Editor Palestine Monitor, 23 August 2010
The United Nations and the World Food Programme released on Friday a study of Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip. A condemnation of Israel’s conduct, it describes a burgeoning catastrophe mutating dangerously and mercilessly.
“This regime has exacerbated the assault on human dignity triggered by the blockade imposed by Israel since June 2007,” stated the report titled Between the Fence and a Hard Place.
Under Israel’s thumb, the occupation is ruining Gaza’s land, sea, and mental and physical health.
Because of the siege, more adults are depressed, more children are wetting their beds and earning worse grades. Nutrition is deteriorating. Disenfranchised breadwinners are increasingly beating their partners.
West Bank Deputy Secotr Lead Antoine Renard described the rules of the blockade: “No movement of people, they are very restricted on what can be imported, and there’s practically a total ban on exports.”
Debt plagues families, children can’t go to school, and farms degenerate. The blockade and occupation has cost Gazans $308 million in property, $50.2 million in agriculture profit, and $26.5 million in fish harvest.
“The private sector is moribund,” Renard said. Before the blockade, Gaza exported lucrative cash-crops like strawberries and flowers – now domestic farming is their only option. “As long as you cannot have raw material in Gaza because of the blockade, the economy cannot pick up.”
1994’s Oslo Agreements allotted Gaza 20 nautical miles of maritime rights into the Mediterranean, but today 85 percent of these productive waters are cut-off by Israeli gunships. Fisherman are shot, flotillas are boarded and ships are confiscated if they breach the illegally cordoned security zone. Traders risk death and injury sneaking past Israeli and Egyptian navies to buy fish. Others smuggle goods through tunnels.
“The current restrictions of civilian access to Gaza’s land and sea must be urgently lifted to the fullest extent possible,” stated the report, calling on full withdrawal of troops, an enduring ceasefire, and cooperation with humanitarian aid as demanded by UN Security Council Resolution 1860.
Starvation and bullets symbolize the current problem – but long-term threats lurk. The Gazan coastal aquifer, fed by the Hebron river meandering west across Beersheba to the coast, is in danger of irrevocable contamination. Through the Joint Water Commission and Civil Administration, Israel has blocked necessary waste water treatment facilities, and every year 80 million liters of foul water runs over Gaza towards the sea, trailing pollution.
The Green Line enclosing Gaza is now a barren scar of land. Expanded by an Israeli-enforced security zone up to 1,500 meters wide, the fence has cut into 17 percent of Gaza’s total landmass and 35 percent of it’s farming land. Made up of “high risk” and “no-go” areas, this land is razed by Israeli patrols more than three times a week. Such forces typically are “between four to ten military vehicles (tanks, bulldozers, military jeeps), frequently accompanied by helicopters, drones and heavy bursts of fire.”
Two satellite photographs of Beit Hanoun, comparing fertile 2005 and a desolate 2008, is evidence of this environmental devastation.
Israel clears out these fields as preemptive and reprisal attacks against civilians. If violent factions within Gaza attack Israel forces from civilian land, it is destroyed. This is collective punishment, Renard said.
“Civilians should not be targeted in these areas,” Renard said. “You’re not as a civilian responsible for it.”
For Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, Israel’s 2005 disengagement meant an intensification of suffering.
Since then, Israel has destroyed 18,000 dunums of olive, almond, citrus and grapes fields, 5,800 dunums of lucrative greenhouses, more than 300 water wells, six factories, 197 chicken farms, 377 sheep farms, 996 homes, three mosques, and three schools.
In Gaza, the disengagement meant a shift from troops to hardware and hi-tech weaponry like drones, brutal flechette bombs and remote-controlled turrets. Operating these machine-guns, an all-female cadre of Israeli soldiers track and attack targets in a distant bunker, watching relays of satellite images, ground sensors, and aircraft manned and unmanned. Using joysticks and buttons, one soldier compared the system to a Sony Playstation.
The report is a dreadful documentation of atrocity. The army besieges a land, poisons the water, targets fishers and farmers, and deploys the latest weapons of war, watching it live via satellite.
Israel still grasps Gaza’s throat.