By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
One thing is missing in the ‘Free Gaza’ movement. Activists and civil societies and journalists who support the Palestinian cause are rightfully angry at Israel’s murderous campaign against the aid-loaded ‘Freedom Flotilla’ that was going to the besieged and starved residents of Gaza, but they ignore the overall conditions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the refugee camps.
If the Palestinian struggle is for statehood and political and civil rights, rather than to receive international handouts, then life in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the refugee camps is as bad as in Gaza. Unfortunately, foreign supporters of Israel and even Arab news media and journalists bought into the Israeli and US claim that the conditions in the West Bank are good, the “economic peace” is working, the growth of the economy had surpassed expectations and the people are prospering. They quote Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad government spokes-people that the Palestinians in the West Bank enjoy unprecedented economic boom. There is nothing further from the truth! Growth of economy that is based on international donations and subject to unpredictable daily whims and manipulations of the occupation power is nothing but a lie, empty rhetoric and a sales pitch for Netanyahu’s “economic peace” as an alternative to the end of occupation.
There can be no viable economy to speak of while Israel’s unchallenged control of the occupied lands deprives the indigenous Palestinians from controlling their resources, the land, water, borders and commerce. Palestinians’ houses are being demolished; permits for building are not issued in East Jerusalem and 80% of the West Bank; the farmers are not allowed to dig wells more than one third as deep as the Israeli settlers; and Israel restricts access to the land needed to meet Palestinian population growth. Olive and its oil have always been a major source of income for a large segment of the Palestinian farmers. The Israeli military and the settlers destroyed olive orchards in many localities and prevented the farmers from harvesting what was left of their trees.
The growth of the “economic peace” based on international hand-outs is being advertised so that Israeli military would keep control of the West Bank, including its borders and air-space, people movement and who can live there, while allowing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to police the cities and support raids by the Israeli forces against activists deemed as security threat to occupation. Israel can transform the West Bank economy into a “Gaza style” economy in no time if the PA leaders decided to end their jobs as security contractors to Israel. When Yasser Arafat tried to redeem himself and re-establish his pre-PA status as a freedom fighter, Israel and the US turned off the sources that kept the Palestinians’ economy going, starved the Palestinians, until Arafat died in mysterious circumstances and Mahmoud Abbas was installed as their trusted man in Palestine.
There are striking similarities between the Palestinian 1987-93 First Intifada against the occupation and the “Free Gaza” movement to break the blockade and the siege of the Palestinians in Gaza enclave. Camp refugees in Gaza initiated the two movements, and both movements were civil disobedience responses to Israel’s occupation and violations of the Palestinians’ civil and political rights and the complicity of Israel’s defenders in the West who allow it to pursue a pattern of unlawful excesses with impunity and dismiss its crimes as justifiable “self defense” actions.
The First Intifada main events were grassroots popular demonstrations with mostly stone-throwing Palestinian children demanding end of occupation and asking to live free in their own lands. Israel’s response to the passive uprising was to use its full military power to shoot and kill, arrest under-age protesters, jail and deport the emerging leaders and break bones of Palestinian kids. The Palestinians won the sympathy of World public opinion when they did not resort to acts of violence or use firearms and the Israeli government failed to justify killing and injuring the unarmed civilians, mostly children. Many in the international community recognized the right of the Palestinians to be free and condemned Israel’s response to the Palestinians’ legitimate demands, until Israel’s policy makers called on the PLO leaders in Tunis to step in and squander the gains of the Intifada by signing the Oslo agreements that brought the Palestinians to this point. Oslo agreements gave the Israelis time to create facts on the ground, tighten their grip on the territories and ironically sustain the illusion that the PA rules the Palestinians. After the signing of Oslo agreements, Jewish-only settlements and Jewish-only roads continued to be built and settler population more than doubled; quarter of million settlers live on East Jerusalem Arab confiscated land; the apartheid wall has been built; the Palestinians are asked to keep quiet and succumb to occupation; and the refugees have been forgotten.
Like the First Intifada, the “Free Gaza” movement is a peaceful protest by international peace activists against Israel’s collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans. For those who do not know or forgot, Gaza is the site of repeated attacks by Israel including the unspeakable massacres committed in December 2008 that took the lives and maimed thousands; and reduced homes, schools, mosques, government civil administration and civil infrastructures to rubble. Israel destroyed Gaza, slaughtered and injured thousands of its civilian population; entire families were wiped out; more than 8,000 homes were destroyed completely, some of them on top of their occupants and 21,000 homes seriously damaged; tens of thousands were rendered homeless; and the survivors were left to face “full fledged humanitarian disaster.” What has been going on in Gaza before, during and after the 2008 massacres is “shocking and troubling beyond words”. All Gaza’s crossing points on the Israeli and Egyptian sides have been closed for three years forcing the besieged population “to act like moles to dig deep underground” to import some of their needs for survival. The potential of production and intellectual “contributions of at least one Gazan generation will be lost” due to the economic hardship that is imposed on them by Israel and its supporters.
When the people of Gaza have been abandoned by the Arab States and the hypocrites of the US and Europe betrayed the principles of justice that they claim their civilized societies hold dear, the peace activists of the “Free Gaza” movement and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged as the only defenders that Gaza people have.
As part of the “Free Gaza” movement, the “Freedom Flotilla” that had 700 unarmed peace activists from thirty-eight countries attempting to break the Israeli imposed siege on Gaza by bringing humanitarian aid to the destroyed, starved and besieged Gaza. Israel uses its military solution to deal with every confrontation including the peaceful Flotilla.
Israeli helicopter-born military commando raided the Gaza-bound “Freedom Flotilla” with its food and medicine cargo in the international waters killing unarmed activists and wounded scores. The outcry over the bloody attack by the Israelis precipitated widespread international condemnation. The Flotilla massacre has angered Palestinian supporters and embarrassed leaders of countries that had been buying into the Israeli narrative.
Many European officials whose discourse has been to support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, blaming the Palestinians for not “acting as behaved prisoners” and provoking the Gaza tragedies, could not defend the unprovoked Israeli action against the peace activists. Several governments summoned the Israeli ambassadors and the UN high commissioner for human rights described the blockade as illegal and asked Israel to open the borders and Gaza port for import and export goods and raw material.
The European Union called Israel’s siege of 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza “unacceptable” , offered to play a role in opening Gaza borders and end the three-year closure and the United Nations called for impartial inquiry.
President Barack Obama called Gaza closure unsustainable but his administration pressured the UN Security Council not to adopt a resolution criticizing Israel. It produced a non-binding statement that failed even to mention Israel by name. Israel refused the UN call and appointed three experts and two foreign observers to investigate its military commando raid on Gaza-bound flotilla.
Following the mounting international pressure, Israel decided to ease its blockade of Gaza by allowing Gaza to import more “civilian” goods including “soda, jam, spices, shaving cream. Potato chips, cookies and candy.” Israel did not mention what Gaza would be allowed to export, but it will continue to restrict dual-use items that include construction materials that Israelis think may be used to build rockets or bunkers.
Egypt, which kept its Rafah crossing with Gaza closed since 2006, decided to open it for students, patients, visa-holders and some additional humanitarian aid. And Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces had been ousted from Gaza in 2007, insisted Israel must completely lift the three-year-old blockade. One of the declared reasons for Gaza siege had been to bolster Abbas standing among the Palestinians and weaken Hamas.
Palestinian supporters and civil rights activists must not waste this rare moment in history when majority of world public sympathizes with the Palestinians. This is the right time for civil societies and activists in the West Bank to take this moment to heart and provide people of good will all over the world sufficient facts about life under occupation in the West Bank and Jerusalem where the indigenous Palestinians are confined to tiny enclaves surrounded by massive Jews-only settlements, Jews-only highways, roadblocks and the separation wall. They should ask for freedom not only for the people in Gaza but for all Palestinians.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, is a political analyst born in Nablus, Palestine. His forthcoming book, Is the Two-State Solution Already Dead? , will be published by Algora Publishing, New York. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.