Lift the Siege on Gaza!

Let’s pretend for a moment that Israel and not Gaza is under siege by its Arab neighbors.  The Arabs are preventing all food supplies, medicine, and fuel from reaching starving Israelis.  The reason given: Israel’s refusal to accept the Arab peace initiative (land for peace).

What would America and the rest of the world do?  You can bet the sky would fall down and America would raise holy hell.

First, President Bush would put our armed forces on worldwide alert, dispatch aircraft carriers to the region, and issue a 24-hour ultimatum to lift the siege or else.  U.S. lawmakers would be tripping over each other to the microphone to condemn the act as war crime against humanity.  It would headline front pages in all mainstream media, with editorials denouncing the Arabs as bloodthirsty savages who do not value human life and appeal to save Israel before it is too late.  TV stations would preempt regularly scheduled programs for constant updates and analyses.  The topic would be on every radio talk show with calls to “Send the Marines” and to start the “Tel Aviv Airlift.”  The crisis would dominate the presidential debate, and every candidate would try to outdo the others as to who cares more about Israel.  And yes, Arab/Muslim communities would be asked if they condone or condemn the siege.

That is a hypothetical scenario — the truth is, the siege has indeed taken place since June 2007, and the victims are not Israelis, but rather 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza (more than half of whose population are under 18).  The reasons given by Israel for the siege: the Hamas government does not recognize the Israeli occupation as legitimate and it has fired home-made rockets across the border.

However, “[a]ccording to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, between Sept. 1, 2005 and July 25, 2007, 668 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli security forces.  Over half were noncombatants and 126 were children.  During the same period, Qassam rockets and mortar shells killed eight Israelis, half of them civilians.”

So why is it there is no outrage despite the fact the UN officials and Israeli human rights groups have denounced the siege, calling it collective punishment and war crime against humanity?

By imposing a strangling blockade, Israel is inflicting injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, and punishment on the whole civilian population.  This is a collective punishment that is causing death, physical harm, pain and mental suffering.  This is not self-defense.  If that is in response to the Qassam rockets fired on the settlement of Sedrot, then how can Israel explain its daily incursions into West Bank towns and villages, where there is no Hamas presence or from where no rockets are being fired across the border?

The U.N. states that Israel denies medication and hospital supplies to Gaza, and it grants only 1 in 7 patients access to urgent treatment outside Gaza.  As a result of Israel’s cruelty, over 70 untreated Palestinian patients lost their lives.  Denying food and medicine to sick and dying people is a crime, not self-defense.  The siege on Gaza does not harm fighters or the Hamas government.  It only harms civilians, one half of whom are children.

To argue that Israel is left with no choice is nonsense.  Israel has a choice.  Its choice is to distinguish between combatants and the civilian population, and between military targets and civilian infrastructure, during conflict.  Israel has also a moral and legal obligation under international law to ensure food, medicine, and other essential supplies reach civilians under occupation in time of conflict.

By its strangling siege, Israel has turned Gaza into the largest prison in the world.  Palestinians are locked up like animals in cages.  I have seen images of Palestinian mothers with silent anguish in their eyes unable to find food for their children.  Hospitals are forced to operate by candlelight, and prematurely born children are dying in the incubators.  Despite all of this, Gaza will not raise the white flag, bow its head, or bend its knees.  It will continue to fight for freedom and independence from brutal military occupation like America did in 1776.

The U.S. government’s callous defense of Israel’s cruelty is what grinds my gears.  Our government hands Israel 3.2 billion U.S. tax dollars (mine included) every year.  I feel like I am helping in killing Palestinians.  My Representative and two Senators’ staffs in our nation’s capital with whom I spoke about the crisis in Gaza showed a total lack of interest and could not hide their bias.

Only two days after the Palestinians tore down the border wall into Egypt, the U.S. Congress suspended 100 million dollars in aid to Egypt in retaliation for not controlling the border.  12 days later, Egypt’s president was forced to comply with Israeli and U.S. demands.  The borders are sealed again.

It is now dark and cold in Gaza.  People are without lights, heat, food, medicine.  Most people are going to bed hungry.  Parents are praying for divine intervention.  A brave Jewish American organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, has demonstrated courage and integrity, by leading the way in condemning the siege as an ugly crime.

Having read the Torah, which teaches that “On three things the world is based: on justice, truth and on peace,” I wonder why there are mainstream Jewish organizations that continue to be tight-lipped about the siege?

I have to commend the eleven U.S. lawmakers led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) who fearlessly stood up to the Israeli siege, by sending a letter to Secretary Rice calling upon our government to use its influence with Israel to lift the illegal siege on Gaza to avoid humanitarian crisis.

Finally, we say we are blessed living in America, the envy of the rest of the world for its freedom, democracy, and rule of law.  We expect other countries to live and abide by those same principles.  Last December, President Bush ordered the president of Pakistan to “remove his military uniform.”  Then, for God’s sake, why not tell Israel: “Lift the siege on Gaza!”

Mahmoud El-Yousseph, TSgt., USAF (Ret), lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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