By Hany Ramadan – Cairo
The Gaza Strip has been living under an Israeli 16-month-old despicable siege, which is now reaching its most harshly shocking pinnacle. In addition to blocking the flow of food, medical supplies, and basic needs, Israel has recently barred the fuel supplies from reaching the impoverished strip.
As a result, wide blackouts have reigned over the besieged city of about 1.6 million civilians. The majority of Gazans are now using candles to light up their homes and streets.
Several law experts and human rights activists agree that Gaza is now the world’s largest "open-air prison" where civilians are denied their basic human rights.
"Israel is atrociously controlling the lives of 1,700,000 civilians in Gaza, which is now the world’s largest open-air prison," Raji Sourani, law expert and director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), told IslamOnline.net.
Lack of fuel supplies in Gaza is toughly affecting its hospitals and bringing about death to hospitalized patients of critical health conditions.
"When hospital crucial apparatuses stop working due to shortage of power, especially those in intensive care units, certain death becomes the fate of helpless patients in Gaza’s hospitals," Sourani said.
The PCHR is a Gaza-based independent organization with wide international affiliations. It is an affiliate of the International Federation of Human Rights in Paris, (FIDH), Geneva International Commission of Jurists, and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network in Copenhagen.
Sourani believes that there is no need for Israel to invade Gaza, as there is nothing worse than that it can do there.
Hitting out at the silent international community, the law expert sees Gaza’s blockade is a crime against humanity that entails a quick move.
"Gaza’s tragedy is a shame on the face of the international community in the 21st century. All human rights and international law principles are violated in the impoverished strip," Sourani added.
UN Chief Invited
In an invitation letter to Ban Ki-Mon, independent Palestinian lawmaker Gamal El Khoudary, chairman of the Popular Committee Against Siege (PCAS), called upon the UN Secretary General to visit the Gaza strip.
"We would like to invite you urgently to pay a visit to the Gaza strip. People are slowly dying as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRAW) halted its services," said the invitation, a copy of which was received by IslamOnline.net.
Telling about the drawbacks of the Israeli siege against Gaza, the invitation says that power, food, and medicine have vanished from the besieged strip, as Israel goes on its "flagrant violations of all human rights and laws" by blocking the UNRAW aids into Gaza.
"Around 260 people have died due to blocking them from travel for medical treatment or lack of medicines," it said.
The invitation says that around one million people in Gaza, who are UNRAW beneficiaries, including Gaza children of whom 60% are suffering malnutrition, are now facing a real threat of hunger.
It highlights also the fact that nearly 80 percent of Gaza population live under the poverty line and depend mainly on humanitarian aids provided by the UNRAW and other foreign, Arab, and Islamic aid organizations.
Several human rights organizations worldwide insist that Gaza’s tragedy, under such a rigorous blockade, is one of the most appalling tragedies in modern history.
Unable to eke out their daily living, most Gazans are sure now their dream of a free Palestinian state has gone down the drain.
The talk about the Palestinians’ aspirations for independence and Right of Return usually fades out at such times, as Sourani believes.
"Now, instead of calling for our independence or Right of Return, we are calling for food, medicine, and water to save the lives of our people," he said.
Pressure on Hamas
Several Palestinian political analysts believe the Israeli siege is a disproportionate collective punishment that aims basically at breaking Gazans’ determination and willpower after they had elected Hamas to power in the 2006 general elections.
They see the main purpose of the siege is to trigger Gazans against Hamas’ rule in the strip. However, this tactic— that Israel has failed to apply even with the help of the United States and other countries in the region— seems to have proven futile with Gazans’ unwavering willingness for survival.
"I think the Gazans’ determination under Hamas’s rule will not be broken by this Israeli siege," Prof. Raed Noirat, a Palestinian political expert and professor of political science at Al-Najah university, said.
Noirat believes that Israel’s attempts to make Gazans revolt against Hamas have all failed and will never work. He argues that the majority of Gazans trust Hamas because Hamas leaders have been bearing the same share of burdens and hardships of life like all people in Gaza, if not more.
Saleh Naami, a Palestinian political analyst agrees with Noirat that one of the main reasons behind the current Israeli escalation against Gaza is to put more pressure on Hamas.
"Israel is against Hamas, and thus the Israelis would like to put Hamas under domestic and regional pressure all the time," Naami told IslamOnline.net
He believes Israel sees stability in Gaza is against its interests, and that’s why it is imposing such a strict blockade on Gaza.
A number of Political observers have criticized Israel arguing that despite a lot of calls on the Israelis to open Gaza’s 16 crossings, as the signed truce between Israel and Hamas entails, Israel is insistently giving no heed.
On the timing of the current escalation against Gaza, Noirat says there are a number of reasons. It is largely to make Hamas appear the main accountable for the failure of the Palestinian national dialogue in Cairo, even before it starts. It is to stir up "anti-Hamas sentiments" in Gaza and the Arab world as well.
Israeli Politics Involved
Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Taher a-Nunu, said that Israel’s latest escalation against Gaza is "an Israeli provocation amid at increasing Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s standing in the polls," as the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper reported.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister and Labor party leader, is expected to face a tough election race with his main rival Tzipi Livni, the newly elected leader of the ruling Kadima party.
Noirat thinks Israel’s elections have something major to do with the latest escalation against Gaza too. He thinks Israel’s leaders want to start their election campaigns early, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
"Israel is now witnessing political mobility as the February general elections are approaching. This escalation comes as an early preparation for the election campaigns that will start soon after the truce ends," he said.
The five-month-old truce is supposed to end on 10 December.
A few weeks before the Gaza escalation, Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for early elections after she had failed to form a new coalition government. She had won the leadership of the ruling Kadima party and is assumed to succeed Ehud Olmert, who decided to resign over corruption charges.
"Thus, I expect that escalations will intensify soon as the Israelis want," Noirat said.
-Hany Ramadan is a staff writer and editor for the Politics in Depth section of IslamOnline.net. He holds a pre-MA in English linguistics from Cairo University. He was awarded the UK Foreign Office Chevening Fellowship, April 2008, and studied the program of "Democracy, Security, and Rule of Law" at the University of Birmingham, UK. (Originally published in IslamOnline.net)