For the Gaza Strip, crisis is routine, conflict annual and humanitarian catastrophe inevitable.
The crisis stems from the Israeli blockade that has lasted nearly seven years. The result is a pressure cooker situation, once again close to explosion. The 1.8 million Palestinians living in the area are not permitted to enjoy a normal existence. The most basic necessities of life, including water, power, food and medicines, are not a right but privileges that can be denied at will or reduced. Palestinians in Gaza are trapped, cannot travel and cannot trade. All this has been exacerbated by regional crises. The new government in Egypt closed the tunnels under the border that once numbered nearly 2,000 and provided much of Gaza’s food, fuel and other needs. The Syria crisis has led to slashes in funding as donors struggle find the dollars.
And conflict? Diplomats might be excused for not foreseeing the events of 2011, yet with Gaza this is not the case. The chances of a full-scale resumption of major hostilities last seen in November 2012 are increasing daily. Earlier this month, Israeli forces killed three Islamic Jihad fighters leading to the largest barrage of rocket fire in two years, and then Israeli attacks on 29 targets in the strip. An major Israeli offensive would be Operation Cast Lead round three, the third major assault since December 2008. It may not happen this month but at some point an Israeli prime minister will either want, or feel compelled, to act, not least for fear of looking weak; a disaster in Israeli politics.
The Gaza catastrophe has also been well signposted. By 2020, U.N. agencies have reported, Gaza will not be viable. The U.N. asked what happens when the aquifer becomes unusable in 2016 and Gaza runs out of water? What is worrying is not just that nobody has come up with the answer, but nobody seems to care.
Unimpressive international response
If one audits the international response to these challenges it is singularly unimpressive. Nothing has radically changed to the blockade since 2007, even though all know it is unsustainable. There is no genuine attempt to broker a political solution to the situation in Gaza that could ward off another round of hostilities. Whilst the U.N. posed all the right questions, supported by data, which state has formulated a plan to offset the catastrophe? Moreover, international donors continue to foot the bill of political failure.
This is collective punishment of an entire population, a war crimeChris Doyle
It was only in 2010 that the British Prime Minister David Cameron broke ranks with many of his international peers, with the a passionate plea that “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.” Four years later as Gaza prison languishes in an even harsher enclosure, Cameron visits Israel, addresses the Knesset, and cannot even utter this four-letter word. Gaza has joined Somalia and so many other places on the too difficult, wish-it-would-just-go-away list. Perhaps a few too many have silently joined former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in his openly declared wish that Gaza would fall into the sea.
But what about the Israeli strategy for Gaza? It remains the occupying power though it rarely gets reminded of this. The primary purpose of the blockade was always political, to put the peace process in formaldehyde, to ensure divisions amongst the Palestinian leadership and engender fragmentation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It has actually been largely comfortable with the Hamas leadership precisely because Israel is under no pressure to compromise with the group that runs Gaza. For the ultra-hawks Gaza is an insurance policy. Despite the many concessions Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes, there will always be Gaza and Hamas to bring a deal down. As of yet, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry has not revealed any proposals to resolve the Gazan issue, nor are they expected.
Israel claims it is all about security, in part right given the rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza into southern Israel. Yet 2013 saw the lowest number of rockets from Gaza in a decade, but no real easing of the blockade. Hamas, as Israeli officials have acknowledged, have attempted to police the rocket-firing areas, but have got no reward for trying to keep the ceasefire.
Netanyahu could attack Gaza but where would it end? His Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman has called for Israel to reoccupy Gaza but that call is more designed to embarrass his boss than a serious solution. Once back in Gaza, how Israel will extract itself?
But does security explain all Israeli actions? David Cameron should have asked, in his Knesset, speech for Israel to allow the huge Dutch container scanner installed at one of Gaza’s crossings to be allowed to operate, a simple but vital request. It would allow exports from Gaza to the West Bank and to European markets in a manner that assures Israeli security. Moreover, it could save donors vital funds, as Gaza is dependent on food aid due to the lack of economic activity. The re-inflation of the Gazan economy would reduce this. The Israeli Defence Ministry shrugged off Dutch anger saying that it was policy to keep Gaza isolated. This is collective punishment of an entire population, a war crime.
The dystopian existence of Planet Gaza undermines Israeli security, divides Palestinians, nourishes extremism and drains the coffers of the international donor base. It is time to embrace Gaza, not ignore it, to free its people, not imprison them.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.