Lack of political progress, harassment by Israeli security forces and deteriorating living conditions make the Gaza Strip … a volatile powder keg, writes JEREMY CORBYN
It is astonishing that since the foundation of Israel in 1948 and the Nakba – the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians in losing their homeland – the onus has always fallen upon the Palestinians to negotiate their way out of the Israeli occupation.
The current negotiations are due to end in April unless there is an extension.
Israel as the occupying power is responsible for the well-being of Palestinians but its concerns and actions remain rooted in a warped interpretation of “security.” Israel controls virtually every move the Palestinians make with its checkpoints and restriction of movement between cities and abroad, its apartheid wall, strategically placed settlements, Palestinian political prisoners, indiscriminate killings and finally – and perhaps most urgently – the siege of Gaza. All of this excused for “security” reasons.
The blockade of Gaza was introduced in 2006 after Hamas won the election there.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis gets worse by the day, and tragically it often doesn’t make the news pages as it’s no longer regarded as news or has been bumped off the agenda by other urgent stories such as the Arab spring or the Syrian crisis.
I visited Gaza last year and was reminded of the difficulties faced by people there. Israel controls the land, sea and air access and pretends to draw boundaries that it doesn’t respect. Fishermen can barely fish because they are shot at by Israeli gunboats even when they’re keeping within the so-called permitted zones. The fishing boundary not only needs to be respected, it should be extended to at least 12 to 15 nautical miles to enable fishermen to make a living.
Food, power, clean water, medicines, indeed all basic needs are in very short supply and while there I saw young men hospitalised and incapacitated because they’d been adventurous enough to try to generate their own electricity, but with limited skills and shoddy equipment, they’d had near fatal accidents.
Palestinians have learnt to be both resourceful and innovative but to say they are running out of time in Gaza is not an exaggeration. Fuel for the functioning generators is scarce and Friends of the Earth has established that the shortfall in electricity in Gaza sees its World Bank-funded water treatment plant out of action. Water is expensive to buy – but what choice do Gazans have?
In 2008-9 Israel attacked Gaza in what was known as Operation Cast Lead. Many civilians were killed, 330 of them children. Now, civilians unlucky enough to live in Gaza are suffering, and no doubt many of them are slowly dying.
No governments to date have made much headway for peace in the region, but even the current coalition International Development Minister Alan Duncan made it very clear recently that “under international law and other obligations, primary responsibility rests with the occupying power, and it is to that end that we will continue to work closely with Israel in an attempt to alleviate the humanitarian pressure that Gaza currently faces.”
Gaza will no longer function by 2020 if the siege isn’t lifted.
There is a 2005 agreement on movement and access that must be implemented to ensure supplies of all crucial materials get through, from construction materials to medicine and everything in between. Ports in particular such as Kerem Shalem and Erez must be reopened. A land bridge between Gaza and the West Bank would enable lorries to deliver badly needed imports.
My good friend, writer and activist Mona El Farra sent me a tragic tale recently of a young girl. “Nisreen’s right arm was amputated after a septic wound led to gangrene when she was three years old. This was due to a medical error, as the family says. However, there is a wider context affecting Nisreen and all Palestinians in Gaza. […] health facilities [are inadequate], due first to the illegal Israeli-imposed siege and lack of proper medications, then to the lack of proper training for physicians and chances to exchange experiences with their colleagues. The border closures and tightening siege since 2007 have also denied the right to health, as increasing numbers of patients cannot travel due to restrictions from both the Egyptian and Israeli governments.”
I listened to a number of not dissimilar tales on my very short visit there.
This week in Geneva both the UN human rights council and the annual session of the Inter Parliamentary Union have been in session.
Over two days I attended a meeting with the Palestinian delegation, and then the following day with Israel. In between I met the Lebanese delegation.
Without a trace of irony the leader of the Palestine delegation Azzam al-Ahmed pointed out that the West was angry with Russia over Ukraine and the Crimea vote and had already imposed sanctions and mounted a huge diplomatic offensive. He wondered why Israel, having occupied the West Bank, imprisoned Palestinians and encircled Gaza, had no such sanctions.
The next day the Lebanese pointed out they have housed Palestinian refugees for 65 years, taken in tens of thousands fleeing Syria, been invaded by Israel and yet were expected to normalise relations.
Yesterday I met the Israeli delegate Meir Sheetrir MK, who grandly informed me there were no shortages of fuel or food in Gaza and that prisoners were held according to law. He blamed Gaza’s problems on the creation of “Hamastan.” The blockade was not the problem.
The reality is that the crisis for Gaza and Palestinians has its origins in the end of World War I, and its continuation in the world’s indulgence of Israeli behaviour.
The victims are the 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and those all over the West Bank losing homes, water and land for state-funded settlements and expansion by Israel. It’s hardly surprising people get angry.
Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North