The sun is shining, the beach is filling up and the squeal of car tyres and screech of car horns is pervasive. I could be in Beirut or any one of a number of Levantine Mediterranean coastal cities, but I’m in Gaza City and this is not a normal seaside scenario; how many places have Israeli gunboats patrolling within sight of the shore in order to prevent local fishermen operating in their own territorial waters?.
“Hamasastan”, as Gaza is dubbed by fanatical Zionists of the Israel Lobby in the media, is far from normal, but the myths about the besieged Hamas-run strip of land peddled by the Lobbyists betray their own prejudices more than the reality. Hamas won the free and fair elections in 2006 and has ruled ever since under a cruel blockade imposed by Israel and Western governments. That the government has been able to do so, and survive a brutally aggressive invasion by Israel and still increase public sector employment in the interim is little short of miraculous. The myths should be of heroic resistance against the siege not of the gutter variety spewed out by the Zionists and their apologists.
The blockade of Gaza has been, and largely remains despite minor cosmetic “easing”, total: economic, medical, travel and financial. A shameful aspect of this siege, Western democracies’ hypocrisy aside, is the craven approach of the Arab states. Claiming solidarity with the people of Palestine on the one hand, the wealthy Gulf States have joined the bloc behind the siege. The Mubarak regime in Egypt blocked $50 million destined for Gaza. According to the Minister of Works and Social Affairs in the Hamas government that money is still held in Cairo, despite the change of regime. “It is shameful,” said Ahmad Al-Kurd, “that support for the very poorest in Palestinian society comes from European countries and NGOs while our ‘Arab brothers’ in neighbouring governments comply with the siege conditions imposed by Israel and its Zionist supporters in the West.”
The bottom line in all of this, added Dr Essam Mustafa, co-ordinator of the latest Miles for Smiles convoy to break the siege, is that the Israeli occupation is the root cause of the problems facing the people of Palestine. Since 1948, the Palestinians have seen their land and resources taken from them day by day, month by month, and year by year. The “missed opportunities” for peace oft-cited by Israeli and US politicians critical of successive Palestinian leaders were for the latter to agree to abandon 78 percent of their land in favour of fanatical Jewish colonists from around the world.
The on-going blockade of Gaza is a collective punishment of the Palestinians, in breach of international law and conventions that the British and other governments claim to uphold. As one Israeli politician said, “We don’t want to starve the Palestinians, just put them on a strict diet.”
There is, said Dr Mustafa, a deliberate policy to punish the Palestinians on a daily basis. Politicians have sat down and agreed to put the people of Palestine under such hardship. “The hypocrisy is breath-taking,” he added. While charities trying to help the Palestinians are designated as “terrorist entities” by the American government, Washington’s state international development body USAID works in Gaza in ways and with local bodies denied to other charities. In fact, the charity of which Dr Mustafa and I are trustees, Interpal, is so-designated by the US even USAID assists the same charities.
A cynic might say that this is all part of a political drive to win hearts and minds by an American administration which accuses British and other charities of doing exactly that for the benefit of the elected government of the people of Palestine.
The humanitarian crisis facing ordinary people in Gaza, almost 50 percent of whom are unemployed, means, for example, that 200 medicines on the standard Essential Medicines List used by hospitals worldwide are denied to Palestinians. Shelves in the Central Medical Store in Gaza are empty. How is it possible for a humane world to sit on the side-lines and let this happen?
Fortunately, increasing numbers of the human family, of all faiths and none, are not prepared to sit back and do nothing. The Miles for Smiles convoy included two French lawyers, neither of them a Muslim, determined to bring to justice those responsible for creating the unacceptable conditions endured by Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories – Gaza and the West Bank – and the refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Such efforts, including the relatively meagre medical aid siege-busting convoys like Miles for Smiles can take to Gaza, are not made to prop up any government; the government of Gaza is run by Hamas, but NGOs sending aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and neighbouring countries no more support the respective governments in those domains than they do that in control of Gaza.
Such a distinction is overlooked by the influential Israel Lobbies in Europe and America. For them, the aim is to support the state of Israel, right or wrong; the NGOs and well-wishers of aid convoys to Gaza are there to support and give desperately-need aid to the people of Palestine. That’s a crucial difference and one which the governments in London, Washington, Paris and Berlin should note.
Humanitarian aid is not going to solve the conflict in the Holy Land, but political action will. As one, non-Muslim, convoy participant said, “if the West approves of the Arab Spring, how can our governments continue to deny the Palestinians their summer?” How, indeed.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.