On Monday of last week, a fleet of humanitarian ships approached the Gaza strip, a 100 square mile territory occupied by the Israeli army, and home to 1.5 million Palestinians. The ships, organized by human rights groups from around the world, carried 10,000 tons of food, medicine, milk, cement and building supplies. The lead ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara was violently attacked by Israeli forces. Nine of the unarmed volunteers of the Turkish ship were gunned down, five more are missing and assumed dead, and 90 people suffered injuries.
The brutality of this attack was a shock to many people around the world. But this attack is only the tip of the iceberg. Israel uses the same brutality every day in its occupation of the Palestinian people. The Gaza strip has been under blockade by the state of Israel for four years.
The Israeli blockade has created a disaster for the lives of the Palestinians. Since the blockade began, ten percent of the population has suffered from chronic malnutrition and 60 percent of Palestinians regularly go hungry. Electricity in most homes is out for eight to twelve hours per day. Water treatment facilities are unable to function and 90 percent of drinking water is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. The economy has been destroyed, with 42 percent of people unemployed.
The routine of poverty and despair is only broken by attacks launched by the Israeli army. The latest attack in December 2008 killed 1,400 people and left Gaza’s infrastructure destroyed. Israeli bombs and bulldozers destroyed 15 of 27 of Gaza’s hospitals, 43 of 110 of its primary care facilities, and 29 of its 148 ambulances. Since the blockade began, 1,000 people have asked for permits to leave Gaza for medical treatment. Twenty percent of these requests have been denied resulting in aggravated health problems and even deaths.
The blockade makes it impossible for the Palestinians to recover and rebuild. Israel says that it wants to keep weapons out of the hands of Palestinian fighters, but its blockade bans the import of fresh meat, live chickens, fishing rods, cement, and wood for construction. The Israelis have even banned the import of newspapers, musical instruments, and children’s toys!
Israel’s actions have been condemned and met with anger by people around the world. Thousands of people gathered on Saturday in cities everywhere to protest Israel’s attacks. On the Egyptian border with Gaza, 20,000 people gathered to protest the Egyptian government which helped Israel maintain the blockade. In Israel itself, 8,000 people took to the streets in Tel Aviv to protest the atrocities committed in their name.
But it isn’t the State of Israel alone which is committing these atrocities. The United States has supported Israel through decades of brutality inflicted on the Palestinians. Since the founding of Israel in 1948 the U.S. has given $114 billion in military and economic aid to Israel.
Israel is a strategic ally for the United States in the Middle East. Armed with the latest military technology paid for with American tax dollars, Israel is a loaded weapon pointed at Syria, Iran, and any other country which might try to challenge American dominance in the region. It is no surprise that the Obama administration has hesitated to condemn Israel for this latest atrocity.
In the 60 years of its existence, Israel has attacked or invaded Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Its intelligence service, the Mossad, has regularly carried out political assassinations. In January, Israel agents assassinated a Palestinian official in his hotel in Dubai. Israel is also the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear weapons. Israel’s proven capacity for violence is a source of fear and anger throughout the Middle East.
The worldwide condemnation of Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara shows that the Palestinian people are not alone. From Turkey to San Francisco to Israel, people protested the Israeli government’s actions. In the face of rising protest and anger in the Middle East, Egypt has opened its border with Gaza, at least temporarily, to allow supplies in. These protests show that ordinary people can see beyond the politics of fear that governments and politicians use to carry out their brutal policies.