Many will recall the days that stunned the world exactly five years ago, when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what sears such moments into the minds-eye. Was it the corpses piled up on the streets of Gaza as the mortuaries overflowed? Perhaps it was the mountains of rubble left in places that were once called “home” by the Palestinians living in the besieged territory. Or maybe it was the ferocity with which the might of some of the world’s most sophisticated weapons were used against a civilian population. There is no question that Gaza has never been the same after that brutal military bombardment and invasion, nor have the lives of the 1.8 million people who were on the receiving end.
The plight of the people of Gaza is a tragedy that marks our current generation as failures. As Israel continues to occupy Gaza by controlling its airspace and borders directly and indirectly, as well as its territorial waters, the Palestinians there are malnourished and poverty-stricken. The military despot Al-Sisi in Egypt, much like his predecessor Mubarak, has declared war on the Muslim Brotherhood, from which sprung the Islamic Resistance Movement in Palestine, Hamas. It therefore was expected that the Egyptian junta would once again support Israel’s crippling siege of the Gaza Strip.
Ever since Cast Lead, Gaza has had serious electricity shortages, with blackouts for up to 18 hours a day for most people. The power plant largely-destroyed by Israel has not be repaired thanks to the siege which blocks the necessary spare parts from being taken into the coastal strip. Accompanying fuel shortages, and the prohibitively high cost of the fuel which does get into Gaza, mean that vital services cannot operate; hence the raw, untreated sewage flowing straight into the streets and Mediterranean Sea. Rubbish cannot be cleared and taken to the dumps outside the residential zones so disease and vermin are real problems and health threats in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. As families take their sick children and elderly to the handful of hospitals, they are greeted with the news that not much can be done as the medical equipment has broken down and no spares are to hand, or almost half of the medicines on the Essential Drugs List are not available due to the blockade.
As the conditions worsen in Gaza, the international community should bow its head in shame while Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right is being torn to shreds by “the only democracy in the Middle East”, Israel:
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
As the appeals from Oxfam and Amnesty International to end the brutal collective punishment of a whole population, 43.5 per cent of which are under the age of 15, fall upon deaf ears, it would seem that the only hope resides in our fellow human beings, not our political leaders. It would be a sad day indeed for us as a global collective if we sit in silence as access to health, warmth from the cold and food is used as a weapon to besiege, torment and ultimately kill the people of Palestine. It is that serious.
Five years ago Israel killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, one-third of them children; thousands more were wounded and 600 of them have permanent disabilities as a result of Israel’s aggression. Yet Israel’s brutality did not stop there. Just over quarter of a million people in Gaza suffer from extreme poverty, which means that youngsters like 12-year-old Mustafa Al-Assar are forced to stand on street corners selling small items in order to help his family. Mustafa is only one of many children in Gaza suffering the same fate; Israel has stolen their childhood.
Perhaps as the world pays tribute to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, they will remember his speech from the dock during the 1964 Rivonia Trial: “Our fight is against real, and not imaginary, hardships or, to use the language of the State Prosecutor, `so-called hardships`. Basically, we fight against two features which are the hallmarks of African life in South Africa and which are entrenched by legislation which we seek to have repealed. These features are poverty and lack of human dignity.”
As poverty and the lack of human dignity become the hallmarks of life for Palestinians in Gaza, it is we, the supposed international community, who must protest against this deplorable siege. Israel has turned access to basic human rights into a weapon to destroy the Palestinians; it is unconscionable for the rest of us to remain silent.
Indeed, as we reflect on the painful memories and images of Operation Cast Lead and the mangled bodies of the children that Israel spun in the media as a military victory, the words of Mahatma Gandhi remind us that the brutal violence employed by Israel on the civilian population of Gaza didn’t stop with the end of Cast Lead five years ago. “Poverty,” said Gandhi, “is the worst form of violence.”
Gaza’s poverty is the real legacy of Cast Lead. Let not the legacy of our generation be that we remained silent as poverty and the lack of dignity defined the existence of the people of Palestine. End the Siege.
The writer is the Chairman of the Media Review Network South Africa
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.