People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 10, 2010

Gaza: One Year after the Israeli Attack


Yohannan Chemarapally


IT has been a year since Israel launched its military offensive--- “Operation Cast Lead” against the defenceless people of Gaza. That operation had led to the deaths of more than 1400 Gazans. More than 400 children lost their lives in the savage attack launched by one of the most powerful armies in the world. The Goldstone Report commissioned by the UN has described the Israeli atrocities in graphic detail but not a single Israeli politician or military official responsible for the Gaza carnage has been brought to justice so far. The Goldstone Report had described the Israeli military campaign as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorise a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability”.

Israel far from being apologetic has in fact further tightened the blockade on Gaza. The international community has passively stood aside as one and a half million people already mired in poverty are sought to be starved into submission. At an international donor’s conference held in Cairo in March last year, billions of dollars were promised for the reconstruction on Gaza. The promises remain unfulfilled while the blockade on Gaza supported by the US, the EU and most of the Arab states, continues.

The Israeli Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu was on an official visit to Cairo when Palestinians were commemorating the first anniversary of the Israeli attack on Gaza. The Egyptian government was very appreciative of the Israeli prime minster’s contribution to peace in the region. The warm relations between the two countries were exemplified by the fact that Netanyahu was invited to Cairo not to Sharm el-Sheikh, where Israeli leaders are usually received. Sharm el-Sheikh is far away from the thickly populated cities. 

As the Palestinians were preparing to observe the anniversary of the Gaza war, the Israeli military once again started its provocative manoeuvres by targeting Palestinian activists in Gaza and the West Bank for assassinations. Israeli politicians started openly talking about another military offensive to root out the democratically elected Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian authorities, in an insensitive and ill-timed move announced in mid-December that the government was constructing a wall of their own along their 14 kilometre border with Gaza. The Egyptian foreign minster, Ahmad Aboul Gheit said that the controversial wall was being built to safeguard Egypt’s security. According to the perceptive Israeli commentator, Uri Avnery, the Egyptian government “has no choice but to follow the dictates of the US—which are in fact, Israeli dictates”. Egypt gets an annual subsidy of $2 billion from the US since the signing of the Camp David accord.

It is well known that the impoverished population in Gaza is totally dependent on smuggled food and other essential commodities from Egypt for their day to day survival. The barrier being built by Egypt with help from western governments consists of a series of steel tubes and pipes that will be buried deep to prevent the construction of smuggling tunnels. The Egyptian government alleges without having provided any substantial evidence that the Hamas government is being supplied with arms by the Hezbollah and Iran. In the last couple of months, the Egyptian army has destroyed a large number of tunnels using detection equipment provided by the US. The Hamas spokesman said that the building of the wall would be a “real disaster” for the besieged people of Gaza. “We are not talking about borders between Israel and Egypt; we are talking about steel borders between two peoples and one of these two peoples is under siege”, he said.

Since the end of the Israeli offensive in January last year, Israel and Egypt had allowed only vital humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. Thousands of homes along with schools and clinics were flattened by Israeli air and ground attacks. Out of Gaza’s 640 schools, 18 were completely destroyed and 280 damaged. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that 48 per cent of the 122 health facilities were either damaged or destroyed. Only 41 truckloads of construction material have been allowed into Gaza since the end of the war. Thousands more of such deliveries are needed to repair the damages caused to the civilian infrastructure in the enclave. “The population lives under constant threat of a collapse of water, sanitation and electricity services”, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a recent statement. Ninety per cent of the households in Gaza experience large scale power cuts as a result of the Israeli attack and the lack of spare parts.

In a separate statement, 16 civil rights groups, which included Oxfam and Amnesty International, said that the international community “has betrayed the people of Gaza by failing to back their words with effective action to secure the ending of the Israeli blockade which is preventing reconstruction and recovery”. The statement said that little of the extensive damage caused by the Israeli offensive to homes, civilian infrastructure, public services, farms and businesses have been repaired because of the acute shortages. Forty six per cent of Gaza’s once productive agricultural lands remain uncultivated due to damage caused during the Israeli military offensive and also due to many of the farms being designated as “free fire zones” by Tel Aviv. The statement by the international agencies said that the fact that much of Gaza still lies in ruins “is not an accident: it is a matter of policy”. According to the latest UN report, the situation in Gaza as a result of the military assault and the ongoing Israeli blockade has triggered a “protracted human dignity crisis”.

In the last week of December, around 1400 activists, intellectuals and media persons gathered in Cairo to participate in a mass march planned to be held in Gaza on December 31. The march was intended to send a message to Washington and other western capitals, that the situation in Gaza violates international law and fundamental human rights. The proposed three mile march was to head from Gaza to the Eretz Crossing on the border with Israel to link up with Israeli peace marchers. 50,000 Palestinians were waiting for 1400 people from all parts of the world to join them for the peace march on New Year eve.

The Irish Nobel Laureate, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the noted American writer, Alice Walker and the 85 year old holocaust survivor, Heddy Epstein, were among those who came to Egypt to participate in the Gaza march. Ann Wright, a retired US army Colonel and former diplomat and now a peace activist said that another goal of the march is to focus attention on the active help many governments provide to Israel. “We will not be silent about the unlawful actions of our governments in the siege of Gaza”, she said. The US provides $3 billion as military aid to Israel annually. India is among the top purchasers of Israeli weaponry thus indirectly subsidising its brutal occupation.

The Egyptian authorities at the eleventh hour cited “security concerns” and denied permission to the 1400 people who had congregated for the march to use the Rafah crossing to go into Gaza. Medea Benjamin, a spokesperson for CODEPINK had told the Egyptian authorities that the Gaza Freedom March was inspired by Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. But the Egyptian authorities were unmoved. They had also refused to give permission for an aid convoy “Viva Palestina” organised by the British MP, George Galloway from directly entering Gaza through Egyptian territory. That convoy which included 210 trucks carrying much needed food and medicines for the starving populace was finally allowed in on January 5 under controversial circumstances. The Egyptian authorities insisted that part of the relief supplies should enter Gaza through the Israeli side. The funds for the Viva Palestina aid convoy was given by European, Arab and Turkish organisations.