"No meaningful action is in sight. Israel continues to throttle Gaza in its effort to topple Hamas. And Gaza still bleeds. In full view of the civilized world. But Gaza will never fall. Though bloodied, it has not been bowed and never will be. It embodies the essence of the struggle of free people against tyranny
Author's note: A year after Gaza suffered its worst bombardment, it is appropriate to chronicle all that Gaza has had to endure from its first acts of protesting the Israeli occupation , the blows that have been rained on it and the intrigues that were hatched against it. This is exactly what this article attempts to do. There is much to tell but even the abridged version is too long and so I have refrained from giving more details. Hope you find this informative. Save it as a reference source
Gaza! That small, beautiful but turbulent and besieged piece of land, just a little more than 40 km long, no more than 12 km wide, a little bigger than New Jersey, crammed with more than one and half million people, battered by wave after wave of Israeli incursions and bombardments, has been bloodied but remains unbowed, a proud symbol and a stirring example of unyielding resistance.
For long under the Ottoman Empire, it came under the British Mandate in 1920 and then, when the British left Palestine in 1948, and the ensuing war between Arab states and Israel came to an end in 1949, much of the Gaza Strip that was earmarked for an Arab state in the UN partition Plan was retained by Israel under the 1949 Armistice line. The rest of the Strip fell under Egyptian control.
Even this chopped up Gaza strip was occupied by Israel in 1967 (along with what is now the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Golan heights and the Sinai Peninsula). In 1979 Israel made peace with Egypt and returned the Sinai to it but retained what remained of the original Gaza Strip.
Since then, Gaza has been ravaged by Israel time and again.
Adequately capturing the pain and suffering, as also the bravery, the courage and the indomitable and unconquerable spirit of the Gazans, and effectively conveying them, can only be done by an artist, a poet, a visionary. Judging by the preview of his forthcoming book, Dom Martin, who combines in himself all the required qualifications, has wonderfully done.
However, to fully understand what the Palestinians have suffered it is necessary to know what exactly they have had to endure. To that task I have addressed myself here.
**********In 1987 the first revolt by the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation broke out. There were riots and strikes and violence throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Israel responded with tanks, tear gas, plastic bullets, and live ammunition against the stone throwing Palestinian youths.
Till that time Israel had favored the Muslim Brotherhood which was based in Gaza, and Gaza had refrained from attacks against Israel. But after the Intifada, Shaikh Ahmed Yassin created Hamas from the Gaza wing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas quickly began attacks on Israeli military targets, and subsequently, Israeli civilians.
Apart from numerous incursions into Gaza, targeted assassinations ((including that of its 67 year old, wheelchair ridden, nearly blind, quadriplegic spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin in March, 2004) and imprisonment of its leaders, Israel has carried out major military operations in the area.
After demolishing 1800 homes in the largest and most densely populated refugee camp in Rafah (it was established in 1949 to provide shelter to 41,000 refugees), in May 2004 Israel launched "Operation Rainbow" on Rafah town and refugee camp. In seven days 45 Palestinians, 38 of them civilians, including nine children, had been killed, 134 civilians, including around 50 children, had been injured, dozens of Palestinian homes were destroyed, rendering hundreds of Palestinians homeless. Civilian infrastructure and facilities in the town and refugee camp were largely destroyed.
Just four months later, in September 2004, Israel initiated another military assault, "Days of Penitence", deploying about 2,000 Israeli troops, with 200 tanks and armored vehicles. According to a UNRWA report, approximately 36,000 Palestinians in different locations were under siege, many thousands of civilians were unable to leave their homes, as fighting raged around them. An additional 4,000 persons fled their homes in the affected areas. 107 Palestinians were killed and 431 injured, from rocket attacks, machine-gun and sniper fire. Twenty five per cent of those killed were aged 18 years or under. One of Gaza's bloodiest days since the start of the Intifada, the assault was directed at Jabaliya refugee camp, home to more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees. Under the pretext of creating a 9-km "buffer zone" around the refugee camp, Israel leveled dozens of Palestinian homes and acres of agricultural land were destroyed. There were reports that the residents were given just minutes to gather their belongings and leave. They carried on their head in a bundle the little they could save.
The stated aim of the Israeli operation was to prevent the firing of homemade Palestinian rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot. It is relevant to point out here that just four Israeli citizens had been killed by these rockets in several months preceding the Israeli operation in Gaza.
The latest deaths in Gaza brought the total of Palestinians killed in Gaza since the start of the first Intifada to 1796, with another 12, 600 injured.
On August 17, 2005 about 14,000 Israeli soldiers started the first forced evacuation of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip as part of the disengagement plan which the Israeli government had adopted. Under the plan the Israel government would evacuate all Israeli settlers from the Strip and deploy all Israeli forces stationed in the Strip to other areas.
This was presented to the world as a very difficult and painful decision which the Israeli government had taken, a great sacrifice which it was making as a first step towards the creation of a Palestinian State. It was made to appear that this was a gift to the Gazans who were being "liberated" and were being granted independence.
In truth it was nothing of the sort. The shrewd Ariel Sharon, the then Prime Minister of Israel had realized that the achievement of Eretz Yisraeel, with Judea and Samaria and all the land west of the Jordan, would pose a huge problem for Israel. The demographic reality was that in such an Israel the Arab population would soon surpass the Jewish population. If Israel was to retain its Jewishness it would then have to either become an apartheid state or ethnically cleanse the land of the Arab population. None of these options was viable. The only solution was to divest Israel of areas that were densely populated by Arabs and declare that the aggregate of these disjointed areas was the Palestinian State!
Another factor was that Hamas had made it very difficult and costly for Israel to protect the Israeli settlements and the settlers in Gaza. A huge military presence in the Strip was required for this purpose and the Israeli public was chafing at the expense. Furthermore, Israel needed these forces to consolidate their hold in the West Bank. Gaza was expendable to the Israelis.
Sharon had chosen unilateralism over negotiations and agreement with the Palestinians. As such, the "disengagement" was unilateral rather than as a result of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, as ultimately the divestment of parcels of land densely populated by the Palestinians and declaration of them constituting the Palestinian state was intended to be.
Far from "liberating" the Gazans and making them independent, Israel put a tight noose round Gaza and turned it into a vast open air prison with more than one and a half million Gazans trapped within a tiny 140 square miles. Israel has guarded and monitored the external land perimeter of the Gaza Strip, continues to maintain exclusive authority in Gaza air space, continues to exercise security activity in the sea off the coast of the Gaza Strip, and has the Egyptians seal off its border with Gaza. Israel also reserves "its inherent right of self defense, both preventive and reactive, including where necessary the use of force, in respect of threats emanating from the Gaza Strip"
Nor was there any sacrifice on the part of Israel. Gaza was, under the UN partition plan, to be a part of a Palestinian State. It was never intended to be a part of Israel. Israel occupied it in 1967 and was in illegal possession thereof. Even if it was handing Gaza over to the Palestinians, it would be merely returning what it was not its to keep.
As for the settlers that were forcibly evacuated, it could not but be traumatic for them. This writer, along with the rest of the world, felt great sorrow for them. But it must be remembered that they had taken up residence there knowing that the title to the land was far from clear and that it indeed belonged to someone else. Also, they were fully compensated, were provided with alternate accommodation and were transported from their homes in buses provided by the Israeli government. Unlike thousands of Palestinians who were made homeless by the Israeli government.
Gazans had suspected that the Israeli settlers were being evacuated to give Israel a free hand for carpet bombing of Gaza. And sure enough, barely a month after the disengagement, Gazans awoke to the deafening sonic booms created by Israeli jetfighters soaring above the Strip. True no bombs were dropped. But these sonic booms are a punishment in themselves. Surely if the Israeli settlers had not been evacuated, Israeli warplanes would not be ripping through the Gazan airspace so repeatedly and at the most sensitive times, when every human being was sleeping. Add to them the 24/7 noise of the drones that hover over Gaza and you get a picture of what the Gazans endured.
In January 2006 the Palestinians held their Parliamentary elections. In a fair and democratic election, certified to be so by international observers, with a turnout of 77%, Hamas scored a surprise landslide victory over Fatah, capturing 44.5 per cent of the votes cast, against 41.3percent won by Fatah. It obtained 74 of the 132 Parliamentary seats while Fatah got 45. In Ramallah, Hamas won every parliamentary seat except the one reserved for a Christian. It took almost all of the 16 constituencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Particularly remarkable was its success in the Jerusalem district, where the group won all four seats allocated for Muslim candidates . In Hebron it took all its nine seats.
Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council. In the race for the 66 national seats, Hamas got 29 and Fatah 28. Four parties shared the remaining seats.
The rules required President Abbas, who had threatened to resign if Hamas blocked his political program, to invite the largest party in parliament to form the next cabinet
The January 25 elections, an unprecedented turning point for politics, stunned U.S. and Israeli officials.
Hamas and the Gazans (Gaza is the stronghold of Hamas) were jubilant. But this jubilation did not last long. The victory at the polls brought only further misery to them
The US and the EU were, to put it mildly, not pleased at the results of the election Though it was they who had been pressuring PA to hold fair and free elections, they were opposed to accepting the result of the election. They immediately started putting pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to use his authority to cripple Hamas power in the Parliament.
Since Gaza and Hamas are linked so closely together that they have almost become synonymous and since Israeli and American pressure on the PA was meant to effect the elimination of Hamas from the government to which it had won a right through the elections, it is relevant to here also mention in brief the actions taken by Israel, the US and EU towards achieving this goal. Israel stopped fund transfers to the Palestinian Authority and withheld the tax it collected on behalf of the PA. This amounted to millions of dollars.
President George W. Bush demanded that Mahmoud Abbas return USD 50 million he received in aid from the U.S.
The United States and its allies placed three demands on the new Palestinian government: that it recognize Israel's right to exist; that it affirm its commitment to all international agreements concluded by its predecessor, the Fatah Party; and that it renounce violence. President George W. Bush and the leaders of the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, the so-called Quartet, stressed that they would not work diplomatically with the new Palestinian government if it did not meet these demands. The United States and the EU also threatened to withhold economic aid, and Israel threatened to block its provision.
When Hamas refused to accept the "three demands", the US and other donor countries, including Canada, the EU and Japan shut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, depriving it of the means to pay salaries and meet its annual budget of roughly $2 billion.
Israel clamped down on Palestinians' freedom of movement, especially into and out of the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip. The closure of the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza from January 15 to February 4, 2006 and then from February 22 onwards had a devastating effect on food availability in the Gaza Strip. Stocks of wheat flour were critically low and soon thereafter no basic commodities were available in Gaza
On Tuesday, the 14th of March 2006 the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) stormed the Palestinian National Authority's (PNA) detention center in Jericho. The aim was to seize six detainees wanted by Israel, in particular Ahmed Sa'adat, claimed to be the mastermind behind the killing of the Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Ze'evi, in 2001, together with Fuad Shubaki, wanted by Israel on charges of smuggling weapons into Palestine, and four others.
In this nine hour long operation the Israeli Military used helicopters, tanks and bulldozers. Missiles and tank shells were fired. Two guards were killed and at least eight others were wounded. The seized detainees were subjected to degrading treatment, being stripped to their underwear and blindfolded. The prison's premises were destroyed.
The six detainees wanted by Israel for the killing of Ze'evi were being held by the PA in Jericho prison under the 2002 Ramallah Agreement signed by the PA, Israel, UK and the US..
There is indication that the US and the British were complicit in this brazen violation by Israel. The prison was protected also by US and British monitors. These monitors left Jericho on the morning of the 14th of March 2006, leaving the prison exposed to the Israeli raid.
By March 19, 2006 there was a food crisis in Gaza
From June 1 to June 7, 2006 Israel carried out mock air raids over Gaza to terrorize the population. It fired missiles at uninhabited areas, sent planes flying low over densely populated civilian areas. And it killed Palestinians!
On June 1, Israeli gunboats shot at Gaza's coast and wounded two Palestinian children playing on the beach; On June 3, it injured two Palestinian children inside their homes and a middle aged Palestinian man; On June 5 it killed two Palestinian civilians through a missile strike aimed at a car carrying Palestinian militants; On June 7 it killed two Palestinians and injured another through artillery shells fired at them as they attempted to enter Israel through the fence.
On Friday, June 9, 2006, at about 4pm, an Israeli naval boat stationed off the coast of Beit Lahya in Gaza fired seven successive artillery shells at civilians on the beach crowded with men, women and children. Seven civilians from the same family (father, mother and five children) were killed as also another civilian.Thirty-two civilians, including thirteen children, were injured.
On the same day, three more Palestinian civilians lost their lives, killed by an Israeli missile that had been fired at a car. This near Jabalya.
Then, just four days later, on 13 June, Israel struck again, this time on a Gazan highway, killing eleven and injuring thirty. It also fired on a funeral procession, wounding three fifteen- year olds.
On June 20, Israel attempted to carry out a targeted assassination. The attempt failed in its objective but killed three Palestinian children and wounded 15 others.
On June 21 Israel carried out another missile attack. It missed its target but hit a home and killed a Palestinian man and his pregnant sister and injured four Palestinian civilians and seven children. In addition three adults and a ten year old child were injured near the house.
After giving the Gazans a taste of what was to come, Israel topped this activity by launching a full scale invasion of Gaza on June 27, 2006, under the code name of "Operation Summer Rain"
The then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not shy about telling the world about what Israel wanted to do. With tongue in cheek he said that the aim was "not to mete out punishment but rather to apply pressure so that the abducted soldier (Gilad Shalit) will be freed. We want to create a new equation - freeing the abducted soldier in return for lessening the pressure on the Palestinians." (emphasis mine)
And this is the "pressure" that was applied.
On the first day of the assault Israeli fighter planes carried out three airstrikes on Gazan bridges in the morning. This was followed by strikes against Gazan power plants in the afternoon. Gaza sank into darkness. Israeli forces in the meantime had commenced moving into Gaza to take control of the open areas east of Rafah
The Gaza International Airport and the Islamic University were hit.
On June 29, 2006 Israel seized and detained 64 members of the Hamas party, including eight Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers – a third of the Palestinian cabinet – Legislative Council members, ministers and mayors, making it impossible for the new PA government to function.
On June 30 Israel, which had started its offensive against Gaza in December, started its bombardment phase. Israeli warplanes and gunboats struck more than a dozen times in Gaza in the hours after midnight, pounding more than 40 Hamas targets and a mosque, where 10 persons were killed. Roads and open fields were bombarded. The Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza City was struck. Three missiles hit the office of Khaled Abu Ilal, an Interior Ministry official.
On July 6, 2006, the IDF reoccupied three former Israeli settlements in northern Gaza. Strip. Additional forces entered a nearby Palestinian town.
During the conflict, 5 Israeli soldiers were killed (including two in the initial Palestinian cross-border attack, and one in a friendly fire incident). Six Israeli civilians were killed and nearly 40 wounded.
Early during the assault all border crossings in and out of Gaza were shut.
The public health, safety and environmental hazards stemming from the damage caused to infrastructure as a result of this military operation included water shortages, contaminated remaining drinking water, uncontrolled discharge and untreated sewage flowing in the streets resulting in groundwater pollution, pollution of agricultural land , making it impossible for Gazans to cultivate to harvest crops. All this not only had a severe negative impact on their earning, but also posed a grave threat to the health and safety of the Gazans.
As recorded by the PCHR in its report dated Sept 10, 2006, the outcome of the military action since 25 June 2006 was:
* 257 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 49 children and 12 women, have been killed by IOF
* At least 954 Palestinian civilians, including 272 children and 31 women, have been wounded by the IOF gunfire.
* At least 248 air-to-surface missiles and hundreds of artillery shells have been fired at Palestinian civilian and military targets in the Gaza Strip.
* Buildings of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National economy, the office of the Palestinian Prime Minister and a number of educational institutions have been destroyed.
* The electricity generation plant, providing 45% of the electricity of the Gaza Strip, was destroyed, and electricity networks and transmitters have been repeatedly attacked.
* 6 bridges linking Gaza City with the central Gaza Strip and a number of roads have been destroyed.
* Hundreds of donums ( according to Wikipedia encyclopedia, "a dunam or dönüm, dunum, donum is a unit of area used in the Ottoman Empire and still used, in various standardized versions, in many countries formerly part of the Ottoman Empire. It was defined as "forty standard paces in length and breadth", but varied considerably from place to place"). of agricultural land and dozens of houses have been destroyed.
* Hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including 9 ministers and 31 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), including the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Secretary, have been arrested. Minster of Prisoners' Affairs, Minister of Labor and Second Deputy Speaker of the PLC were released.
* The Palestinian governmental compound in Nablus has been destroyed.
* Many families in Rafah, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia have been forced to leave their houses.
* IOF intelligence has warned some Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by phone to evacuate their houses, which would be attacked.
* 40 houses belonging to activists of Palestinian factions were destroyed by IOF warplanes.
* IOF have imposed a strict siege on the OPT, and have isolated the Gaza Strip from the outside world.
Hardly had "Operation Summer Rain" ended when, on November 1, 2006 Israel commenced another military operation, this time calling it "Operation Autumn Clouds"!!
Starting on November 1, in the first two days alone it killed 15 Palestinians, including at least 4 civilians, and wounded at least 50, including 15 children and 3 women. The Israelis announced an end of the operation on November 7.
However, on November 8, 2006, Israeli forces fired successively 10 to 12 shells at a Beit Hanoun residential street resulting in eighteen Palestinian civilians – most of them women and children from the same family -- being killed. The victims were trying to flee a barrage of Israeli artillery shells fired on and around the house where they had been sleeping minutes earlier.
The Gazans, who had just buried 55 of their fellowmen after a week-long offensive in Beit Hanoun, were stunned.
In a day-long meeting of the Security Council on November 9, called jointly by the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement, more than 40 speakers expressed grave concern at the mounting humanitarian toll, with many demanding an immediate ceasefire and deployment of United Nations observers.
A ceasefire was declared on November 26, 2006.
On December 9, 2006 the PLO Executive Committee recommended early elections.
On December 14, 2006, Ismail Haniya was denied entry to Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing. Haniya was returning to Gaza from his first official trip abroad as prime minister in the PA government and was reported to have an estimated 30 million US dollars meant for the PA government. A gun battle between Hamas and the Palestinian Presidential Guard was reported at the Rafah border crossing. When Haniya later attempted to cross the border, an exchange of gunfire left one bodyguard dead. Haniya's eldest son was wounded. Hamas denounced the attack as an attempt by Fatah on Haniya's life. Firefights broke out between the two factions.
On Dec 16 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for new elections. This was viewed by Hamas as a bid to undermine the government which was formed following January's legislative elections and which was being led by Haniya as Prime Minister.
On 25 February 2007, Israel launched a wide-scale military attack on Nablus in the West Bank and on neighboring refugee camps and villages, torpedoing efforts to get the stalled peace process back on track. About 50,000 Palestinians were placed under curfew. Soldiers conducted house-to-house searches and residents were ordered to stay indoors.
Though this did not directly affect Gaza, it was the largest raid on Nablus in several years. It created havoc and large scale destruction. And Gazans, who are Palestinians first, suffered in agony
Gaza's turn was next. On May 16, 2007 Israel, claiming that it was acting to halt the launching of home made rockets at Israeli towns, launched a massive attack on Gaza already reeling under constant attacks. By May 2007, 50 Palestinians had been killed and 206 injured, 71 houses were destroyed in the course of the latest attack. During the same time period, two Israeli civilians were killed and several more had been injured by the Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip It is relevant to here remember that between 25 June 2006 and the truce that came into force at the end of November 2006, over 400 Palestinians (including 90 children) were killed and some 1,500 (including over 300 children) injured. During the same period three Israeli soldiers were killed and 18 wounded, and two Israeli civilians were killed and some 30 injured in Sderot by Qassam rockets fired by Palestinians from Gaza.
With Hamas showing no signs of capitulating, Israel further tightened the noose around Gaza's neck by closing the Rafah Crossing on June 9, 2007. This crossing was the only point of entry into and exit from Gaza. Its closure put Gaza under siege.
At one point as many as 6,000 Palestinians were stranded at the Egyptian border, waiting for the closure to be lifted so they could return to their homes and families in Gaza.
Also, in June, 2007 Hamas learnt, through a report published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, that Abbas and a US commander had asked Israel to authorize a huge arms shipment by Egypt, including armored cars, armor-piercing rockets, thousands of hand grenades, and millions of rounds of ammunition. Hamas viewed this as preparation for a massive attack on it by Fatah. It decided it was time to take defensive action before it was too late. Determined to foil what it believed on evidence was an American-Fatah plot to subvert the decision of the people democratically expressed, it launched operations against Fatah forces in Gaza and, within a week or so, Fatah forces were routed. Hamas was in full control of Gaza. Abbas's writ no longer ran in Gaza.
This has been portrayed by Israel, the US and some European powers as a Coup d'Etat by Hamas. In truth it was a counter coup by Hamas. It is important to understand this and towards this end a little digression is necessary here. It will help illustrate the extent of intrigue between Israel, the US and Fatah to deny Hamas its legitimate rights.
When Abbas began holding talks with Hamas to try and establish a "unity government", Condoleezza Rice personally met Abbas on October 4, 2006 and demanded that he dissolve the new government dominated by Hamas as soon as possible and hold fresh elections.
After several weeks, with no evidence of Abbas doing her bidding, Jake Walles, the US consul general in Jerusalem, went to Ramallah and delivered an ultimatum to the Palestinian president: Ask Hamas to accede to the demands of the Quartet and if it fails to do so, declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government without Hamas.
Instead of doing that, Abbas accepted Saudi King Abdullah's invitation and, on February 6, 2007 went to Mecca to meet with Hamas and formally establish a national unity government. In a couple of days an agreement was reached, without Hamas accepting the Quartet's "three demands"! The clincher was the promise made by the Saudis to pay the Palestinian Authority's salary bills
The US then redoubled its pressure on the PA. It asked Abbas to demand that Hamas accept Quartet's demands, and, if it refused, dismiss the government and either call early elections or impose an emergency government. It also impressed on Abbas the need to maintain "independent control of key security forces." and "avoid Hamas integration with these services, while eliminating the Executive Force or mitigating the challenges posed by its continued existence."
In parallel to these efforts, the US also pursued a covert initiative it had launched to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan (Fatah's strong man in Gaza) and armed with new weapons supplied at America's behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power.
A portion of the plan was leaked and published in a Jordanian newspaper. Hamas became aware of it and regarded the plan, quite understandably, to be a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup
In mid-May 2007, 500 Fatah National Security Forces recruits arrived, fresh from training in Egypt and equipped with brand new rifles with telescopic sights and vehicles. In June, as satetd earlier, Hamas learnt, through a report published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Abbas and a US commander had asked Israel to authorize a huge arms shipment by Egypt, including armored cars, armor-piercing rockets, thousands of hand grenades, and millions of rounds of ammunition. Hamas decided it was time to take defensive action before it was too late. Determined to foil what it believed on evidence was an American-Fatah plot to subvert the decision of the people democratically expressed, it launched operations against Fatah forces in Gaza in June 2007 and, within a week or so, Fatah forces were routed. Hamas was in full control of Gaza. Abbas's writ no longer ran in Gaza.
In June,2007 Abbas split with Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and declared a state of emergency. Abbas dissolved the government and named Salam Fayyad as the new prime minister, but Haniya vowed to carry on.
To continue the narrative:
On September 19, 2007 Israel declared the Gaza Strip an "enemy entity." The justification given was once more the firing of rockets from Gaza. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice immediately backed the declaration. There followed a series of collective punishment measures which crippled Gaza's already non-existing economy. Importing of basic needs, including medicine, was denied. Exports were severely limited. Fuel supplies were cut. Movement of people out of and into Gaza, including those in need of urgent medical care, was halted.
On 15 January, 2008, in a raid by Israel, nineteen Palestinians were killed, including the son of Hamas head Mahmoud al-Zahar, three farmers and a student.
On January 17, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the total closure of the Gaza Strip. Power supply and fuel to Gaza were also cut.
The residents of Gaza are mainly food aid-dependent refugees. With the total closure of the Strip and cutting off of power supply and fuel to Gaza, a major disaster soon developed.
On June 19, 2008 a 26 week Egyptian brokered truce between Hamas and Israel was announced. Under its terms, Israel was to halt its incursions into Gaza, and Hamas was to stop the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza. Israel agreed to also ease its blockade on Gaza if the truce held. Further talks on prisoner exchange were also envisaged. The truce was to last till December 19.
Hamas adhered to the terms of the truce. Though a few rogue elements in Gaza did fire some rockets into Israel during the truce (about 500 rockets were fired during the period, most of them after Israel broke the truce on November 5), Hamas honored the truce and enforced it on its cadres (even Israel's intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness).
The truce was going well for Israel. From the beginning of 2008 till June19 Hamas fired 2660 projectiles into Israel. From June 19, when the truce started, till November 4, only 65 rockets had been fired. Israel itself admitted that during the truce period there was a significant reduction of shells being lobbed into Israel.
But it was not going so well for Gaza. The promised easing of the blockade by Israel never materialized. What is more, Israel chose to violate the truce. On November 4, 2008 under the pretext of stopping a "ticking" tunnel, Israel executed six Palestinians in Gaza.
Not withstanding this, even before the truce expired on December 19, Hamas sought, through the good offices of Egypt and others, to extend the truce. Israel refused.
Determined to bring Gaza to its knees, Israel, unleashed its cruelest offensive against Gaza under the code name of Operation Cast Lead. On December 27 Israel began its bombardment on Gaza and then on January, 2009 it began its ground offensive. The assault lasted for 22 days. During this period more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. There was shelling from every side, from air, sea and land. White phosphorous was rained on Gazans. On the first day itself, more than 100 tons of bombs were dropped on this tiny, beleaguered strip of land. Entire families were wiped out. Much of Gaza was reduced to rubble.
Though the above is a long report, it does not even begin to record the trials and tribulations of the people of Gaza. And it does not convey the emotional and psychological impact all this has had on the Gazans. It was not meant to. The purpose here is to lend context to what Dom Martin and others have so effectively expressed in their images and poetry.
Most regrettably, the saga continues. The International Community, which galvanized itself into fast and telling action against Iraq when it occupied Kuwait (which once was its province) and not only drove the occupying Iraqi army out of Kuwait but chased it almost into the heart of Iraq, leaving a trail of warped and burnt tanks, armored vehicles and men – this same community, in the case of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and its stranglehold on Gaza, has stood idly by during Israel's more than 40 years of brutal occupation of the Palestinian territories. It assuages its conscience by giving millions in aid – to feed the impoverished Gazans (who would not need any aid if only they were allowed to go about their business without Israeli restrictions and bombardments and allowed to import and export freely) and rebuild what Israel goes on reducing to rubble whatever is rebuilt! By doing this the International Community does no favor to the Gazans. It merely perpetuates Israeli tyranny and becomes complicit in it.
Of late the international community is becoming increasingly reluctant to pour in money to rebuild what they know Israel will destroy again by its precision bombs and missiles. Notwithstanding this, at the donors' conference in Egypt last March the international community once more pledged billions of dollars to rebuild what Israel destroyed in Gaza in its 2008/09 war on Gaza. But this time no rebuilding can take place because Israel has put a blockade against any material coming into Gaza. According to international aid agencies, only 41 trucks of building supplies have been allowed into Gaza during the year.
Former president of US Jimmy Carter has recently recounted that he has seen "homeless people huddling in makeshift tents, under plastic sheets, or in caves dug into the debris of their former homes. Despite offers by Palestinian leaders and international agencies to guarantee no use of imported materials for even defensive military purposes, cement, lumber, and panes of glass are not being permitted to pass entry points into Gaza." He has gone on to state "The US and other nations have accepted this abhorrent situation without forceful corrective action….. The cries of homeless and freezing people demand immediate relief….We cannot wait any longer… It is time to face the fact that, for the past 30 years, no one nation has been able or willing to break the impasse and induce the disputing parties to comply with international law…. Israel has long argued that it cannot negotiate with terrorists, yet has had an entire year without terrorism and still could not negotiate. President Obama has promised active involvement of the US government, but no formal peace talks have begun and no comprehensive framework for peace has been proposed. Individually and collectively, the world powers must act".
But no meaningful action is in sight. Israel continues to throttle Gaza in its effort to topple Hamas. And Gaza still bleeds. In full view of the civilized world. But Gaza will never fall. Though bloodied, it has not been bowed and never will be. It embodies the essence of the struggle of free people against tyranny.
In the end, it is Israel that will go the way of all tyrannies and Gaza will forever be a shining symbol of unyielding resistance against overwhelming and unceasing force, an example for all time to all the oppressed people all over the world as to how to rid the world of oppression.
Please see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU5Wi2jhnW0