Exactly one year after operation Cast Lead, Gaza is still the world’s largest prison.
The media is discussing the possibility of a prisoner exchange deal, as well as the effort to renew peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the Goldstone report and the allegations of war crimes, but the real crime is happening right before our eyes: the Israeli-Egyptian siege of the Gaza strip.
According to the CIA Factbook, there are 1.5 million people living on the strip’s 360 sq. km (slightly more than twice the size of Washington, DC). They are not allowed to travel anywhere, and their lives are reduced to little more than survival. Israel does not allow building material, supply for farming or factories, school needs and many food items into the strip. 80 percent of the population in Gaza depends on humanitarian aid for its survival. The houses which were destroyed in the war can’t be rebuilt, and thousands of people are forced to pass a second winter without shelter. 4.5 billion dollars collected for the reconstruction of the strip can’t reach Gaza.
You can read more about the siege and it’s consequences on Gisha site.
The Israeli government does not explain the reasons for the siege. It’s obviously not part of an effort to force the return of Gilad Shalit, since the siege is not part of the deal discussed between Israel and Hamas. It’s not about the rockets as well – since there aren’t almost any these days.
The IDF just launched a special page on its internet site to mark a year to the war. It’s titled “Days of Quiet”. One of the articles on the page tells the story of the Kabatim, the security officers of the Israeli towns and settlements around the Gaza strip “who used to look for missile launches at nights… and now have to fight boredom.” That’s not Peace Now saying; it’s the IDF.
So why does the siege go on?
It’s not about preventing the Hamas from stocking arms. Hamas does that through the tunnels below the Egyptian border, and Israel is checking any cargo entering the strip through its side. Forbidding trucks of pasta from getting into Gaza – as Senator Kerry was shocked to find Israel doing – has nothing to do with national security.
Is the siege a way to make the people of Gaza bring down Hamas, something both Jerusalem and Washington wishes for? If so, it’s both an immoral and inefficient way. If operation Cast Lead and the year following it proved something, it’s that Hamas is here to stay. It’s bad news for Israel and possibly for the peace process as well, but collective punishment against 1.5 million people is not a legitimate response.
Asked about the siege, most Israelis would say that the Palestinians deserve it: they elected Hamas, which launched rockets and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, so they got it coming, more or less. This is basically the same rational terrorists use for justifying suicide attacks against Israeli civilians: they supported the occupation and all it lead to, they elected Likud, so they also have it coming. Both rationalizations are false. Suicide attacks are unacceptable, and so is the siege.