It is time for Israel to lift the cruel and futile siege on Gaza

First published by TRT World on 21/5/2021

Exactly what purpose is the blockade of Gaza serving?

The bombs have stopped dropping on Gaza, as have the rockets and projectiles launched out of the besieged territory. A temporary and unconditional ceasefire has been secured by Egypt. This really is deja vu.

We were there in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014. Israel attacks Gaza, Palestinian militants respond with rockets and other projectiles. Intermediaries try to secure a ceasefire. The Israeli prime minister and defence minister claim they need more time to complete the mission. The mainly American-made or American funded ‘smart’ bombs and artillery are dropped or launched at one of the most densely populated strips of land in the world, leaving death and destruction that no one should endure on what has become a near-regular basis. 

Even prior to the most recent Israeli attack for which Israel is entirely to blame, Gaza had been predicted to be unliveable by 2020. Imagine the additional devastation after 11 days of the Israeli war machine pounding Gaza. 

It is important to recall that the recent Israeli attack on Gaza started when a group of young Palestinians launched a campaign to save their families from forced expulsion in Sheikh Jarrah, which was then followed by Israeli escalation against Jerusalem at Damascus Gate and then on the holiest of nights in the Muslim calendar, during Ramadan. Palestinians in Jerusalem resisted Israel’s brutality. 

However, the final straw for the resistance groups in Gaza was the unwarranted and barbaric attack on worshippers at Al Aqsa mosque and the cry for help from their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem to come to their aid.

The resistance initially responded with a small number of rockets. Israel launched a devastating attack on Gaza and the rest is now history as it is added to a number of ‘wars’ it has launched on the besieged strip.

The dead cannot be brought back, whether Palestinians or Israeli. Israel will be able to easily rebuild and repair. In contrast the devastation in Gaza will take years to address. There will be a need for rebuilding plans, donors to cover the cost of that effort, but Israel, which controls the main commercial access point into Gaza will control what materials go in. 

Based on past experience, it will not be in a hurry to help relieve the suffering, rather it may use this access as a bargaining chip when needed to extract demands from those that control the strip.

We are already hearing commitments to find a way to ensure that there is no repeat of the recent crisis. There is a slightly different tone from President Joe Biden. Having initially allied himself with Israel’s position, claiming it had a ‘right to self-defence’, he then acknowledgedthat “we also believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security and enjoy equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy.” 

US presidents and officials usually ignore Palestinians in such statements. However, in his first statement after the ceasefire, Biden went a little further in sending “sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones.”

I would not be surprised if jaws dropped in Tel Aviv and Washington. Biden said the US would work with the United Nations and other international organisations to “provide rapid humanitarian assistance” for the people of Gaza.

This change of tone is important to Palestinians and peace – as based on his record, former President Trump would have likely doubled down on support for Israel and a dehumanisation of the Palestinian victims of Israel’s violence. 

However, what Biden seems to be promising, is more of the same but treating the Palestinians with just a smidge more humanity, possibly because he now faces members of Congress such as Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who are speaking up for the Palestinians in the Democratic party. He would also have seen the massive demonstrations in support of Palestinians across the world and within the US.

The times are changing, but what is needed is a change like nothing we have seen recently. 

What recent events have shown — especially on the military front — is that despite 15 years of siege and a supposed complete disruption to weapons supplies to Gaza, the Palestinian militants there have developed rockets that can reach almost any point in historic Palestine. Their precision also seems to have developed. They seem to have also developed means of defying the expensive Iron dome, which was according to Israel effective in the past in downing rockets. There is now a doubt as to how effective this expensive system is. The Palestinian groups have also developed an extensive network of tunnels, again under siege. 

In other words, the siege has not brought Israel the security it claims it helps ensure. However, it has heaped misery on two million Palestinians who have effectively become prisoners in their homeland. It controlled what went in and what came out. If fuel came in, the electricity generators and the sewage treatment facilities worked. If it cut the fuel off, they stopped. Fishermen were restricted in how deep into the sea they could go in search of their catch. Having destroyed Gaza’s airport, built after the Oslo Accords, Palestinians can only leave and enter via the Rafah Crossing, which Egypt controls and then endure inhumane journeys directly to Cairo airport to fly out to their destinations. Gaza’s health service is completely inadequate, starved of medicines and equipment. 

The time has come for this siege to be unconditionally lifted and for the two million people there to live like their brothers and sisters in the West Bank while a just political solution is found to the Palestinian injustice.

The time has also come for Israel, the US and other Western countries to recognise that they cannot ignore Hamas and the other major players in Gaza and deal only with a Palestinian Authority that in reality has no rule over Gaza. Their once enemies can quickly become interlocutors, doing away with intermediaries. But that is only if Israel really wants peace. 

Palestinians doubt that it does as its appalling behaviour in Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem prove – Israel wants to entrench its occupation. It relies on its allies shielding it from criticism and its leaders from accountability. 

The tide may be turning. Now, the Palestinians are more united than ever and are loudly asking for their rights, like any other people, in their historic homeland.

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