The Palestinians of Gaza have been under a tight blockade
since June 2007 when Hamas consolidated its control over Gaza�s security.
The blockade, which aims at forcing Hamas out of power, has
been strongly supported by the Bush administration, and reluctantly by the
Mubarak�s government in Egypt.
After Israel decided to tighten the blockade last week, by
cutting the supply of fuel used to generate electricity, Palestinians broke out
of the walls that separate the Gaza�s portion from Egypt�s portion of Rafah.
Deprived of life�s essentials, including food, medicine, and fuel, Palestinians
desperately flooded the stores of Egyptian Rafah to buy every thing they could
lay hands on.
The collapse of the seven-mile steel wall that separated
Gaza from Egypt creates new dynamics in the region. It is now the
responsibility of the Egyptians to push the Palestinian back inside Gaza�s
fences, and to make sure that they comply with the blockade requirements. Egypt
has already sent a reinforcement of riot police to push the Palestinians back
to their enclave against widespread demands by the Egyptian public to keep the
borders open. Mubarak is engaged in careful cost-benefit calculations to make
sure that the Gaza situation does not destabilize his government. The question
he confronts is quite clear: should he succumb to pressure from Israel and the
US government and invoke the wrath of his people, or should he comply with popular
pressure at the expense of losing the $2 billion his government receives
annually from the United States?
Palestinians are likely to resist efforts by the Egyptian
police to close the borders, and to use the skills they learned in the past
decades under Israeli occupation to maintain their freedom. The Palestinians of
Gaza could only be contained, though, at a high price that would include
further radicalization of the people of the Middle East.
Israel has, for long, been using heavy-handed tactics to force
the Palestinians to accept its efforts to expand settlements in the Palestinian
territories it occupies since 1967. Israel has been busy in creating new facts
on the ground, hoping that despite their current fierce resistance,
Palestinians would ultimately accept the �facts on the ground.� As it was
engaging in prolonged negotiations to withdraw from the Occupied Territories,
Israel continued to build settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza during
the '90s. It has, in the last seven years, further escalated its effort to
create a strong Israeli presence.
Israel�s ability to ignore blatant human rights violations
against the Palestinians derives from the great support it receives from world
Jewry and Western societies. Western Jews, emancipated and empowered by the
Enlightenment, are inspired by a long history of anti-Semitism that became
pronounced in 19th century Europe, and culminated in the Holocaust in the
mid-20th century. Many members of the Jewish American community, who were
actively involved in the civil rights movement, are ill-at-ease watching events
unfolding in the Middle East. Despite their disapproval of harsh and inhumane
Israeli policies toward Palestinians, they are reluctant to criticize Israel
for the fear that such criticism would undermine Western support.
The important questions that ultimately matter for finding a
lasting solution in the Middle East are two: Is silence the best approach to
support the Jews in the Holy Land? And is force the best approach to dealing
with Palestinians demands for equal rights?
There has been little public debate on the plight of the
Palestinians and the Israeli policies responsible for Palestinian misery. The
dominant discourse tends to shift the blame from Israel, the occupying force,
to the Palestinians. Very few Americans have in the past challenged blaming the
victim argument. With the deterioration of social and economic conditions, few
leading Americans gathered their courage to question Israeli actions against
Jimmy Carter, former US president who sponsored the Camp
David talk that led to the Peace Accord between Egypt and Israel, discussed in
details Israel's aggressive policies against the Palestinians in his recent
book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. As a result, Carter has been
demonized as an anti-Semite in talk shows and commentaries. John Mearsheimer of
Harvard University and Stephen Walt of the University of Chicago received even
harsher treatment upon publishing The Israel Lobby and Us Foreign Policy, about the impact of the lobbying
activities of pro-Israel hawks on the moral standing, and potentially on the
economic and political interests, of the United States.
Even Jewish leaders who spoke against Israeli excesses have
not been immune to pressures and attacks. Edgar Bronfman, Sr., the president of
the World Jewish Congress, was traumatized for writing a letter to President
Bush in 2003 urging him to persuade Israel to curb construction of its
controversial �security fence.� His critics accused him of �perfidy� and argued
that �it would be obscene at any time for the president of the World Jewish
Congress to lobby the president of the United States to resist policies being
promoted by the government of Israel.�
Likewise, Seymour Reich, the president of the Israel Policy
Forum, was denounced and accused of being �irresponsible,� for advising
Condoleezza Rice in November 2005 to ask Israel to reopen a critical border
crossing in the Gaza Strip. His critics insisted that �there is absolutely no
room in the Jewish mainstream for actively canvassing against the
security-related policies . . . of Israel.� The severity of the attacks forced
Reich to announce that �the word �pressure� is not in my vocabulary when it
comes to Israel.�
Stifling of debate is dangerous because it undermines all
efforts to explore a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thereby
allowing things to deteriorate to the point of crisis. Jewish peace and
tranquility cannot be achieved at the expense of Palestinian suffering. If
history, including the recent history of European Jews, teaches us anything it
should be that oppression and force can never break the resolve of a people to
live in dignity, but can only complicate the possibility of reconciling the
parties locked in bloody confrontation. After decades of marginalization and
mistreatment, the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are more determined
than ever to confront their occupiers. And the Palestinians in the refugee
camps in neighboring Arab countries are eager to return to their homeland,
which has become for the second generation of Palestinians born in the Diaspora
a Promised Land of a sort.
Yasmine Ali captures the sentiments expressed by Palestinian
children during her visit to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon in 2000.
These sentiments included a short essay posted on the school's magazine wall.
"Palestine is a very, very beautiful land,� the essay by an elementary
school student reads. �There is a sea of chocolate in Palestine . . . Children
are always happy in Palestine . . . Women don't gossip in Palestine . . . The
streets are very clean in Palestine . . . It is always Eid ["Feast
Day"] in Palestine . . . Parents don't die in Palestine." Evidently,
Palestine is no more a Promised Land only for Jews, but for exiled Palestinians
Clearly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is intractable,
and the future of the conflict is unpredictable. People of conscious on all
sides of the issue have, though, a heavy moral duty to fulfill: to ensure that
the solution to the conflict is fair and humane, and that the human rights of
all involved are respected and protected. Relying on disparity of power and on
efforts to keep the situation in the Holy Land away from public debate can only
exacerbate an already dire situation, and ensure the continuation of anguish
The blockade against Palestinians in Gaza is a form of
collective punishment and must not be allowed to stand. Collective punishment
was banned by the Fourth Geneva Convention, and we must not allow it to slip
back in. All people of conscience should speak up and demand humane treatment
for the long-suffering Palestinians. Silence is not an option, because those
who choose silence allow extremist voices to decide the future.
Louay M. Safi serves as the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development
Center, an Indiana based organization dedicated to enhancing leadership
qualities and skills. He writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam and
the West, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. His
commentaries are available at: www.aninsight.org.