"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What Price, The Siege on Gaza?


With all the mind boggling (and perhaps mind-numbing) issues I see in the daily newspaper it is no wonder that the continuing siege on the Gaza Strip is not even on the radar; definitely not front page news. And yet, the crisis only grows worse day by day for Gaza's residents, women, men, children, trying to survive in their tiny strip of land.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in a recent column, Hamas offers Israel the peace of the Grave, that "the Palestinians already have a state, an independent territory with not an Israeli settler or soldier living on it. It's called Gaza." Well, isn't that just wonderful? Thanks for that bit of news Charles. All is well with Gaza! We have given them so much. I am sure that it will be welcome news to the Palestinians living there.

Perhaps Charles could tell that to the family highlighted in this YouTube video, Palestinian child pays price of Israel's siege, from Al Jazeera Television. WARNING: This is NOT a story with a happy ending (but it must be told).

One need only compare maps showing land ownership in Palestine to see the graphic inequity, and understand the prison camp that is Gaza. Until 1917, Jews owned 2.5 percent of the land in Palestine. Between 1947 and 1967, Israel gained 78 percent. By 1995 Israel had 90 percent of the land, and the Oslo Agreement gave control of some land to the newly established Palestinian Authority (now controlled by Hamas). The Israelis have continued to take Palestinian land by virtue of the continued construction of Israeli settlements.

The narrow strip of land (appropriately called the Gaza Strip) is 360 square miles, and into that are packed 1.5 million Palestinians, 75 percent of them registered refugees. It has one of the highest population densities in the world, limited land access and strict Israeli control on passage through border checkpoints. It is essentially a Palestinian prison.

But beyond the statistics, there are human beings; people like you and me (like that family in the video). Imagine losing your child because you could not travel freely to seek medical care. Charles Krauthammer's editorial judgements and stereotypes effectively transform (in a few keystrokes) Palestinians into distorted caricatures, justifying the continued violence against them by the Israelis.

Henri Nouwen, in The Road to Peace, said "that long before we start a war, kill people or destroy nations, we have already killed our enemies mentally, by making them into abstractions with which no real, intimate human relationship is possible." Ironically, the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians what was more than once done to the Jews, making them into an abstraction; and as Nouwen said, "for abstract problems there are abstract solutions."

But life is not so abstract. It is flesh and blood and tears. Both Jews and Palestinians are victims in this tragedy, and each one has a face. Each is a son, a daughter, a father, a mother... Children of the same loving God.

One of the tragedies of this situation is that the very people who suffered centuries of persecution have become the persecutors. When will my people learn the lessons of the past??? When will they stop being prisoners of their own fear? When will they see that through their imprisonment of the Palestinians, they have built a prison for themselves. It is time to free all the captives!



Notes: Read an analysis of The Siege on the Gaza Strip at B'TSELEM, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Here is the link to the original video story at Al Jazeera.

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