The medieval Israeli and Egyptian siege of the Gaza Strip has now entered its fifth year. It was on January 25, 2006 that the Palestinian people in Israeli-occupied Gaza and the West Bank collectively decided to democratically oust Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party from power. Like Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq, Mahmoud Abbas is America's guy -- which in many ways means he's Israel's guy, too. So when Hamas was democratically elected to root out the corruption that festered, burst and still oozes under Abbas, the Fatah militia trained and armed by General Keith Dayton attempted a coup. When that failed, the great powers decided to collectively punish 1.5 million Palestinians (half of them children) for enacting their moral and human right -- their right to vote.
Now, over four years later and one year after the Israeli assault which killed 1,440 Palestinians (330 of them children) and 14 Israelis, the Palestinian people in Gaza continue to suffer under the inhuman Israeli-Egyptian siege. It bears emphasizing that this state of affairs cannot exist without Barack Obama's complicit approval; collective punishment indelibly mars his legacy. Collective punishment is a war crime.
Previous sea-borne attempts to break the siege were met by an aggressive Israeli navy. Former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney was one of the activists arrested by the Israelis in 2009 after attempting to access the Strip that way. She released an audiotape from an Israeli prison, declaring:
This is Cynthia McKinney and I'm speaking from an Israeli prison cellblock in Ramle. [I am one of] the Free Gaza 21, human rights activists currently imprisoned for trying to take medical supplies to Gaza, building supplies -- and even crayons for children, I had a suitcase full of crayons for children. While we were on our way to Gaza the Israelis threatened to fire on our boat, but we did not turn around. The Israelis high-jacked and arrested us because we wanted to give crayons to the children in Gaza. We have been detained, and we want the people of the world to see how we have been treated just because we wanted to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.
The situation in Gaza is almost hopelessly dire. Fully 80% of Gaza's population relies on humanitarian aid for basic subsistence. The unemployment rate in the Strip hovers around 38% and 95% of once operating businesses are no longer active. Israel bans (and Egypt helps implement the ban of) construction materials, medical supplies and more. According to Ha'aretz, the "Defense Ministry is refusing -- on security grounds, it says -- to reveal why Israel prohibits the import into the Gaza Strip of items such as cilantro, sage, jam, chocolate, french fries, dried fruit, fabrics, notebooks empty flowerpots and toys, while allowing cinnamon, plastic buckets and combs."
Any thinking person understands that cilantro is not an implement of terror or militancy. Therefore, the siege is a punitive measure directed at a weak and penurious population. It is both immoral and illegal. The Israelis, Egyptians and Americans seem to be saying, "Exercise democracy and you and your children will suffer the ugly consequences." Israeli sources have readily acknowledged as much, describing the siege as "a central pillar in the armed conflict with Hamas."
It is true that starvation-to-death has largely been avoided in Gaza. That's mostly because the Israelis have perversely calculated the minimum caloric intake required by the besieged population. Call it the metrics of captive near-starvation. Dov Weisglass, adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, famously said, "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."
One can imagine the mindless bureaucrat sitting in a drab army office calculating the number of calories the average five-year-old, fifteen-year-old, and sixty-year-old requires to exist in bare survival's gray wretchedness. One can imagine the utter hopelessness and abject despair the children in Gaza feel knowing that this is the best the world has to offer. Years of siege have stunted their growth, diminished their potential and reinforced depressed states of mind, perhaps irrevocably. The humans in Gaza are putrefying in isolation.
In the year 2010, what possible justification is there for literally imprisoning 1.5 million people? What possible justification is there for denying them access to coriander and crayons?
Not content to watch the barbarous conduct of the Israelis and Egyptians in real time, responsible human beings from around the world have gathered once again to address the man-made misery in Gaza. Nine ships laden with 10,000 tons of basic humanitarian aid have set sail from ports around the Mediterranean to Gaza under the banner of the Free Gaza Movement. 700 activists from 40 countries, including 35 parliamentarians, have gathered to proclaim loudly that they refuse to be complicit in atrocity.
The Israeli government remains intransigent, however. The Israeli navy intends to intercept the flotilla when it arrives on Sunday and detain activists in Ashdod before deporting them. According to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, "The aid convoy is violent propaganda against Israel, and Israel will not allow its sovereignty to be threatened in any way, in any place -- land, air or sea."
UPDATE: The latest attempt has been no different. Breaking press reports say that the Israeli navy has killed 14 to 16 peace activists in international waters. Seventy people have reportedly been injured and the remaining seven hundred are being interred in Ashdod.
It is easy to despair in the face of Netanyahu and Mubarak's pernicious intent and Obama's impassive indifference to shatter the Palestinians in Gaza; to force them to submit. But the Palestinian people have refused to succumb despite the overwhelming odds and superpower force that has been brought to bear. We can take courage from their example and insist on their freedom. That is our collective human responsibility.