In the Gaza Strip, Palestine, the conflict between Israel, which controls the borders and since June has been closing them, and the Palestinians, who inhabit the small strip of land along the Mediterranean, is affecting the civilian population in a way that clearly violates international law.
For instance, Dr. Ahmed Abou Nekira, director of the public Al Najar Hospital in Rafah on the Egyptian border, told me recently that his hospital needs a 19,000-liter reserve supply of gasoline, especially with the frequent fuel and electricity cutoffs, but the current stock is only 1,500 liters. The hospital cannot provide milk for its child patients; parents bring it if they can find and afford it in the Gaza market.
As I was leaving the hospital, a woman approached me who clearly needed something; but since I don't understand Arabic it was only on a later visit to her home with my translator that I learned she could not find the needed medications for her asthmatic and epileptic twelve-year-old son.
An anesthesiologist, Dr. Ahmed works occasionally in private hospitals, where he is paid fifty shekels ($13.) for assisting at an operation.
I visited the home of 68-year-old Abou Ahmed, whose diabetes has taken its toll on his legs and eyes. He cannot find his required insulin.
Some gauze is available, but Gaza is forced to do without many essential medicines and supplies. In a Nov. 29 "Emergency Appeal for Medical Supplies for Gaza," the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights stated: "The prolonged siege imposed by the Israeli government on Gaza, the closing of its borders, the tightening of policies regarding permission to exit Gaza for medical purposes, and the severe shortage of medications and other medical supplies all severely damage the Palestinian health system and endanger the lives and health of thousands of Palestinian patients."
The supply of gasoline has been sharply reduced: during one week in December there was no gas in Gaza's stations. Many people told me about the lack of building materials caused by the Israeli border policy, a deficiency which results in severe unemployment among construction workers. Spare parts and paint for cars are also in short supply. And since almost everything is scarce, prices are escalating, thus putting many items which can be found out of economic reach for many people.
Why is Israel pinching the arteries to Gaza? The Hamas party won legitimate Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 but, since it does not recognize Israel (at least with Jerusalem's current policies) and will not unilaterally renounce the use of force in its struggle, has not been accepted by the international community, by the surrounding state of Israel, or by the Palestinian Authority under the Fatah party. In June 2007 Hamas seized power in Gaza by force, which provoked a strong reaction by Israel: tightening the border closure and stepping up military incursions into Gaza.
According to Israel, these measures are intended to prevent militants in Gaza from firing rockets into nearby Israeli towns like Siderot. During 2007, such weapons took the lives of two Israeli residents, according to B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; in addition, five other civilians and six Israeli security personnel were killed by hostile action. In a press release of Dec. 31, B'Tselem noted: "In 2007 Israeli security forces killed 373 Palestinians (290 in Gaza, 83 in the West Bank), 53 among them minors.... About 35 percent of those killed were civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities when killed...."
The concerns of Israelis for security are real and must be resolved. At the same time, the injustices suffered by the Palestinians, in Gaza and the West Bank, also cry out for remedy: the constant takeovers of their land by Israeli settlers, with government financial backing and military force for protection; a system of restricted Israeli-only roads and special military zones which carve up Palestinian territory; hundreds of Israeli checkpoints, which humiliate Palestinians even when they are just going from one place to another within the (Palestinian) West Bank; the holding of over 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, subject only to military law. According to international law, no nation can take security measures which result in serious harm to a civilian population, as Israel is taking in cutting off access and supplies to Gaza. Only a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will provide true security and peace for Israelis and a decent and dignified future for Palestinians.
Joseph E. Mulligan lives in Nicaragua. He worked for six weeks as a member of the Michigan Peace Team in Palestine.