Israel must lift its siege of Gaza.
While it has been exhilarating to see hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents free themselves from the prison that was their lives, they have been able to obtain in Egypt a mere fraction of the supplies they need.
Emergency stocks are near zero, as Israel for two weeks blocked relief agencies from delivering needed amounts of food and medical supplies.
Now as long as the border with Egypt remains even partially open, Israel refuses to allow anything other than the bare minimum of industrial fuel to keep the territory’s solitary power plant operating and a few truckloads of humanitarian aid, down from 250 a day arriving last year.
On Jan. 30, Israel’s supreme court approved these actions, with the callous view that "during wartime, the civilian population is the first and central victim of the fighting, even when efforts are made to minimize the damage.”
Israel’s blockage even of humanitarian supplies is new, but for years it has otherwise largely cut off Gaza from the outside world, suffocating the economy and thus reducing the population to penury. It has done so even though international law holds Israel — not Hamas — responsible for the welfare of the population, since it remains an occupying power, despite its partial redeployment in 2005.
The World Food Programme warned last November that because of Israel’s restrictions, less than half of Gaza’s food import needs were being met. Basics including wheat, vegetable oil, dairy products and baby milk were in short supply. Few families could afford meat. Anemia rates rocketed.
“We are seeing evidence of the stunting of children,” noted the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which supplies most of the food to the refugee population of Gaza.
Today, 80 percent of the population of Gaza’s 1.5 million people depend on food assistance for day-to-day survival. Unless Israel relents, they could starve.
Gaza is not only out of food. Because of Israel’s siege, the water system is faltering, the sewage system has broken down and is discharging raw waste into streets and the sea, the power supply is intermittent at best, hospitals lack heat and spare parts and dozens of life-saving medicines are no longer available.
Gaza is dying.
In the past few weeks alone, far more people have died unnecessarily — and seemingly invisibly to the world’s media — because of hospital shortages than have been hurt by the firing of homemade rockets across the border into Israel.
There is no excuse for firing those rockets, but Israel was squeezing Gaza long before the first of those primitive projectiles was cobbled together.
The vast majority of Gazans are refugees — or the descendants of refugees — who were expelled from their homes when Palestine was destroyed and Israel was created in 1948.
Like all Palestinian refugees, those of Gaza have a moral and legal right to return to the homeland from which they were expelled. Israel blocks their return for the same reason it expelled them in the first place. Their presence would undermine its already tenuous claim to Jewishness; that is the nature of its “demographic problem.”
Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi recently proposed a solution: transferring the population of Gaza to the Egyptian desert. “They will have a nice country, and we shall have our country and we shall live in peace,” he said.
That attitude is unacceptable.
So is Israel’s siege.
Saree Makdisi is professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA and author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (Norton, 2008). He can be reached at email@example.com.