By Jonathan Kuttab
The current events in Gaza reveal the scandal of how the churches and civil society have been so hoodwinked by “conventional wisdom” that they all but ignored two of the most pressing issues in the Palestinian situation today: the Right of Return, and the Siege of Gaza. The demonstrations at the border are specifically intended to bring to our attention these two issues which we have largely ignored:
Over 70% of the residents of Gaza are refugees who lost their homes and livelihood in 1948, and who have been living on international charity and the hope of a return for 70 years. The Oslo Agreements have dictated that the issue of the refugees, (together with Jerusalem, and settlements) should be deferred till “later”, and everyone seems to go along with that. The fact is that the international community has accepted that Jews have a right to “return” after 2000 years while denying that same right to Palestinians who are living in refugee camp misery, and statelessness within a few miles of their actual homes, lands and villages from which they were driven 70 years ago. How have we become so complicit and insensitive to morality and logic that we do not make the Right of Return a top priority? To say that such a return would undermine the “demographic composition” (read “racial purity”) of Israel is to lay bare the essentially racist and discriminatory nature of the goal of a Jewish state, and to challenge the very basis of Zionism. Yet this is not a discussion we are willing to have.
The second issue is far more pressing and immediate: In the Gaza strip today, almost two million people live in a most congested open air prison. It is 20 miles long and 3-5 miles wide, and all its borders are tightly controlled by Israel, and (at its direction) Egypt. Their airspace is constantly abuzz with Israeli drones, and planes and their shore, controlled by the Israeli navy. Their fishing rights ( fixed at 12 nautical miles by the Oslo Accords) have been shrunk to 3-6 miles because Israel wants to freely exploit gas fields in the sea off their shores; their water table has been degraded and polluted to the point where 95% of their water is undrinkable; Their fuel supply is restricted and their electricity is carefully limited to 3-4 hours a day, and even their food supply is restricted to the barest minimum requires to keep them , “not starving, but on a strict diet “. When an Israeli General first made this statement a few years back, I thought he was joking, but it turned out Israel had actually calculated how many calories a day are required to achieve that goal, and that calculation was used to determine how many truckloads of food will be allowed in every day; Israel also controls all exports from Gaza, of agricultural or other produce. The movement of goods and services in and out of Gaza is subject to Israel’s discretion. All aspects of life in Gaza are strictly controlled and have been for over 10 years, with hardly any response from the international community. One reason for this is that under the Oslo agreements, a majority of Gazans voted for Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, dominated by Fatah, and supported by Israel and the international community, refused to turn power over to them, so Hamas took over power in Gaza, and the result was that the entire Gaza and its population became a Pariah. The justification was that Gaza is a terrorist group, and occasionally dares to resist by shooting largely ineffective rockets at Israel, and even dares to dig tunnels to break out of its suffocating isolation, while Israel routinely invades their territory, and bombs them at will.
Now I am no apologist for Hamas, and fully believe that armed resistance, while legitimate under international law, is both ineffective and counterproductive for Palestinians, but this is no excuse for this crippling siege and the humanitarian situation in Gaza is an injustice that calls to the high heavens. Even peaceful attempts, by sea or land to break this siege are met with deadly force.
And now, when Palestinians, ( with or without the encouragement of Hamas, it really does not matter) choose to use nonviolence to protest this outrageous situation, they are ordered to stop, and then methodically and clinically killed and maimed by Israeli sharpshooters and drones acting out of safety and impunity against the unarmed protesters. Already 44 have been killed, and about 5000 wounded, 1500 of them by live ammunition. The Israeli army uses explosive dumdum bullets that shatter bones and tissues and leads to amputations and permanent injuries. Yet they continue to protest and pay a heavy price just to be heard. Are we listening? Is the church listening? Are Mennonites listening?