistance, including missiles and white phosphorus shells,[xvii] are used by Israel during its attacks on Gaza.  This policy brings nothing but harm to Gaza and also undermines the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.

How are corporations complicit in helping Israel maintain its occupation of Gaza?

Israel’s military control over Gaza and its attacks on Gaza have all been facilitated through support provided by a number of international companies.  These companies include:

  • Caterpillar Inc. – Caterpillar sells bulldozers to the Israeli army that are weaponised and used in the systematic demolition of homes and civilian infrastructure as part of the Israeli army’s doctrine of urban warfare. These bulldozers have been used extensively in Gaza including to raze homes in Rafah during the second intifada and 2008’s Operation Cast Lead.   During Cast Lead the Israeli army used unmanned D9 bulldozers (Dawn Thunder) and has since used another unmanned version of the company’s smaller vehicles (Front Runner), which are specially developed for urban warfare, in Gaza.[xviii]
  • Northup Grumman - Northrop Grumman, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers, profits from its production of parts for the Apache AH64D Longbow Helicopter, including the Longbow Hellfire II missiles, as well as radar for F-16 aircraft. This weaponry has been used by Israel to kill hundreds of Palestinians in the past decade including during all major attacks on Gaza.[xix] 
  • Elbit Systems - Elbit Systems is directly involved in all of Israel’s military operations, and has developed  technologies specifically suited for the control and repression of the civilian Palestinian population and for attacks on large population centers. This includes drones that are used extensively in assassinations and attacks on the Gaza Strip.[xx] 

What can you do?

Demand an immediate end to the siege on Gaza:  U.S. government policy officially supports Israel’s continued siege on Gaza and the Isolation of Hamas.  This is a situation that must end.  Contact your government representatives and demand that they call for an immediate change in U.S. government policy and support both the complete end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and engagement with Hamas.  The siege is illegal and immoral and must end.  Additionally, if any solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is going to be found all political factions including Hamas must be at the table and involved in reaching an agreement.  U.S. policy must change. 

Join the Palestinian led BDS movement:[xxi] Support or organize a BDS campaign against any of the companies listed above or others that support Israel’s occupation or violence in Palestine and Israel.  AFSC is a member of two national BDS campaigns.  We help coordinate the We Divest Campaign[xxii] which asks investment giant TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that support Israel’s occupation or violations of international law including Caterpillar, Northup Grumman, and Elbit Systems.  We are also a core member of the Interfaith SodaStream Boycott[xxiii] which calls for a boycott of SodaStream due to the location of its production facilities in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.  Other campaigns in the U.S. that you can support include the Caterpillar Boycott, HP Boycott, Veolia Boycott and more[xxiv]

Learn more

The following organizations in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel address and challenge Israel’s policies on Gaza.

Al-Mezan - http://www.mezan.org/en/

Palestinian Center for Human Rights - http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/

Gaza Community and Mental Health Program http://www.gcmhp.net/en/

B’Tselem http://www.btselem.org/

Gisha –  http://www.gisha.org/

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - http://www.ochaopt.org/

The Gaza NGO Security Office - http://www.gaza-nso.org/

About AFSC

Since 1948, AFSC has worked in the U.S., Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territory with Palestinians, Israelis, and other committed activists to support nonviolence, challenge oppression, and (since 1970) to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. This work is guided our “Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace in Palestine and Israel”[xxv]. These principles support the implementation of international human rights and humanitarian law and call for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, implementation of refugees’ right of return, equality, and justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

Mirrored from American Friends Service Committee

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

VOA Video: “Educated Youth Stifled by Gaza Blockade”

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