Throughout the ten year Israeli-led blockade of the Gaza Strip only one Arab head of state has visited the territory. In October 2012, the then Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, went to Gaza to see for himself the devastation caused by Israel’s military offensives. Since then, the State of Qatar has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for reconstruction and development projects in the coastal enclave.
Five years on, the region has witnessed a major realignment of political forces. Following in the footsteps of Egypt, the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have undertaken to normalise relations with Israel, albeit without any formal declaration to this effect.
This extraordinary about-turn contradicts the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, which was brokered by the then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and adopted by the Arab League in 2002. It offered normalisation with Israel in exchange for Israel’s full withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and a “just settlement” to the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194. Not only has Israel dismissed the initiative, it has in fact, seized more land and taken measures to annex parts of the West Bank and the entire Syrian Golan Heights.
Not surprisingly, the closer the Gulf States gravitated toward Israel, the further they drifted away from Qatar. In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha on the pretext of its “interference in their internal affairs.” Although that crisis was contained momentarily, it was only a matter of time before Israel’s newly found Arab allies decided to move against their Gulf neighbour.
Regional pressures on Qatar provided the perfect opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to escalate its own campaign against the Hamas-led administration in Gaza. In April, President Mahmoud Abbas approved a 30 per cent cut in the salaries of civil servants in the besieged territory. That same month, the Palestinian Authority notified Israel that it would not pay for electricity supplies to Gaza. Residents in Gaza are now forced to make do with electricity for just 2-4 hours a day.
The health sector was the hardest hit by these measures, reaching its worst position in recent weeks as the searing Mediterranean summer took its toll. The last few days have witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of deaths, with fatalities highest among vulnerable women and children.
Furthermore, Dr Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, has disclosed that there are about 3,000-4,000 patients in Gaza who are in need of critical medical treatment. As if to rub salt into their wounds, however, the Ramallah-centric PA has refused to issue payment vouchers for more than 1,600 patients in Gaza to seek treatment in Israel and Jordan. Many of these people — Palestinians one and all, remember — are suffering from cancer and heart disease.
Amazingly, the only exception to this callous policy adopted by the Abbas administration was a cat owned by a Ukrainian expatriate in Gaza. Special permission was granted for it to be treated by a vet in Israel for a broken limb. The document herewith bears this out.
All told, the situation in Gaza leaves no doubt about the ability of Arab leaders to self-destruct. After 10 years of Israeli sanctions, unemployment in Gaza has climbed to 47 per cent while the number of people living in poverty now stands at 65 per cent. As the situation spirals out of control, Israel is beginning to shift the blame onto Abbas.
There is no proof that the intent of the Israeli blockade is to physically exterminate the people of Gaza; nor has it resulted in mass casualties (except when the Israel Defence Forces “react vigorously” against Palestinian civilians), unlike Iraq, where the Western imposed sanctions regime led to 1.7 million civilian deaths. However, there is absolutely no doubt that the essential foundations of life in Gaza have been destroyed; that alone, some experts believe, constitutes a form of genocide in accord with Resolution 96-1 (1946), which was adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly and states that the crime of genocide could occur independently of war crimes.
Given the length of the blockade of Gaza — and it is ongoing — it is quite astonishing that no tangible steps have been taken to end this outrage. The reluctance of leading Western countries like Germany and France to act contrasts sharply with the speed with which they have taken up the cause of Qatar as it faces its own blockade. The same can be said about Human Rights Watch, which has been vociferous in its opposition to the Saudi-UAE-Bahrain-Egypt blockade of Qatar.
There is simply no excuse for silence or complicity in the siege of Gaza, especially given the context of the Palestinian right to national liberation and self-determination. As such, nothing is more disgraceful than the decision of some Gulf States to support Israel by equating Hamas — which resists the Israeli occupation, nothing more — with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and Boko Haram.
No people love to be oppressed and vilified; the Palestinians in Gaza are no exception. They have chosen freedom instead of bondage; dignity instead of humiliation. For this reason they have been blockaded and deprived to the extent that 80 per cent are now dependent on foreign humanitarian aid. Gaza’s bitter experience of injustice and betrayal looks set to continue, but as Arab states revel in their shameless links with Israel, one thing is certain; the Palestinian people will remain indomitable.
— Middle East Monitor (@MiddleEastMnt) June 28, 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.