End the Gaza Blockade

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) sent a letter urging Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to ensure that Israel ends the blockade of Gaza. The letter was sent (Dec 2) in support of the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay’s call for the immediate end of the blockade.

By Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520-0099

Dear Dr. Rice:

I am writing to urge you to ensure that Israel complies with international humanitarian law and end its blockade of Gaza. Last week, the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for its immediate end. In response, Israel renewed the blockade and dismissed Ms. Pillay’s assessment for being “one-sided.” While there are many political considerations to be made in this volatile region, we can not tolerate the collective punishment of 1.5 million people. Moreover, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza undermines Israel’s political and security goals.

Israel has a right to defend itself and its citizens. This includes taking action against Hamas for its abominable mortar attacks into southern Israel. However that action should not and cannot amount to collective punishment against the Palestinian people, prohibited by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as it does today.

Israel’s debilitating blockade has halted the supply of UN food and medical aid to 750,000 Palestinians and forced Gaza’s sole power plant to shut down. Since its imposition the blockade has effectively resulted in the collapse of the economy and limited access to basic goods including wheat, flour, baby milk, rice, sanitized water, and other essential goods. It has also destroyed Gaza’s public service infrastructure. Due to Israel’s prohibition on the import of spare parts as well as its punitive restrictions on fuel and electricity, hospitals cannot operate lifesaving equipment and nearly 40-50 tons of sewage pours into the sea daily.

Such policies will not create the peace and security Israel so direly needs. Instead, children grades four through nine are demonstrating an 80 percent failure rate in schools. Those children that overcome their daunting circumstances and perform well in school, find that they have few job opportunities as adults. Consider that in June 2005, there were 3,900 factories in Gaza employing 35,000 people and today there are less than 195 left employing only 1,750 people. Consider also that the agriculture sector has been significantly hurt and nearly 40,000 workers who depend on cash crops no longer have an income. Today, 80 percent of Gazan families depend on humanitarian aid.

The Israeli government has made clear that it wants to avoid a humanitarian crisis, yet its continued blockade belies its best intentions. I recognize Israel’s decision to allow a limited number of trucks to enter Gaza on November 17th, but according to the High Commissioner, this is insufficient to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Ms. Pillay asserts that "only a full lifting of the blockade followed by a strong humanitarian response will be adequate to relieve the massive humanitarian suffering evident in Gaza today." Also of grave concern is the complete closure of Gaza to international media, an issue brought to light in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from executives from the Associated Press, BBC, Reuters, New York Times and CNN. The work of journalists is imperative in assessing and documenting the effects of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Israel has responded to Ms. Pillay’s calls by laying blame for the humanitarian crisis on Hamas. While the current crisis may be exacerbated, instigated, even perpetuated by Hamas, the responsibility for beginning and ending the humanitarian crisis is certainly not Hamas’s. Pursuant to the Fourth Geneva Conventions, as an occupying power, Israel is responsible for the safety and well-being of the Palestinian civilians living in Gaza. Moreover, only Israel has the ability to resume the flow of basic goods and humanitarian supplies into, and out of, the Gaza Strip.

The Administration has the responsibility and the authority to ensure that Israel comply with international humanitarian law and alleviate a humanitarian crisis that has beset the Gaza Strip. I urge you to call on Israel to lift its blockade for the sake of a viable solution and for the sake of Palestinians and Israelis who deserve to live in peace.

Sincerely,
Dennis J. Kucinich
Member of Congress

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