Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Behind Gaza's tragedy

Palestinian may be killing Palestinian in the Gaza Strip but the ultimate responsibility for its descent into near civil war rests principally with the governments of the United States, Britain and Israel. In the last year they have destabilised Gaza politically, reduced its economy to ruins and destroyed much of its infrastructure with high explosive. In despair, Palestinians belonging to Hamas and Fatah have turned on each other in a violent way that undermines their cause and lends comfort to their enemies. For all their talk of "free and fair elections", the US-British-Israeli alliance from the start refused to accept the fact that the Islamic-based party Hamas won the Gaza elections of January 2006. From the moment Hamas formed a government in March 2006, they were subjected to a campaign aimed at undermining their legitimacy. International aid was withdrawn on the grounds that Hamas refused to recognise Israel. The double standards involved were monumental. The majority of Gaza's 1.4 million residents are refugees who fled or were expelled in 1948 from the land that became Israel. Most Gazans live in eight refugee camps to which the UN delivers health, education and other humanitarian services. Israel has brutally denied the Palestinians the right to self-determination through occupation and division. Yet Israel continue to receive huge amounts of military and financial support from the United States. Civil servants and other public officials in Gaza lost their pay as a result of the withdrawal of aid. Gazan farmers saw their food exports rot because of border closures while Israel owes farmers hundreds of millions of dollars from the past. Israel continues to exert day-to-day control over Gaza. A report by Gisha, an Israeli human rights organisation, points out: "Gaza residents know that significant aspects of their lives - the ability to exit or enter Gaza, the supply of medicine, fuel and other basic goods, the possibility to transport crops to export markets, the ability to use electric lights - depend on decisions made by Israel's military." There is an air blockade. Israel has not allowed Gaza's international airport to re-open. The Israeli navy continues to patrol the coastline in what it says in an effort to prevent arms smuggling. Palestinian fishing boats are sometimes fired on for straying outside Israeli-imposed zones. Israel has retained control of the Palestinian population registry. This enables it to decide who can be a resident of Gaza - and who can come and go. The reports says that tens of thousands of people have been barred from the registry and consequently have no identity papers. If that wasn’t enough, the Israeli government used the cover of the war on Lebanon to destroy much of Gaza’s infrastructure. A United Nations report estimated that losses totalling hundreds of millions of dollars were inflicted in the bombing campaign, which targeted bridges, water supply, roads, electricity generation, industry, public buildings and agriculture. Needless to say, Washington and London said and did nothing while the Israeli government perpetrated yet another act of state terror against a defenceless, stateless people.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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