Thursday 7 February 2008

End the siege of Gaza!

Gaza siege is a war crime: End all support for Israel! Tony Iltis 1 February 2008 On January 23, a series of explosions ripped open the concrete and steel barrier that had sealed off the Gaza Strip from the outside world. The breach in the barrier allowed hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians, perhaps a third of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, to surge into the Egyptian cross-border town of Rafah to buy some of life’s basic necessities — denied them by Israel’s siege of the 10 kilometre wide, 40-kilometre long Palestinian enclave. The explosion also blew holes in the inversion of reality anti-Palestinian propaganda in the Western media. For the past few months, mainstream media coverage of events in Palestine has been focussed on the US-orchestrated ’’Peace talks” between Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian National Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. The impression given by this coverage is that the US and its European Union allies are “honest brokers”, pushing for a settlement to the 60-year Arab-Israeli conflict based on Arab acceptance of Israel’s ’right” to exist with “secure borders” and Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state ruling over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Abbas-led PA has been presented as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and a “partner for peace”. The impression has been given that the main obstacle to a “peace” settlement is the alleged refusal of Hamas — portrayed as terrorists and agents of “rogue states” Iran and Syria — to “renounce violence” against Israel and recognise the Israeli state’s “right to exist”. Hamas is presented as having ’’seized” control over Gaza to use it as a staging ground for attacking Israel. Ignored is the fact that the Hamas-led administration in Gaza is all that remains of the PA government elected by Palestinian voters in early 2006, following the US- and Israeli-backed, unconstitutional takeover of the PA administration in West Bank by Abbas and his Fatah party in June 2007. War crimes Ignored is the fact that ever since September 2000, about 1800 Palestinian civilians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli military attacks, while over the same period only a dozen Israeli citizens have been killed by cross-border Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza. In the first two weeks of January, the Israeli military has killed 50 Palestinian civilians in Gaza, while Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel have slightly injured three Israelis. Yet, Israel and its Western backers, portray Israel, with the Middle East’s most powerful military machine, as the innocent victim of Palestinian aggression. Also ignored is the fact that Israel’s siege of Gaza — closing every access into the enclave, including for the delivery of fuel and food supplies, and the bombing of Gaza’s main power station — is a war crime. The 1949 Geneva Conventions state, in article 54 of their additional protocol, that, “Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited”. It is also “prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population”. The dramatic events since January 23 have made two realities clear. Firstly, that the policies of Israel and its Western backers have turned Palestinians in Gaza into paupers and, secondly, that the Palestinian people retain a willingness to engage in mass defiance of their Israeli overlords. These events have also shown that far from being terrorist agents of outside powers, Hamas enjoys the support of the mass of Gazans because of its role in enabling this mass defiance. Occupied territories The 365km² Gaza Strip has been described as the world’s largest open-air prison. It is also the most densely populated place on Earth. When the Israeli state was created in 1947-49 through the violent seizure and ethnic cleansing of 78% of Palestine by Jewish colonists from Europe, some 800,000 Palestinian refugees fled to the West Bank and Gaza — the only parts of Palestine that remained outside of the new Jewish state. But in 1967, Israel invaded and occupied both of these territories. The bringing of all of the Palestinian nation’s homeland under Israeli rule did not mean that Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank could return to their pre-1948 home towns and villages. The UN-designated Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) remained administratively separated from pre-1967 Israel. This division did not stop Israel, in blatant violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, from planting settlements of its citizens in the OPT. From the outset Israeli control of the movement of people and goods, through military checkpoints and repeated border closures, was used to repress resistance to Israeli’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. When the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) under the late Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993, accepting a “two-state solution”, the assumption was that an independent Palestinian state would comprise the 22% of Palestine that remained outside of Israeli rule between 1948 and June 1967 — the West Bank and Gaza — with unimpeded access between Gaza and the West Bank. However, while the PLO was allowed by Israel to set up the PA — with the formal trappings of a government — the creation of such an independent Palestinian state was never the intention of Israel or its Western backers. Israeli settlements, with a population of just under half a million, along with by-pass roads and the “separation barrier” — an 8-metre high fortified concrete and steel barrier that encircles and divides the West Bank — have effectively annexed to Israel half of the West Bank. While Israeli settlements were withdrawn from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it was surrounded by a wall and its residents were denied access to Gaza’s own airspace and coastal waters, destroying the livelihoods of Gazan fishers. As if to underline the impossibility of these isolated and walled-off Palestinian ghettos somehow forming an independent state, Israel subjects the OPT to regular air strikes and periodic ground invasions. While Israel’s rulers publicly say they support a “two-state solution”, their actions show that what they really want is an “independent” Palestinian state consisting of a series of isolated apartheid-style ’’bantustans”. This is what the Israeli rulers want Palestinians to accept as a “two-state solution”. Hoever, Israel needs to maintain the illusion that a “two-state solution” is a viable possibility. Last November, Olmert made this clear when he told the Tel Aviv Haaretz daily: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert had expressed the same fear in a 2003 interview with Haaretz, saying: “More and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against ‘occupation’, in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man [sic], one-vote. “That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle — and ultimately a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state.” The other part of Israel’s strategy is its attempt to turn the PA into a compliant collaborator in its apartheid-style “two-state solution”. While Arafat was never entirely willing to play this role, since Arafat’s death in a Ramallah compound besieged by Israeli tanks, Abbas has proved to be a much more willing Israeli “partner”. Western complicity It was in this context that the Hamas-led Change and Reform coalition, opposed to the widespread corruption in the Abbas-led PA, won the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Immediately after this, the US, the EU and other Western countries, including Australia, showed their real attitude to democracy in the Middle East by imposing an economic blockade on the OPT as collective punishment for not having voted for Abbas-aligned candidates. The only Western aid that continued to be given to the PA was military assistance to the Abbas-controlled security police. In June 2006, the US-financed and Israeli-armed Abbas-aligned PA secret police chief Mohamed Dahlan attempted to oust PA forces loyal to the Hamas-led coalition from Gaza. He failed, with pro-Hamas forces driving out Dahlan and his uniformed thugs. Israel, with support and encouragement from its Western allies, has since placed Gaza under a medieval-style siege. Food, medicine and fuel have become increasingly scarce, with electricity supplies from Israel being drastically cut. By mid-January, Gaza’s hospitals were on the verge of running out of fuel for electricity generators. While medical services in Gaza are barely functioning, Israel has even stopped ambulances from leaving, resulting in 85 preventable deaths since June. At least 95% of Gaza’s businesses have closed and 85% of Gazans are now dependent on foreign food aid which, the UN Relief and Works Agency reports, is rapidly running out. Caught between a US patron demanding that the Gaza prison-break be ended and a population disgusted by his complicity with Israel’s Gaza siege, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has restricted goods getting to Rafah and the nearby town of El Arish so as to discourage Gazans from crossing the border. On February 1, Egyptian soldiers tried to lay down metal barriers across several Hamas-made breaches in the Rafah border crossing, but Hamas militants, supported by hundreds of demonstrating Gazans, used bulldozers to tear down the barriers. The Gaza siege is a crime against humanity. It could not occur without the backing of Western governments. All support for the Apartheid state of Israel, and its war crimes, must be ended From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #738 6 February 2008.

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