9 May 2009

Don't forget Gaza

By Nicola Pratt

Next Saturday, thousands of people, including a delegation from Norwich, will march in London to remember Gaza. Armed conflict between Israel and Hamas, in which Israel killed more than 1300 people, a third of whom were women and children, whilst Hamas rockets killed 13 Israelis, ended with a ceasefire in January. However, the misery continues. As a result of Israel's bombardment, thousands of Palestinians were injured and a UN envoy has reported widespread anxiety and stress amongst children. Human rights organizations have accused both Israeli forces and Hamas fighters of war crimes. Of particular concern, is Israel's illegal use of white phosphorous, which causes deep skin burns, as well as the long-term effects of Israel's bombing of homes, schools, factories, agricultural land and essential infrastructure. International donors have pledged $4.5 billion to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip. However, Israel's continuing siege makes reconstruction and humanitarian relief there almost impossible. Ban Ki-Moon has said he is "very disturbed" that life in the Palestinian territory "remains extremely difficult" more than three months after the January ceasefire.

There is a tendency for public opinion to be mobilized against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only in periods of heightened violence, such as January's fighting. What is less widely reported are the everyday consequences of Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1967. Since that date, Palestinians have faced increasing restrictions on their ability to live ordinary lives - build houses, to farm their land, to work, to go to school and university, to worship at their holy sites and to visit friends and family. These restrictions have actually increased since 1993, when Israel began so-called peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Since 1993, Israel has increased the rate of settlement building in the Palestinian territories, contrary to international law. There are now half a million settlers living in the West Bank and their dedicated system of bypass roads slice up the West Bank. Settlements are built on land confiscated from Palestinians and use water resources at a rate four times higher than those used by Palestinians. The seizure and demolition of Palestinian land and homes have affected more than 50,000 people since 2000. Israel makes it difficult for Palestinians to move freely throughout the West Bank and between the West Bank and Gaza Strip by putting in place a system of checkpoints and closure. This significantly increases travel times, impacting upon the economy and education, as well as causing daily humiliations. Israel also controls the borders of the West Bank, making it difficult for international visitors—as I discovered the other week, when Israel refused my entry to lecture at Birzeit University.

In 2002, Human Rights Watch concluded that the restrictions imposed by Israel "are so extensive and protracted and so injurious to the basic health and welfare of civilians that they amount to a form of widespread collective punishment, in clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law". The situation has been exacerbated by Israel's building of the separation wall, begun in 2002, ostensibly to stop Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel but ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice since it cuts deep into land that is understood to be part of a future Palestinian state. The barrier separates Palestinians from their land, schools, hospitals and even divides some villages.

These restrictions make it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to live in dignity and help to make peace negotiations look futile, whilst the hard-line stance of Hamas looks more effective. In order for peace to become a credible alternative, we must make our voices heard in calling for an end to the injustices suffered as a result of Israel's occupation. That is why it is important to march in London next weekend.

For more information, contact The Greenhouse or phone 01493 664499.

No comments: