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Opinion break the siege on Gaza

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Opinion: Break the siege on Gaza


09 September 2008


Break the siege on Gaza

* by Firoz Osman

A people’s campaign to break the siege on Palestine, comprising of various associations from civil society, has been launched in Egypt. Named “Egyptians against the Siege”, the campaign is made up of judges, university professors, journalists, politicians, women’s groups, doctors, pharmacists, engineers, agronomists, lawyers, teachers and students.

For almost two years the world has been witnessing the anguish and agony of the one-and-a-half million Palestinians as they are being slowly strangulated and starved in a narrow, hermetically sealed strip of land. There have been only occasional whimpers of protests from world governments, reflecting their utter hypocrisy to their claim to uphold human rights.

In a statement issued in June 2006 by John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory stated:

“Gaza is under siege. Israel controls its airspace and has resumed sonic booms which terrorize and traumatize its people. The targeted killing of militants is on the increase. Inevitably, as in the past, such killings have resulted in the killing and wounding of innocent bystanders. Israel also controls Gaza’s territorial sea and fires missiles into the territory from ships at sea. The no-go area along the border of Gaza has been extended to some 500-600 metres to enable the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinian militants.

IDF policy now allows it to fire shells up to 100 metres from civilian houses. Within Gaza, medical services have been seriously affected by the prohibition on the funding of medical equipment and medical supplies managed by the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

The non-payment of salaries to Palestinian Authority employees has affected both hospitals and schools as employees cannot afford to travel to work. Unemployment and poverty are on the increase. After a long period of closure of the Karni commercial crossing, this crossing has been re-opened but it still processes only a limited number of trucks with the result that Gaza is still short of basic foodstuffs and is unable to export its produce.”

Nobel Laureate Bishop Tutu, after his recent visit to the territory said: “My message to the international community is that our silence and complicity, especially on the situation in Gaza, shames us all.”

Governments throughout the world seem paralysed with fear at challenging the Zionist Israeli and American power. International bodies, such as the UN, not only remain shamefully silent in the face of this horrendous siege in Gaza that violates international law and the Geneva Conventions, but provide a legal fig leaf for many of the violations.

It is left to the ordinary people in civil society to break this unprecedented and cruel siege, the first ever on a people living in conditions worse than prison.

On August 23, the Free Gaza Movement shattered the Israeli blockade when, with two small wooden boats manned by international human rights activists sailed from Cyprus to Gaza. The boats, the “Free Gaza” and “Liberty”, stayed in Gaza for a week and then sailed back to Cyprus with several Palestinians needing medical treatment on board. They plan to sail to Gaza again with prominent humanitarians on the 22nd September 2008. Israel had threatened violence against these boats.

 The Muslim Brotherhood, who is coordinating this grassroots people’s campaign from across the political and social spectrum, aims to pressurize the Egyptian government to officially open the Rafah border. They have strategically selected the 10th Ramadan because the war against Israel in 1973 commenced on that date. It was a war that shattered the myth of Israeli invincibility.

 The Egyptian people have dismissed their government’s arguments that they do not want an Islamic “emirate” on their border and that International treatise oblige them to keep the Rafah border closed. The Muslim Brotherhood have effectively refuted these arguments in Parliament, stating that their objective is to help the Palestinians, not Hamas or Fatah; and that Egypt has previously, unilaterally, opened the Rafah border point.

The Egyptian government is under a great deal of pressure. A nominally “Muslim” nation, how does it respond to accusations allowing Israeli tourist to enter Egypt to bask and frolic in the Taba resort, whilst depriving sick Palestinians from Gaza treatment in Egyptian hospitals?

How does the Egyptian government justify the supply of cheap gas in a special deal to Israel, and there is no fuel and gas in Gaza to run essential services threatening the lives of the ill, elderly and poverty-stricken and hungry babies? Ramadan is a period of fasting that sensitises Muslims to the suffering of others and increases feelings of compassion and empathy for the deprived.

 The wretched misery and ordeal faced by the besieged Palestinians in Gaza could have immense repercussions for the jittery Egyptian regime, whose future may lie with the Palestinians, rather than Israel and the Americans. The moral commitment of “Egyptians against the Siege” responding to the hapless cries of the long suffering Gazans may snowball into a movement that will not only liberate the Palestinians but the Egyptians as well.

 * Firoz Osman: Secretary-General of Media Review Network

Note: Tahir Sema is in Cairo to cover this historic journey. He can be contacted on: 0020160418865

(Media Review Network is an advocacy group based in Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa)