After twelve days in which the residents of Gaza poured in hundreds of thousands through a small breach in a steel-and concrete wall, Egyptian forces have resealed the Rafah crossing, and Israel's collective punishment of 1.5 million people continues unabated.And here are those scores I mentioned above:
As a result of Israel's blockade, these people are, at this very moment, enduring suffering on an unspeakable scale. One on-the-ground observer writes, “They are now out of food; the water system is faltering (almost half the population now lacks access to safe water supplies); 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 for diagnostic machines, ventilators, incubators; dozens of lifesaving medicines are no longer available.” All this in a territory which was already one of the most deprived on earth, with a UN-calculated poverty rate of 79%.
Israel claims its blockade of Gaza is a response to the firing of Qassam rockets at Israeli towns along the border. If that's so, it's proved highly ineffective, since the frequency of rocket attacks has increased each time Israel has tightened the noose. The Qassams - named after the early 20th-Century Islamist militant Izzedine al-Qassam – are crude homemade weapons, unguided two-metre steel tubes filled with explosives. Since they came on the scene in 2000, they have taken 13 Israeli lives, two in the last year. According to Btselem, an Israeli human rights group, in the same year, Israeli security forces – equipped with state of the art weaponry - killed 290 Gaza residents. Over the two year period 2006-2007, Israel killed 816 in Gaza, including 152 children. In the month of January 2008, at least another 60 were added to the death tally.So this slaughter isn't having the "desired" affect of stopping the Qassams and Qassams aren't having much affect anyway. So what's it all about?
The disproportion in fatalities is a stark indicator of the nature of the conflict. The killings, like the blockade, are part of Israel's ongoing war against the Palestinian population as a whole. This deliberate strangulation of a whole people is in defiance of all international law and civilised norms. Yet the Israeli leadership are unblushing. They have made it clear that the aim of the blockade is to teach the people of Gaza a lesson: there will be stiff penalties for not conforming to Israel's will.And then the run up to the breakout:
The Israeli “withdrawal” of 2005 marked not an end to but a re-groupment of the occupation. Israel retained control over Gaza's sea and land borders, airspace, economy, even its population registry. Its military forces continued to cross into Gaza and carry out assassinations there at will. Following Hamas's victory in the 2006 elections, the US and the EU imposed sanctions on the new government and Israel began restricting supplies. In June 2007, Israel responded to Hamas' victory over Fateh in the Gaza power-struggle by imposing a wide-ranging blockade and placing the territory effectively under siege. In September, the Israeli cabinet declared the Gaza Strip an “enemy entity”. On January 18, following three days of Israeli raids that killed 30, and a day after George Bush left the region, the Israelis ordered a total closure of the strip, cutting fuel and power and halting medical and humanitarian aid. Five days later, the border crossing into Egypt was blown open and the Gazans surged through.And what the breakout means:
For Palestinians the break-out illustrated the power of mass popular resistance and their capacity to overcome factional rivalries. It also exposed Egypt's role in maintaining the occupation. Mubarak's regime is dependent on US aid, of which it is the second largest recipient, after Israel. Under the terms of Camp David, Egyptian forces are strictly limited in this part of Sinai, with a maximum of 750 border police. Yet at the end of last year, the US congress voted to withhold 100 million dollars in aid to Egypt as a penalty for allegedly failing to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza. The message was clear: Egypt was expected to play its part in containing the Palestinians. The mass break-out has made that more difficult than ever, as popular outrage comes to counter-weigh Washington's dictates.Having looked at the scores in terms of the ridiculous disparity of military power of the protagonists, we see that it's not necessarily those who can kill the most who will win:
Across the world people have been stirred by the spectacle of poverty-stricken humanity tearing down the wall that confines it to despair. What was dramatically illustrated here was not only the desperation of the Palestinians' plight, but also the universal human thirst for freedom. The breach in the siege, however temporary, embodies the aspiration of millions, in the middle east and far beyond.I almost posted the whole article. It will be published in full in The Hindu on Sunday and no doubt on Mike Marqusee's own website soon enough.