Munjed Ahmad: Israel’s offensive, blockade strangling Gaza, its people

By Munjed Ahmad, Journal Sentinel – 28 Dec 2009
www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/80233372.html

One year after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s military offensive against Gaza that began on Dec. 27, 2008, residents there are still struggling to recover from the worst attack against Palestinians since the Six Day War in 1967.

A blockade of Gaza’s borders implemented by Israel, now well into its third year and made worse after Operation Cast Lead, has crippled the economy and has prevented the Palestinians of Gaza from rebuilding their lives after last winter’s war, which killed 1,409 people – including 355 children – and destroyed hospitals, water treatment plants, factories, schools and mosques.

Israel’s blockade is slowly strangling Gaza, a tiny strip of land roughly two-thirds the size of Chicago that is bordered by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

The siege prohibits the export of Palestinian goods and severely limits the import of humanitarian supplies, such as food, medicine and reconstruction materials. The United Nations reports that Israel allows into Gaza less than 25% of the goods it did before the siege began in June 2007. It has crippled Gaza’s economy and plunged 90% of its 1.5 million inhabitants into poverty. Unemployment stands at more than 50%.

This fall, Israel permanently closed the Nahal Oz crossing, the sole oil and gas terminal serving Gaza. Severely restricted supplies – less than 20% of what is needed – are shipped through another crossing. Palestinian media report more than 30 service stations have closed for lack of fuel. Hospitals have ceased cooking food or doing laundry – both of which negatively affect hygiene and health in those institutions.

Health care is one of the blockade’s biggest casualties. At least 362 people have died since June 2007 because they could not access appropriate medical care, according to the Palestinian National Authority Ministry of Health. Twenty-two people died in the first eight months of 2009 alone. As of June, nearly 20% of essential drugs for things like kidney and heart disease were depleted, according to the Gaza Central Drug Store.

International law guarantees everyone the right to an adequate standard of living – to work, food and water. Israel’s blockade denies the Palestinians of Gaza these rights. The Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, stipulates that occupiers must protect the people it occupies – including providing adequate medical care. The U.N. says Israel’s blockade amounts to collective punishment, prohibited under international humanitarian law.

The United States makes aid to foreign countries contingent upon human rights practices. Yet the U.S. annually awards Israel more than $3 billion in unconditional military and other aid. Washington’s infrequent warnings to Israel about human rights abuses carry no weight so long as the equivalent of $7 million per day continues to flow to Israel with no strings attached.

The U.S. recently vetoed a measure in the U.N. Human Rights Council supporting the Goldstone Report, the U.N.-sanctioned study of Operation Cast Lead that said Israel committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. This veto – along with the continuing billions of dollars in foreign aid – allows Israel to act with impunity. U.S. support of Israel hurts our standing in the Arab and Muslim worlds and weakens our negotiating stance with all parties to the conflict.

As Americans, we should be outraged our tax money supports Israel and its illegal and inhumane siege of Gaza. As the New Year approaches, perhaps leaning on our elected officials to hold Israel accountable by threatening to withhold aid should be on our list of resolutions.

Munjed Ahmad is a Milwaukee attorney and vice chairman of American Muslims for Palestine.

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