Ordinary Gazans strangled on all sides

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Feb 2 2009 12:07
Ordinary Gazans strangled on all sides

The following is an article I wrote (in a hurry) earlier today for Gyro, a student magazine in Dunedin (in the South Island of Aotearoa / New Zealand). To be honest I'm not hugely happy with it, but I had run out of time and had to get it done. A paragraph in the middle was taken from “Sometimes we shoot the same way” – the attack on Gaza, internationalism and the Left and the closing line was taken (and modified) from Gaza: Against war and warmongers! so thanks to Django and Brighton Solidarity Federation for that.

Ordinary Gazans strangled on all sides

The latest Israeli onslaught in Gaza has seen approximately 1,300 people in Gaza murdered, with 410 of them children. Approximately 5,300 Gazans were left injured. Meanwhile, Israeli casualties numbered 13 with approximately 518 wounded.

The Gaza Strip, routinely referred to as “the world's largest open air prison” is home to 1.4 million Palestinian citizens, in an area only 3/4 the size of Invercargill. The Strip is surrounded on 3 sides by the Israel–Gaza Strip barrier, a high tech installation of sensors, concrete walls, fencing, no-man's-land and observation towers, reconstructed in 2001 (the original barrier, built in 1996, was torn down during the start of the Al Aqsa (Second) Intifada). The fourth side is the Mediterranean Sea, with constant patrols by the Israeli Navy. Since the election of Hamas and the subsequent total takeover of Gaza in June 2007, there has been a near-total blockade of the Strip by the Israeli and Egyptian armies.

Gazan residents have long suffered from poverty (60% below the poverty line in 2001) and the resulting poor health - a study carried out by Johns Hopkins University (U.S.) and Al-Quds University (in Jerusalem) for CARE International in late 2002 found that 17.5% of children aged 6–59 months suffered from chronic malnutrition, while 53% of women of reproductive age and 44% of children were found to be anaemic.

Israeli and Hamas leaders seemingly agree on one thing – ordinary Gazans and Israelis must be made to bear the brunt of the attacks. There is mounting evidence that the IDF is following its senior partner, the US, in using white phosphorous as an offensive weapon in civilian areas. Banned under international law, white phosphorous munitions are chemical weapons with a pattern of splash damage similar to cluster bombs, but which spread blazing chunks of phosphorous and smoke laced with burning particles. The result is either death from suffocation or from severe burns, sometimes down to the bone. The IDF is responsible for herding civilians into a building before shelling it, killing scores of civilians in attacks on UN schools, shelling aid convoys, and destroying aid stockpiles during an attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza. Meanwhile, Hamas and other smaller groups in the Gaza Strip fired over 900 rockets and mortars into Israel, hitting homes, schools and synagogues in a number of towns and cities. While the weaponry available to Hamas is undoubtedly less accurate or devastating than that used by the Israeli military, the intent is the same – both sides are showing through their actions that mere residence in an area is enough to deserve attack.

During the recent Israeli attacks, Hamas leaders hid in bunkers while calling for ordinary Gazans to confront the militarily superior Israeli Army themselves, but most Gazans evidently attempted to do what was necessary to save their lives, by hiding or fleeing. Hamas reportedly prevented Gazans from crossing into Egypt for medical assistance, while Egyptian border guards fired warning shots to prevent refugees who breached the border themselves from crossing into Egypt.

While it is clear that the vast majority of the populations of both Israel and the Gaza Strip have received no benefit from this period of intensified conflict, the question must be asked as to who has. The governing parties of Israel, Kadimah (Forward) and Avodah (Labour), were facing electoral defeat (in Avodah's case, virtual electoral oblivion) prior to this operation. Now, Avodah (who's leader is Ehud Barak, the defence minister) looks like it will remain in government after the election on February 10, albeit with a new partner, the Likud Party. Hamas, meanwhile, has consolidated it's grip on power in Gaza, and no doubt many of it's allies will be licking their lips at the prospect of gaining a piece of the US$1 billion of reconstruction contracts being funded by Saudi Arabia.

One thing cannot be doubted – no matter who won the war, it is the working class of both Israel and Gaza that have paid the price in broken bodies and shattered lives.

Asher is a member of Aotearoa Jews For Justice (jewsforjustice (at) gmail.com) and the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (http://www.awsm.org.nz).