This week marked 1,000 days of an Israeli and international siege on Gaza - 1,000 days of an open air prison where "inmates," the civilian Palestinian population of 1.5 million, cannot leave or enter at will - by land, sea or air, the tiny area known as the Gaza Strip.
60 years after the World War II Nazi military siege of Leningrad that lasted for 900 days and caused the greatest destruction and largest loss of life ever known in a modern city, the Israeli military has imprisoned Gaza for 1,000 days. The blockade has caused incredible physical and emotional suffering those crowded into an incredibly small space-25 miles long and 5 miles wide-one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
The siege means that the Israeli government controls the entry of food, medicines, and gasoline and construction materials for the Palestinians. The purpose of the blockade is to force by blatantly violating international law, a change in the government represented by Hamas, the political organization the people elected. The siege began in June, 2007, following Hamas' takeover of governmental functions in Gaza.
Hamas is named by the Israeli and American governments a "terrorist" organization because its militant wing and other militant groups in Gaza, have fired homemade unguided rockets at border villages of Israel which have killed 30 Israelis over the years.
Compounding the siege, a year ago, in a disproportionate use of force that violated international law, the Israeli military, the largest and most powerful in the region, attacked the people of Gaza with U.S. provided F-16 jet fighters, Apache attack helicopters, rocket firing unmanned drones, white phosphorus and dense inert metal explosive bombs. The attack killed 1,440 persons, wounded 5,000, left 50,000 homeless and destroyed schools, hospitals, and civil infrastructure including the water facility and the sewage plant for the entire area.
As one could predict, the siege and the attack have caused the people of Gaza to suffer from long term low levels of nutrition and lack of appropriate medical treatment and care. Most children and many adults have the symptoms of post traumatic stress from the indiscriminate violence waged on them by the Israeli military.
In June, 2009, Obama called for an end to the "continuing humanitarian crisis" in Gaza
U.S. government officials acknowledge the damage the siege is doing to the people of Gaza. On June 4, 2009, U.S. President Barak Obama in Cairo said to the world that the "continuing humanitarian crisis" in Gaza must end. But, for the next nine months, no one in the United States government has done anything to end the siege or challenge the Israeli attack on Gaza. Instead, the U.S. Congress lambasted the United Nations report that documented Israeli (and Hamas) violations of international and humanitarian law during the Israeli attack on Gaza.
Finally, 54 members of the US Congress say stop the collective punishment of the people of Gaza
Finally one month ago, 54 members of Congress called for the end of the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, but this call was largely unreported in U.S. media. It took the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on January 29, 2010, to carry the story that 54 members of the U.S. Congress wrote to President Obama asking for "immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza...in the collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip." The January 21, 2010 letter also urged Obama to press Israel to allow people to move in and out of Gaza, especially students, sick and injured, aid workers and journalists, and also to allow building materials to enter Gaza to rebuild houses destroyed by the 2008-2009 Israeli military attack.
A second letter, signed by 33 members of the US Congress, called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise the issue of students from Gaza who are denied the opportunity to study at universities in the West Bank due to the lack of free passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The letter stated that "Ensuring that students from Gaza have access to higher education in the West Bank promotes U.S. foreign policy interests by investing in the future of the region."
Congressman Baird calls for the U.S. to "circumvent" the blockade of Gaza with U.S. ships
US Congressman Brian Baird (D-WA), who has announced that he will not seek re-election in the 2010 elections, has gone a step further by calling for the U.S. to "circumvent" its own the blockade of Gaza by using U.S. roll-on, roll-off ships that would bring supplies for Palestinians to rebuild housing for 50,000 whose homes were destroyed a year ago in the Israeli attack.
Baird is one of only 10 U.S. members of Congress who have gone to Gaza since the attack, while hundreds of members of the U.S. Congress and their staffers have gone to Israel during the same year. He went to Gaza three times in 2009 and observed from his visits, "The Palestinian people have little hope for the future. This lack of hope will eventually foment into radicalization. Radicalization will breed terrorists which will threaten the security of not only Israel but also the United States. We need to reverse this spiral of despair."
Israeli government continues siege and illegal settlement building-thumbs nose at Obama Administration and US Congress-the hands that feed it
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The Israeli government continues to strangle Gaza with its siege and has increased building its illegal settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. This week, nine months after President Obama's Cairo speech that also called for an end to the expansion of illegal settlements, Vice-President Joe Biden was given a nose-thumbing during his visit to Israel when the Israeli government announced it would build 1,600 new homes in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Ramat Shlomo. Israeli government plans have now been made public that call for a total of 8,253 new homes in settlements in East Jerusalem, according to the March 11 issue of the UK Guardian.
The Israeli government's dismissal of U.S. "concerns" about its siege and settlement policies included not only swipes taken at Obama and Biden, but also at members of the U.S. Congress. In mid-February, Israel refused to allow a 5 person congressional delegation lead by Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) to enter Gaza on a fact-finding mission. Additionally, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Danny Ayalon refused to meet with the delegation.
U.S. military says that U.S. weakness in influencing change in Israeli policies is jeopardizing safety of U.S. troops
In January, 2010, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) military officers told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that there "was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises and that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region."
The Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Vice President Biden told Prime Minister Nethanyahu last week that "what you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan...since many people in the Muslim world perceive a connection between Israel's actions and U.S. policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism."
But citizens take action
While the U.S. government remains impotent in the face of Israeli actions, this past week also marked an unprecedented challenge by U.S. citizens to Israeli politicians and government officials who travel with impunity to the United States.
Although the commercial media refused to cover it, on March 10, 2010, 600 citizen activists formed a human chain encircling the four sides around the prestigious Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City to protest the $1,000 a plate fundraiser for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and its chief Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi. Carrying signs that read War Crimes, End the Siege of Gaza and Palestinians Hunger for Justice, the marchers, representing 20 organizations, walked in solemn, silent, non-violent protest of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. The silent marchers were met by approximately 100 aggressive, in-your-face, illegal settler-type confrontations by supporters of the IDF and Israeli policies.
This week also marked a milestone in the seven year search for justice in the murder of Rachel Corrie, an American activist who was run over on March 16, 2003 by an American made D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli military soldier who was destroying homes of Palestinians in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. This week Rachel's parents and sister travelled to Haifa, Israel to attend the first Israeli legal proceeding in Rachel's death-a civil suit, as the Israeli courts has refused to accept a criminal suit. An Israeli court allowed four members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who saw the IDF bulldozer run over Rachel to enter Israel to testify during the court proceedings.
Also this week, hundreds of American activists were in the US Congress with the Interfaith Peace Builders and the US Campaign to End the Occupation to lobby members of Congress to take a stand to the end of the siege of Gaza and illegal settlements.
Additionally, in the first two weeks of March, activists around the world focused attention on Israeli apartheid policies through worldwide actions during Apartheid Week by encouraging boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israeli products. Actions continue against Israeli products made illegally from resources from the occupied territories, such as AHAVA Dead Sea salts cosmetics. The merchandise giant COSTCO now deleted AHAVA products from its inventory although it sells other Israeli products. Actions continue in grocery stores in Europe against the import of Israeli food products.
Ending the Siege with Patience and Persistence and Appeal for Citizens to Keep up the Pressure
At a vigil in Gaza City on March 11, Jamal Al-Khudari, the President of the Popular Committee Against the Siege, lit the first candle of many that became the number "1000" and spoke to those attending the vigil: "On this day we have reached a thousand days of the siege and we have endured a thousand days of patience and persistence; we light a candle to remember the darkness of each of those one thousand days." He pleaded for citizens of the world to keep pressure on their governments to end the siege.
And we will!