“The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.” Pygmalion
Last night, I went to a film showing here in Ramallah at the Quakers Friends House. They showed a documentary film titled, “Impunity,” about children living in Gaza after the 2009 Gaza War. Unfortunately the film was not very well done, which is disappointing only because it could have been something that would have been very useful for the world to see.
I’m very restricted to my understanding of what I see in the West Bank. There is not much reported in the States on Gaza (except perhaps a little after the May 2010 flotilla incident). And being here in Ramallah, you don’t feel anything like the situation in Gaza. So going to watch this film was good, for me personally, to remember the disparity between the two places.
So a little background: The Gaza Strip is a coastal piece of land bordering Egypt and Israel (at the picture to the right, it is the tan strip on the left by the Mediterranean Sea). It is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. According to the 2008 CIA Factbook, there are 1.5 million people in an area of 139 sq mi.
When the January 2006 elections brought Hamas to power, there was civil infighting between Hamas and Fatah, and President Abbas (of the Palestinian National Authority) dismissed the Hamas-led government and formed the government in the West Bank, bypassing the Hamas-dominated parliament. Israel imposed a ground, air, and maritime blockade of Gaza and announced it would only allow humanitarian supplies into the Strip, allowing Israel to control the flow of goods, including power and water
This is one reason why the UN, Human Rights Watch, and other international bodies consider Israel to be the occupying power of the Gaza Strip, as Israel controls the airspace, territorial waters, and does not allow the movement of people or goods in or out of Gaza. Israel maintains that its occupation of Gaza ended following the withdrawal/”unilateral disengagement plan” of 2005 and that Israel has no governmental functions in Gaza. An interesting argument, and one with which I have many problems. In fact, Israel’s blockade of Gaza amounts to a violation of Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Fast forward to 2008, Egypt brokered a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel. On December 18, a day before the truce officially ended, Hamas declared an end to the ceasefire, and then on December 27, 2008 Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead.” At least 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured on the first day of airstrikes, the deadliest one-day death toll in the 60 years of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Unilateral ceasefires were declared on January 17, 2009 and Israel completed its withdrawal on January 21.
Israel was victorious militarily, but most criticism after the war was leveled at Israel, with charges of disproportionate force and the utter destruction of Gaza. In the months following the war, Hamas shifted focus to winning support at home and abroad through cultural initiatives and PR, with the aim to build a “cultural resistance.”
This all led to the September 2009 UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (the “Goldstone Report“), which found that the Israeli military operations were directed “at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population… The Israeli operations were carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability. Responsibility lies in the first place with those who designed, planned, ordered, and oversaw the operations.”
Additionally, the UN Goldstone Report faulted Hamas for failing “to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population and civilian objects in Southern Israel… [which] constitutes a deliberate attack against the civilian population, which would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.”
In January 2010, the Israeli government released a response criticizing the Goldstone Report and disputing its findings.
It’s easy to forget about Gaza when life in the West Bank is as good as it is. But, Palestinians here are still separated from their family in Gaza, because there is no communication possible and no way to cross that border. And Gaza is still Palestine. It seems insurmountable how to have a unified, contiguous, viable Palestinian state with Gaza and the West Bank. But it’s important, I think, to try to understand what happens in Gaza (beyond jokes about more flotilla attempts to break the blockade) and even for me to watch films (as poorly made as they may be!) that make me feel a little uncomfortable.