ICAHD

Emergency in Gaza – Why the Siege Must Be Lifted – Now!

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, ICAHDis Advocacy Officer, delivered the following speech to a meeting at the Houses of Parliament on Monday, attended by MPs. She represented ICAHD at the meeting on a panel, which included Prof Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian General Delegate to UK, and three MPs. Angela was on the committee that organized the Israeli Convoy to the Erez Crossing on 26 January, for the day of international solidarity with Gaza. She continues to meet with the committee as they discuss further action.

Iim a friend of Israel AND a friend of Palestine, working, as an Israeli, for what I see as the common interests of both sides. Most Israelis working for peace canit be partisan, as we no longer see the other side as enemies and internalise a shared struggle on the frontline of the battle for peace nwhich Rabin described as tougher than any war. Weire the true moderates, even though those who donit want to share Israel-Palestine call us other names.

There are many (even in my government) who are encouraging a situation to develop in which a fledgling Palestinian state will not be sovereign or viable because of continued developments on the ground, especially in Jerusalem and Gaza. The siege of Gaza is part of this policy. A policy of divide and rule. But there can be no peace without a viable human and economic society in Gaza, integrally linked to the West Bank.

The situation specifically in Gaza must be stopped. Britain bears historical responsibility for some of this crisis; its unilateral withdrawal from Mandatory Palestine in post-war i48 did nothing to solve the problem. Some in Britain said then that it was expecting too much of the Palestinians to accept so many holocaust refugees into Palestine. I believe Great Britain owes it to the Palestinians now to put right what it could not then.

During this US election year, too, thereis a pressing need for Britain to assume leadership, since some in Israel are able to ignore American diplomacy, due to the imminent regime change there. Tony Blair warns that President Bush will return to Jerusalem in May and must be shown progress. Yet nothing happens on the ground, except more settlement expansion, dangerous tunnelling near the al Aqsa Mosque, more and more East Jerusalem housing units, and an increased blockade on Gaza authorised by our Supreme Court which rejects all our human rights groupsi joint petition to allow fuel and electricity in to Gaza.

Friends do not let friends drive drunk. Any real friend of Israel must comprehend the urgent necessity for tough love. At a time when Shas (whose followers donit serve in the army) is threatening to bolt the cabinet if we discuss sharing Jerusalem (they say dividing it n I prefer isharingi it), serious British pressure could bolster Annapolis which is becoming history, largely due to the Defence Ministeris refusal to dismantle checkpoints and provide freedom of movement so that donor aid, pledged in Paris, can be released. Israel must be pressured or sanctioned to start its 1st Phase Road Map obligations n overdue since 2003 nsuch as building trust, allowing freedom of movement, normalising Palestinian life, ending the Occupation and ending home demolitions. Israel must be pushed into negotiations towards a ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza and elsewhere. The IDF cannot be allowed to continue to collectively punish Gaza and prevent even the most basic humanitarian supplies to get in. Or to extrajudicially assassinate and stoke revenge attacks. Itis way overdue to call for the suspension of the EU Trade Association Agreement. War crimes must be called by their name.

Olmert knows elections, according to polls, would usher in Netanyahu, who successfully unwound Oslo. American negotiators are being told that Olmert canit make progress due to internal political considerations. He must be helped to move forward, and real pressure would be such a help, to convince the right-wing of his government and those in opposition that the world wonit let Israel continue to dominate Palestine, wonit allow a formal apartheid state to be created, and wonit tolerate a renewed military invasion of Gaza as is currently predicted; think of the traumatised Gazans with that sword of Damocles always over their heads! I fear they understand the world doesnit really care. We Israelis may be victims (I travel on the bus, unlike those in power), but weire in no way the greater victim, if anything weire victims of our own intransigence. Good at shooting ourselves in the foot, a suicidal trait our satirists mock.

The Olmert – Barak government needs to be threatened with sanctions. The precedent is the threats Bush Senior used to get Israel to the Madrid table in 1991, demanding that Israel stop building new settlements in Palestine, threatening to block the 10 billion dollar loan guarantees if Israel disobeyed. It worked. If such threats arenit made, backed up by action when defied, Olmert canit pacify his right-wing partners or silence the ultra-right wing rebellion and sabotage. These are people with a stated agenda. Bomb Gaza and obliterate a sector of it for each rocket fired into Israel, even a self-confessed ipeaceniki cabinet member, Meir Shetreet, says. Drive all Gazans into Sinai by aerial campaign of terror. Force Egypt to deal with our problem. Yet 80% of Gazans are Bedouin refugees from the Negev, forced off their lands in the early days of statehood by Israelis military. Israelis desert is their traditional home since the days when Columbus discovered America. Making refugees flee for refuge elsewhere is no recipe for future peace or neighbourliness.

Despite unilateral evacuation of 7,000 settlers, the Gaza Strip remains Occupied Territory. Israel continues to control its airspace, territorial waters, population registry, tax system, supply of goods, freedom of movement and access to healthcare. Israel has military control over 26% of the Stripis total territory as iborder security zonesi (37% in days of Gush Katif). We Israelis are led to believe iWe gave back Gazai n but this simply isnit true. Israel even prevents fishermen from going to sea in Gazan waters, despite Oslo allowing them a 20 nautical mile fishing area.

Recently, the exodus or prisonbreak into Sinai stopped when Egypt closed the breached border, to hole the people of Gaza back into their ghetto. Gaza is a ghetto. Weive come to this, weive created what we fear.

Most of the statistics are innocent civilians, people caught in the crossfire of Israeli collective punishment and war crimes, and Palestinians trying to hit back at their occupiers with crude weaponry n also war criminals as civilians are targeted. Gaza hospitals have been paralyzed, 40% of Gaza City residents have been deprived of access to clean water. Children are living in the cold and dark. And Gazais pumping 40 million litres of untreated sewage into the sea every day, because of a lack of electricity to run the treatment plant. That’s the same sea we share with them. This Israeli policy is illegal, dangerous and stupid; another dumb war, fought by neocons who donit understand the wisdom of generosity, because theyive never tried it.

I sympathize with Sderotis residents, exposed to traumatising Qassam rockets for the past 7 years, but siege and collective punishment are no answer: although one and a half million men, women and children are denied basic necessities, driven to the edge of starvation, the Qassam attacks increase. Nor has the constant military offensive (1,000 Palestinians were killed in 2007, including many civilians) stopped the rockets. Whilst Sderot suffers, few ask why several Palestinian ceasefire offers have been rejected out of hand by our government. Actually, weire encouraging extremism.

I asked an Irish aid worker, currently in Gaza, what he wants said today: His telephone text message reads: iGaza is under double siege n siege from Israel and Egypt and also besieged internally by the closure of minds because of the Hamas-Fateh issue. Gaza is a broken society, beyond statistics, being punished by Israelis, the PNA and the world. 80% rely on food aid, and are unemployed. The remaining 20% work for the UN and NGOs, therefore 100% of Gazans rely on the benevolence of the outside world. Thatis the single biggest issue faced by Gazans. Itis todayis Nakba.i

So whatis the world doing? Whatis Britainis Parliament doing? The EU? Whereis the worldis benevolence that they may trust in? Where is justice in all this, or international law? My government, an occupying power, is not being held to its commitments for those under occupation. It calls for isecurityi whilst doing the most to undermine our security.

Israeli civil society has been disempowered by the shuttling of diplomats, having been told by a duplicitous military politician, Ehud Barak, that thereis no partner, even though weire now dealing with the same negotiators, again. Change is not going to come from inside Israel.

UN Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, issued this statement on January 18th:

iThe killing of some forty Palestinians in Gaza in the past week, the targeting of a Government office near a wedding party venue with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians, and the closure of all crossings into Gaza raise very serious questions about Israel’s respect for international law and its commitment to the peace process. Recent action violates the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also violates one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law that military action must distinguish between military targets and civilian targets. Israel must have known about the wedding party in Gaza near to the interior ministry when it launched missiles at the ministry building. Those responsible for such cowardly action are guilty of serious war crimes and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes. The United States and other states which attended the Annapolis conference are under both a legal and a moral obligation to compel Israel to cease its actions against Gaza and to restore confidence in the peace process, ensure respect for international law and protect civilian life.i

Why canit the British government summon the moral courage to be decisive in the name of peace? Olmert is not going to ask you to intervene n heid see that as a sign of weakness exposing our true state to the world (if thereis any doubt after Winograd, the fall of the Egyptian border and Iran joining our nuclear club). I repeat what I said at a UN Conference at the EU last year: All the emperors are naked, we have a crisis in leadership in the United States, Europe and Israel. The situationis getting worse, and I see no one willing and able to stand up for change today. As we say in Hebrew n Ein im mi ledaber. Thereis no one to speak to. We Israelis are giving up hope. More are leaving on both sides, or waiting for another fullscale war.

Humanity deserves better leadership than this. Peace in our time? I wonder.

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