Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of Israel’s imposition of a complete siege
on the Gaza Strip. Although the land, sea and air blockade has not made Israelis
any safer or enhanced Israel’s security, it has had a clear humanitarian and
economic impact on Gazans.
Take Khaleel Zaanin, 45, a once-thriving
Palestinian farmer who has been reduced to subsistence farming because most of
his land (37 out of almost 45 acres) falls within the buffer zone, or
access-restricted area, which Gazans are not allowed to enter.
“I had a
great business in citrus, my life was very good. I used to employ 30 workers and
export to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank,” recalls Zaanin, one of a number of
Gazans profiled by a coalition of international development
“Now, I work by myself, just planting vegetables for local
Zaanin’s situation is hardly unique. In fact, an estimated 35
percent of Gaza’s already limited arable land and most of its fishing waters lie
within the buffer zone. In addition, the Israeli blockade, through severe
restrictions on imports and exports, has triggered the almost complete collapse
of Gaza’s industrial sector.
One study estimates that the blockade costs
Gaza’s 1.6 million residents, over half of whom are children, nearly $2 billion
a year. This has created a dependence on aid where little existed before. A
decade ago, only one in 10 Gazans required assistance from UNRWA, the UN agency
tasked with caring for Palestinian refugees. Today, some three-quarters are
dependent on aid for their survival.
THE SERVICE sector has been hit just
as badly as manufacturing, with perhaps the only people turning a handsome
profit being those who run the smuggling networks.
Small businesses have
been hit hard, with many going under and even the most resourceful entrepreneurs
struggling to stay afloat.
Take Hind Amal, a divorcee and mother of four,
who runs a beauty supply store as part of her grand plan to “move forward” and
“be a provider and role model for my children.” Her business was such a roaring
success after she first set it up in 2006 that she was able to pay back the loan
she had taken out to set it up and turn a profit.
However, the blockade
meant that she was unable to import the cosmetics her business sold and her
customers were unable to afford them. With necessity driving this mother to
invention, Amal started producing her own homemade cosmetics in a bid to keep
her head above water and provide for her family.
Though the Israeli
public tends to associate Gaza with dangerous men in beards and blood-curdling
fanaticism, the vast majority of the Strip’s residents are very ordinary people
living under the extraordinary circumstances of almost complete isolation from
the outside world.
In fact, the hopes, fears and aspirations of the
average Gazan are so mundanely human that it would be difficult for Israelis not
to be able to relate to them.
“My dream is for the Gaza airport to open
again, to have open borders so we can travel,” admits Alaa al-Najjar, 23, and
not because he wishes to go on holiday or see the world, but “to get treatment
for my brother whom I love very much.”
Like for Israelis, family is
foremost in the minds of Palestinians in Gaza.
“My dream was to give [my
five children] a good and decent life. But I couldn’t do any of that,” says
Jamal al-Za’aneen, 60, who regrets that he was unable to help his children get
married and find homes for themselves.
On the back of the blockade and
following the pummeling Gaza received during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, the
Strip is suffering a severe housing crisis. International organizations estimate
that Gaza needs at least 71,000 additional housing units, mainly to accommodate
natural population growth, but also to rebuild homes destroyed during Israeli
military operations. For example, one recent survey found that 15,000 people who
lost their homes during Cast Lead remain displaced.
And it is this very
tragic human impact of the blockade that should appeal to the common humanity
that stretches across even enemy lines and awaken Israelis from their lethargy
toward the crimes being committed in their name in Gaza.
imposed its blockade, there has been a heated debate over whether or not it is
illegal. Questions of legality aside, the real question should be whether or not
it is just. As someone who opposes collective punishment, including the blanket
Arab cultural boycott of Israel, I believe the blockade is unethical and
Of course, there will be those who will immediately raise
objections and say that the embargo is only in place to protect Israel’s
security. Though Israeli concerns over the safety of communities bordering Gaza
are valid, how exactly does banning tinned fruit while permitting tinned meat
and tuna protect Israel? Is the mighty IDF worried that Palestinian militants,
short on rockets, will start firing expired peach chunks across the border?
There are those who argue that the blockade is in place to contain or even
destroy Hamas. If that is the intention, then the plan has dramatically
Tightening the screws on Gaza led from a situation in which
Hamas won 44.45% of the votes and had to share power with Fatah to one in which
it became the only show in town in Gaza. This is partly because, as Israelis
well know from personal experience, a people which feels that it is unfairly
under attack tends to close ranks and band together.
economic destitution and despair usually lead to greater radicalization and
extremism, not the opposite. It is in Israel’s interest to live next door to
Palestinians who are materially comfortable and in contact with the outside
Moreover, Israel has imposed severe restrictions on Gazans since
at least 1991, when it began its permanent closure policy in the Strip, yet what
effect have these had? Far more productive, as even a growing number of Israelis
are now arguing, would be to engage with Hamas and empower the pragmatists
within the movement who are willing to accept a Palestinian state on the
Israelis pride themselves on their sense of morality,
which they believe the world unfairly ignores. Well, it is time for them to
display this sense of Jewish integrity and demand en masse that their government
lift the blockade. It’s the only principled thing to do – and it is in Israel’s
own self-interest, to boot.
In a short story by an Israeli boy from
Sderot, he imagined accidentally flying his remote-controlled plane over Gaza
where he inadvertently bombed – or, more accurately, bon-bonned – the
Palestinians with his payload of sweets, which led to such joy that everyone
dropped their weapons, and peace reigned.
Though this may appear “naïve”
to seasoned and cynical adults, this boy had the right idea: the key to this
conflict lies in human kindness, not inhumane hostility.
The writer is an
Egyptian journalist based in Jerusalem.