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Stop the collective punishment and end the siege of Gaza now

October 5, 2023 at 11:56 am

Palestinian children in Gaza take part in a protest calling for ending the siege on Gaza strip, on 17 July 2023 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Montiror]

The 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) and the Zionist terror gangs’ occupation of Palestine as well as the ethnic cleansing of its people marked the beginning of many tragedies for the Palestinians. Since then, the occupation state of Israel has inflicted a great deal of suffering on the Palestinians, with the intention of emptying the land and displacing its people to “prove” the Zionist myth that it was “a land without a people for a people without a land.” The siege and blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip is a prime example of this.

The coastal territory was developed to protect refugees under the auspices of the Egyptian army after the Nakba, with groups of camps near its cities and surrounding areas. Internationally it was assumed that the densely populated Gaza Strip could sustain itself, which was far from reality. Ever since the 1967 war, Israel has not only destroyed the Strip’s agricultural and industrial sectors, but also suffocated the fishing industry; it has imposed a strict blockade since 2006. This has targeted all sectors of life, affecting over two million Palestinians living in Gaza. It remains a punitive measure imposed after the legislative election in January 2006 produced the “wrong” result.

The Strip was declared by the apartheid state to be a “hostile entity” and the basic human rights of its people have been violated ever since. They endure severe restrictions on the entry of fuel and essential goods, as well as on the movement of individuals to and from the Strip, including patients and students. The blockade has led to higher cancer mortality rates in Gaza compared with the global average. The ability to travel, which is a legitimate right for every individual, has become a dream for most Palestinians in Gaza.

READ: Palestinians in Gaza rally to end Israel’s years-long siege

Over the past 17 years, the so-called Israel “Defence” Forces have launched five major military offensives on the Gaza Strip — in 2008-2009, 2012, 2014 and 2022 — in addition to sporadic aerial and ground attacks. All crossings with the Strip were closed except at Rafah and Beit Hanoun (Erez), and security restrictions on travel were imposed. Before the siege, people and goods could move to and from the Strip through six crossings.

The deliberate isolation of Gaza has been reinforced over the years, aided and abetted by Israel’s allies, along with controls on the quantity and quality of goods and materials being allowed in; thousands of items have been banned. This has caused a devastating economic crisis, leading to a sharp increase in poverty and unemployment, which stands at 45 per cent among younger people.

Thousands of acres of land planted with trees and crops, especially olive trees, have been destroyed

Israel has basically destroyed Gaza’s agriculture and industries. A “buffer zone” has been imposed on the Gaza side of the nominal border fence, and all Palestinians are prohibited from accessing it, even to farm their own land. Such restricted-access areas cover 35 per cent of all arable land in Gaza. Moreover, thousands of acres of land planted with trees and crops, especially olive trees, have been destroyed over the years. Farmers are also targeted frequently by Israeli soldiers.

Fishermen are stopped by the Israeli navy from fishing beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast. That’s the best-case scenario, although the Oslo Accords stipulated a limit of 20 nautical miles (about 37 kilometres); it’s not uncommon for a three-mile limit to be imposed. Israeli navy gunboats attack fishermen and their boats on a regular basis. The only port serving Gaza has been destroyed; the arrival and departure of foreign ships is out of the question.

READ: Israel navy shoots sewage water at Gaza fishermen

Gaza International Airport was opened in 1998 and served as Gaza’s only air link to the outside world. The outbreak of Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 saw all aircraft grounded by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli air force bombed the runway and airport buildings, which have never been allowed to be rebuilt.

The Palestinians across the occupied territories — the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem — have been deprived of any normal life by Israel’s brutal military occupation. Even the independent state promised by the Oslo Accords thirty years ago has not been allowed to come into being. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that he will not allow a viable State of Palestine to exist alongside the occupation state.

Israel and its allies have worked to sow discord and division among the Palestinian people. The siege imposed on the Gaza Strip is backed by much of the international community led by the US, which has a history of imposing devastating sieges on entire populations, such as that imposed on Iraq in 1990 leading to the death of around 1.65 million people, many of them children.

If the world continues to allow Israel to act with impunity against the Palestinian people in Gaza and elsewhere, depriving them of the rights that are taken for granted elsewhere, unpredictable repercussions will be the result. Why can’t they have their own port and airport, and freedom to travel abroad? This vile siege must be ended. Collective punishment is a war crime, and a just solution must be forthcoming based on international law if the world really is determined to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.

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Israel should not be allowed to destroy Gaza and its infrastructure without any accountability for its crimes. Its political and military leaders responsible for this collective punishment should face charges at the International Criminal Court. Legally, technically and practically, Israel is still occupying the Gaza Strip. The age of Israeli impunity has to be ended without delay, otherwise the occupation state will continue to be the source of unrest and insecurity across the region, regardless of how many Arab states “normalise” relations with what is, by any standards, an extremely abnormal apartheid state.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.