There are 1.5 million men, women and children currently
imprisoned without food, water, fuel or essential medicines. There is little to
cook and nothing to cook on except open-air wood fires.
Students do their best to learn by candlelight. Adults
struggle to find transport to take them to work, those lucky enough to have a
job; 60 per cent are unemployed. The lives of the sick hang on a lottery. Soon
they will face the worst of the winter in the dark. Worst of all, there is no
As if all this suffering isn�t enough, their neighbourhoods
are regularly bombed; their leaders assassinated. They stood by helplessly as
their life-sustaining olive groves were willfully destroyed and their homes
Most of the people of Gaza have been captives throughout
their lives. Today, they have nothing; no real champions, no future, no hope;
not even bread. And what is the so-called international community doing about
their man-made plight? The answer is nothing. Indeed, many neighbouring
countries are colluding, albeit reluctantly.
How long are we going to witness this terrible example of
man�s inhumanity to man without feeling ashamed at our own silence or anger at
the inaction of our own leaders? Why are normally compassionate people who
enjoy the benefits of First World living unflinching when it comes to the pain
endured by Palestinians?
It seems to me there is a sense that these stateless people
fighting for a home and to retain their identity are somehow at fault. Perhaps
in that way we can ease our own consciences.
When natural disasters, such as a tsunami, an earthquake, a
hurricane or famine occur, we open our hearts and our wallets. We rail at
countries where bad governance is responsible for poverty, hunger and civil
war, such as Zimbabwe and the Congo.
We rightfully feel a sense of outrage over the continued
existence of Guantanamo. Yet, how many of us do more than shrug our shoulders
at the way Israel treats 1.5 million people encaged in a living hell?
For the last three weeks, Israel has imposed a complete
blockade on the Gaza Strip in response to homemade rockets that were lobbed at
southern Israel. It doesn�t care that �collective punishment� is illegal both
under international law and the Geneva Conventions.
For instance, Article 33 of the Geneva Conventions IV (1949)
reads: �No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not
personally committed. Collective penalties, pillage and reprisals against
protected persons and their property are prohibited.�
Last January, Israel�s Supreme Court upheld an earlier
blockade of Gaza even while confirming Israel�s obligation under international
law not to deliberately harm civilians.
Well, Israel is deliberately harming civilians. Those
premature newborns hanging by a thread to life because Gaza�s largest hospital,
Shifa, is operating on a faulty generator and patients suffering kidney failure
who cannot receive dialysis are being punished for crimes they didn�t commit.
On Sunday, King Abdullah of Jordan made this appeal to EU
ambassadors: �The international community should do its utmost to end suffering
of Palestinians in Gaza.� A fine sentiment, indeed, but that�s as far as it
Earlier, Israel rejected an appeal by the secretary-general
of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, who underscored the �importance of having Israel
urgently permit the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population
of Gaza, and regrets that his calls have not yet been heeded.�
The exiled leader of Hamas, Khalid Mesha�al, has criticised
the leaders of Arab and Muslim countries for their silence and says he would
like �every Arab country to send a boat to Gaza.�
Whatever one feels about the merits of Hamas as a political
party or a fighting force, Mesha�al has a point. King Abdullah�s appeal to the
international community is welcomed but it should have been directed
specifically at the Arab world, which has not only a moral but a brotherly duty
to show the way.
Egypt should open Rafah, despite its fears that an
uncontrollable human flood will ensue, simply because it�s the right thing to
Sad to say, but Israel has proved time and time again that
international condemnation bounces off it like water off a duck�s back. The
Israelis cared a hoot when former US president Jimmy Carter called the blockade
�a crime and atrocity� back in April or when the Nobel peace laureate referred
to it as �an abomination� in May.
No more pleading. There needs to be action. Israel should be
treated in the same way South Africa under apartheid was -- with boycotts and
isolation. Its government should be tried at The Hague even in absentia and its
officials should be liable to arrest wherever they travel.
Israel with the backing of Washington believes it is
inviolable; it can do whatever it likes and step on whomever it wishes without
repercussions. If words won�t cut it, then the only way for the Palestinians to
be heard is for the world to give Israel a small but bitter taste of its own
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.