With the anniversary of Israel's war on Gaza, activists, analysts, and policymakers have been writing about the situation on the ground one year later, and how the political landscape has (or hasn't) changed. The 51-day onslaught devastated this besieged parcel of land by the Mediterranean Sea and left thousands dead, wounded, homeless, jobless, poor, and hungry.
We are told that little of the aid pledged for reconstruction has arrived in Gaza; indeed, photographs of the destruction show a virtual moonscape of shells of buildings and ravaged streets. We learn that Israel's economic blockade of the territory is as entrenched as ever. The most recent bold effort by a flotilla bearing solar panels and medical supplies was thwarted--again--by the Israelis, thus dashing any new hopes of external support. The tunnel structure, which once allowed assistance in the form of building materials and many types of sustenance (including medicines, school supplies, even cows for food and milk), is mostly destroyed.
The people of Gaza find little hope that their situation will improve in any way. In fact, many analysts predict another war on Gaza in the not too distant future. They say that nothing has changed from the status quo before the war last summer; the population of Gaza is now even more stressed economically. Although the war brought attention to their desperate plight, the aftermath carries no political solution and has brought additional suffering.
Noura Erakat, a Palestinian American lawyer and analyst, believes that it is not the Hamas rockets that impel Israel to invade Gaza every two or three years; rather, these wars are the result of calculated, decades-long policies. She writes, "Israel's policies toward Palestinians are built on a set of twin axioms: to obtain maximum amount of Palestinian land with the minimum number of Palestinian people and to concentrate a maximum number of Palestinians onto a minimum amount of land... In the Gaza Strip, it does this by siege and warfare."
How can the international community allow Israel to continue to invade Gaza, over and over again, and inflict such massive pain and devastation on the Palestinians with total impunity? Is there any moral basis left to Israel's prosecution of this uneven "war" and to the international community's inaction?
Statistics about the human and physical destruction in Gaza are almost unimaginable. These include 551 children killed, over 1,500 orphaned, 17,500 homeless, and more than 370,000 experiencing PTSD and psychological trauma. Many have already lived through three wars in their short, precarious lifetimes. A primary school teacher from the Shuja`iya neighborhood in Gaza, which sustained intense bombing and casualties, explains the state of his students: "There is withdrawal, nail-biting, fear, night terrors. Bed-wetting--not only nocturnal wetting, but sometimes I notice children wetting their pants while in class. There are also speech problems, stuttering. Their behavior has also become more aggressive, more violent, and those who are not withdrawn are hyperactive."
Gaza, of course, is not unique in the world in terms of war and desolation. But it is a locus of bloodshed and injustice which, for all intents and purposes, the United States willfully ignores. How can Washington continue to perceive Israel as the "victim" in the context of these statistics? How can we treat Israel and the Palestinian resistance as if they have equal power politically or militarily, and then, allow yet another war that will mean more death and destruction for the people of Gaza?
During and after the war, the United Nations and global NGOs attempted to help, despite inadequate resources. The discourse focused on having enough funds, negotiating with the Israelis about getting the supplies in, and finding ways to rehabilitate schools and hospitals. Without these organizations, the people in Gaza would have no lifeline. About eighty percent of the population is now completely dependent on this aid, primarily food assistance, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Robert Piper, Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, says, "Simply restoring households to pre-war levels of vulnerability is not enough... Palestinians in Gaza need to be lifted out of this self-perpetuating cycle of crisis."
As human beings, we must wonder, what's the point of keeping an entire population in such a "cycle of crisis," a "permanent war"? After ceasefires, the United Nations and international organizations come in and help to rebuild; this is akin to the Myth of Sisyphus, who rolls a boulder to the top of a mountain, only to see it roll back down again and then have to repeat the arduous uphill task. Palestinian civilians should not be subject to such a cruel fate.
A recent op-ed by Don Futterman, Israel program director at the Moriah Fund, in the Israeli daily Haaretz opines that there would be no national soul-searching in Israel following the UN's Report on the Independent Commission's Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. He says, "We killed massive numbers of Palestinians, including whole families and large parts of many families, and the skyrocketing death toll did not make us change our tactics. Was this justified?" Futterman concludes that Israeli society is not open to hearing constructive criticism of the government's actions and is therefore not willing to "reconsider the morality" of the 2014 war in Gaza.
Since 1967, Israel's military occupation has wrought severe discrimination, oppression, and war, and its overall policy has been of outright destruction and de-development of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
Some may ask why many advocates for Palestinian rights don't also stress the rockets lobbed into southern Israel and the six Israeli civilian lives that they claimed. This is like responding to the refrain, "Black lives matter," with "All lives matter." The point is not that black (or Palestinian) lives matter more than others, but that the structural problems in place for decades have not been addressed. We are saying that these lives matter because the powerful strata in society do not act like they matter--not now, nor historically.
On the one-year anniversary of Israel's war on Gaza, PalFest Ireland paid tribute to the Palestinian children killed by building an installation titled NO MORE--Dublin Remembers Gaza comprising over 550 little white t-shirts spread on stakes in sand by the water. The result was a powerful reminder of those young lives lost, and an attempt to reach hearts that may not have been open to thinking of Gaza's children in this humane way.
Where is our own soul searching as Americans, and as part of the international community? How can we, as human beings, allow such horrific acts to happen? On this side of the world we can turn on and off the TV, radio, internet; we have the luxury of distance and safety from war. Yet from this distance we can also see more, and we need to exercise our vision and question the morality of Israel's policies, and bring accountability to its actions. A humane political solution, rooted in justice and international law, is desperately needed.
Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center in Washington, DC.