In late February, almost two weeks ago, Israel launched a five day offensive into the Gaza strip. In these five days, over 120 Palestinians were killed, the majority of them civilians. The incursion was reportedly in response to rockets being fired at Israeli towns and settlements from Gaza by Hamas. Hamas has stated it has been firing rockets in protest of the siege on Gaza and the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine.
To put the siege on Gaza in some perspective, Amnesty International has recently released a report detailing that Gaza is in its worst condition since the Occupation of Palestine began in 1967. 1.1 Million Gazans, or three fourths of the population, depend on humanitarian aid just to survive. The number of refugees has increased tenfold since 1999, even straining the special UN organization established specifically to deal with Palestinian refugees. Average household incomes have dropped 22% in the last four months alone. 70% of all households earn less than $1.20 per capita daily. Unemployment is at 40% in the Gaza strip. These facts are all direct affects of the blockades and border restrictions Israel has placed on Gaza. As a result of this humanitarian crisis, the UN appeal for humanitarian aid to Gaza is the third largest in the world this year after Sudan and Congo, at 462 million dollars. That amount of humanitarian aid of course being a fraction of the 2.5-3 billion dollars that the United States gives to Israel in aid, over a third of it specified as military aid.
After the Israeli offensive into Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and leader of Fatah, froze peace negotiations with Israel. In the mainstream press this action has been portrayed as though issues in Gaza are somehow spilling over into the West Bank or that people in the West Bank maybe sympathize with Hamas and the crisis in Gaza. The overall message has been a somewhat implicit critique of Abbas, as seen in the fact that shortly after Abbas called off the negotiations Condoleezza Rice promptly pressured him into rescinding his statement. The issue here is not where Mr. Abbas’ sympathies lay, it is much more fundamental: there cannot be peace talks when Israel is invading Gaza and killing civilians. Hostilities have to end for peace talks to begin. As Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist recently said in his article Kill a Hundred Turks and Rest, “a ceasfire, like a tango, needs two participants.”
All this is accompanied by Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak just a few days ago approving the building of 750 new homes in the Israeli settlement, Giv’at Ze’ev, located in the West Bank. As a note, the construction of settlements by the occupying force of occupied territories is strictly forbidden under international law, a provision to which Israel pays no heed. The settlements are one of the most fiercely criticized elements of Israel’s Occupation of Palestine. In fact, in 2002, President George Bush even went so far as to call the settlements the “single greatest obstacle to negotiating peace”. Just yesterday, and only a day after the government’s support for expanding the settlements, 9 homes were demolished in two separate Palestinian villages in the West Bank. A bulldozer, accompanied by Israeli soldiers entered early in the morning and kicked these 9 families out of their homes minutes before they were demolished, giving them no time to gather their personal belongings. There was absolutely no warning given to the residents whose homes were destroyed. In a third village, Jiftik, the army has been slowly destroying a farm, one of the few sources of food for the village. A couple of months ago, the vegetable fields were demolished. Last month the house accompanying the farm was destroyed. The family has been living in a tent from the Red Cross and trying to replant vegetables. Yesterday the new vegetable plantings and the grazing grounds for their sheep and goat herds were destroyed as well. The families in these villages have lived there for generations upon generations. Recently, they have come under increasing pressure from the Israeli army to leave, having their homes and subsequent attempts at rebuilding homes demolished several times since 2007.
This is all part of the Israeli army’s intensified efforts to clear the Jordan Valley of Palestinians, in order to make the ground ripe for new settlements. This concerted effort by the Israeli government and military constitutes an organized effort to build scores of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land while simultaneously confiscating land from the Palestinians by military orders in the name of “security”. Palestinian homes are systematically destroyed and ex-residents are categorical denied building permits to rebuild their homes, creating a refugee crisis. As a note, once again, all of this is in blatant violation of international law. And again, these demolitions occurred just a day after the Israeli government approved the construction of hundreds of new houses in the Giv’at Ze’ev settlement. Coincidence? You decide.