While all eyes have been turned to the World Cup’s final matches, in the past few days, nearly 100 Palestinians have been killed in the wake of Israel’s launching of “Operation Protective Edge.”
One strike killed eight members of the same family in their home, another killed a journalist in a media-marked car.
The headlines and stories read all too familiar, and the situation models other offensives launched by Israel not too long ago: Operation Cast Lead in 2008, which left 1,400 Palestinians and 9 Israelis dead, and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, which left 174 Palestinians and 6 Israelis dead.
The rocket and airstrike exchange doesn’t look to be stopping soon, with Israeli authorities saying they have mobilized 40,000 troops for a possible ground offensive.
While some may see this as just another flare-up in a long-running conflict—playing a game of who-started-it-this-time-and-why—to be fully understood, the recent Israeli offensive must be looked at against the backdrop of an ongoing illegal blockade in place in Gaza since 2007.
Airstrikes Making a Bad Situation Worse
As rocket attacks and airstrikes continue, the devastating impact of the Gaza blockade has become more prominent—at a moment when civilians are at their most vulnerable.
Israeli officials often claim they pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and left Palestinians completely to their own devices. But Israel only “pulled out” in the sense that it left no Israeli soldiers on the ground. Instead, it established a comprehensive project of restrictions meant to systematically cripple Gaza’s economy, infrastructure, and civilian well-being.
Punitive and arbitrary restrictions by the Israeli government currently make life unbearable for Gaza’s 1.7 million inhabitants, most of whom are refugees from what is now southern Israel.
Most recently, on July 6, Israel announced, with no reasoning or explanation, that it was reducing, by half, the area in which fisherman can fish on the Gaza coast, a violation of the 1993 Oslo agreement that stipulates six nautical miles.
“The preparedness of the health sector in Palestine is at the lowest level ever, and any escalation … could lead to collapse.
Because of the blockade, freedom of movement for Gazans is severely curtailed. Those who want to travel to the West Bank or abroad need permits from Israeli authorities, which are granted in very limited cases. Between 2000 and 2012, only three students in Gaza were permitted to study in universities in the West Bank, and only after pressure from the U.S. government, which had awarded them scholarships to study.
Additionally, Israel allows no construction materials to enter Gaza, including wood, cement, and iron. The strip is badly in need of rebuilding its infrastructure, with hundreds of homes, factories, and schools still standing in rubble from Operation Cast Lead in 2008.
Gaza’s electrical grid is also in desperate need of repair. With the long, hot summers and now, with rising casualties from air strikes, the repercussions of its neglected grids are severe.
Human Rights Watch reported on the fuel reserve shortage in Gaza hospitals, which now possess only enough to power emergency electricity generators, used during rolling power cuts that can last up to two weeks.
As a result, hospitals have “cancelled all elective surgeries,” according to the head of the World Health Organization’s Gaza office, who says that the health sector in Palestine, suffering blow after blow without a chance to recover, is on the verge of total collapse. “The preparedness of the health sector in Palestine is at the lowest level ever, and any escalation in the [security] situation could lead to collapse.” Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that “30% percent of 122 essential medical items and 53% of disposable items” in local hospitals are out of supply.
The Blockade Is a Big Part of the Problem
Escalations of violence like the one this week are often used as a reason to strengthen the blockade in the name of “security.” But the blockade should not be viewed as an antidote to security, but rather as an instigator of despair, insecurity, and violence.
Policymakers often point to settlement-building and rocket exchange in explaining the political deadlock, but recent events in Gaza should remind us that the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt is a major deterrent for peace.
There can be no serious talk of a political solution when there is an indefinite military siege in place that enacts collective punishment on one of the most densely populated areas on earth, as documented by Amnesty International.
The strip has been turned into a de facto prison, with 1.7 million people controlled by foreign occupying authorities. Of these millions of people,70 percent are dependent on humanitarian aid, and most aspects of their lives—from mobility to caloric intake—areconfined to a small piece of land. As long as the blockade continues, these flare-ups will continue to manifest regularly, as they have for the past decade.
If the United States wishes to be relevant in any capacity as an arbiter, and at a time when the U.S.-Israel relationship is becoming increasingly questioned, pressuring our greatest recipient of military aid to end the blockade is a good place to start.
After the crushing effects of Operation Cast Lead in 2009, President Obama called for a lifting of the blockade, declaring, “As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza’s border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce.”
This major source of insecurity, along with its solution, has already been identified. It’s high time to follow through.