With no foreseeable end in sight, Israel’s blockade on Gaza not only runs afoul of international law, but it has also already been on the radar of the United Nations and human rights groups for well over a decade.
As the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the headlines for the past few months, it could be easy to miss the news that the Gaza Strip has quietly entered its fourteenth year under an Israeli blockade. The humanitarian ramifications of that blockade cannot be understated, with Israel controlling Gazans from the high seas, the air, and the ground. Even underground and underwater.
With no foreseeable end in sight, the blockade has been on the radar of the United Nations and human rights groups for over a decade. Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine, Pierre Krahenbuhl, stated that the blockade of Gaza is the “longest in history.” He made those comments seven years ago, and the length of the siege has since doubled with no end in sight.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) declared the blockade a clear violation of international humanitarian law ten years ago, and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) called on Israel to lift the embargo in 2008.
Other globally respected groups have described it as a “violation of the rules of war (2009)”; “collective punishment (2008),” “unacceptable suffering (2010),” and “possible crime against humanity (2009).”
Yet, despite worldwide pressure – and despite the coronavirus – Israel’s brutal blockade continues – made possible in part with collaboration from the United States.
In the years before the Trump administration, UNRWA, which cares for the 1.4 million Palestinian refugees residing in Gaza, was heavily funded by the U.S. Trump ended that funding in 2018. The U.S. also provides over $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel and consistently vetoes any UN Security Council resolutions that would condemn Israel and potentially curb human rights abuses and violations on international law in Gaza.
Fourteen years of deprivation from the most basic necessities for human survival is a long time. That reality is especially acute for the children of Gaza, who, born under siege, know no other life.
A young Gazan rapper tells it like it is
Abdel Rahman al Shanti, 11-year-old Gazan rapping sensation, wants the outside world to know, “we are children, supposed to be like the other children.” The lyrics of his songs, “Peace” and “Gaza Messenger,” recount his young life under blockade and war:
I was born in Gaza City and the first thing I heard was a gunshot. In my first breath, I tasted gunpowder…”
I am here to tell you our lives are hard. We got broken streets and bombs in the yard.”
Other children add their stories to Abdel Rahman’s.
Israel granted 7,000 medical travel permits for minors in 2018 – but less than 2,000 for parents. The math is not hard to do: more children travel without parents than with them.
Physicians for Human Rights reports that, in some cases, Israel blackmails parents, demanding they become informants in exchange for permission to cross the border.
Miral, age ten, for example, got permission to travel to Nablus in the West Bank for chemotherapy – but her parents were denied. Miral died without them.
Five-year-old Aisha had a brain tumor. Due to Israel’s restrictions, her parents could not even apply to accompany her to Jerusalem for treatment; it would take three weeks for Israel to do a background check on Aisha’s grandmother. She went with a stranger. She died alone.
Louay is three. His mother was permitted to accompany him to Nablus for cancer treatment only after dozens of newspapers carried his story and pressured Israel.
Ill children who stay in Gaza have parents by their side, but often second-rate medical care: due to Israel’s protracted blockade, medical facilities in the enclave are severely lacking in medicine and supplies; equipment is in disrepair, and electricity is intermittent.
Israel itself may be responsible for some cases of childhood cancer, as it used experimental weapons against Gaza’s civilian population in 2008-2009. Cancer among Gazan children has increased by 41 percent since that time.
Wisal was fourteen when she went to the Gaza border with Israel on May 14, 2018. She participated in the nonviolent protest against the United States embassy move to Jerusalem – a move that angered and disappointed every Palestinian. Opposite the demonstrators were Israeli sharpshooters.
She was among the sixty Gazans killed that day, ten of which were children. A total of forty-six children (and several hundred adults) were killed by Israeli sniper fire during twenty months of nonviolent protests in Gaza, 2018-2019. The weekly demonstrations called attention to Israel’s blockade and refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
Gazan children living under the Israeli blockade lack much that others take for granted. Israel has banned the import of many basic items to the enclave. The list of prohibited items changes occasionally, but not by much.
Rights groups report that Gazan children have had to do without toys, crayons, blankets, candy, and cookies. Also blocked have been meat, pasta, spices, and heaters, as well as wood, cement, and plaster to repair thousands of homes damaged or destroyed during the three military incursions by Israel.
Why the blockade?
Israel’s official reason for enforcing the crushing blockade on Gaza: Hamas rockets. Israel repeats this mantra year after year but adds neither context nor detail.
In fact, Hamas is Gaza’s duly elected political party – a self-declared party of resistance to occupation, in contrast with Fatah, which Gazans consider complicit with Israel.
Gazan rockets, in contrast, have killed a total of approximately 40 Israelis in almost twenty years.
The people of the Palestinian territories have a recognized right under international law to resist their occupier – including armed resistance.
Many Gazan adults feel an obligation to resist Israel for the sake of their children. They are hoping against hope.
Feature photo | A young boy waits for customers at a grocery store in the Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City, Aug. 27, 2020. Adel Hana | AP
Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.