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Cease Fire, Cease Siege

January 14, 2009

By Kathy Kelly    see more in NEWS & ANALYSIS   header.jpg

Arish, Egypt— Yesterday, en route to the Rafah border crossing that
leads into Gaza, our driver pointed to a long line of trucks laden with
goods that are desperately needed in every area of Gaza. “You see,” he
said, “all of this is to help people.” Generous people, around the
world, want Gazans to have food, shelter, fuel, medicine and water while
the Israeli military ruthlessly attacks their homes and neighborhoods.
The aid shipments will surely save lives and ease affliction.
Nevertheless, this relief will meet only a fraction of the need. What’s
more, the Egyptian government’s recent decision to allow humanitarian
goods into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, a border over which
they have sovereign control, is a departure from the normal state of
siege that Gazans have endured for most of the past sixteen months.

A friend, Caoihme Butterly, who had lived in Gaza during the period when
the borders were sealed, told me that the limited access to food drove
up the prices for basic foods. “A kilo of lentils cost $4.00, but the
average person lived on less that $2.00 per day. “Gazans don’t want to
live on charity,” said Caoihme, “but the humanitarian provisions become
political. We were campaigning just to have the border open once a week,
but we didn’t succeed.”
 It seems that mutual understanding about the need to open Gaza’s borders

had been achieved in the negotiations that established a June 19th, 2008
cease-fire agreement between Israel and Gaza. A blogspot for the Working
Group on the Middle East Peace Process listed the conditions for the six
month cease fire which expired on December 19 2008. Israel agreed that
72 hours after the mutual agreement took effect, crossing points into
Gaza would open up to allow 30% more goods to enter Gaza. Thirteen days
later, all crossing points would be open between Gaza and Israel, and
Israel would allow “the transfer of all goods that were banned or
restricted to go into Gaza
.” 

Jimmy Carter, in a January 8, 2009 Washington Post article entitled “An
Unnecessary War
,” noted that if importation of humanitarian supplies had
returned to the normal level that had existed before Israel’s 2005
withdrawal from Gaza, 700 trucks would have passed through the opened
borders every day, carrying food, water, medicine and fuel. Carter
writes that, following the June 19th agreement, “rocket firing was soon
stopped and there was an increase in supplies of food, water, medicine
and fuel. Yet the increase was to an average of about 20 percent of
normal levels. And this fragile truce was partially broken on Nov. 4,
when Israel launched an attack in Gaza to destroy a defensive tunnel
being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza.”

It’s true that Hamas’s consequent decision to fire primitive rockets
into Israeli villages caused terror, panic and demoralization amongst
Israelis living in those villages. I believe it’s wrong to use weapons
under any circumstance. Attacks against civilians prompt spiraling,
hideous waves of retaliation and revenge. But Israel responded with a
disproportionate capacity to inflict harm and suffering by imposing a
state of siege, targeting innocent civilians by denying them essential
medicines, health care delivery, fuel, water and food.

I learned about the horrors of economic warfare during repeated visits
to Iraq, when civilians suffered under economic sanctions, when
pediatric wards in hospitals were like death rows for infants and
hundreds of thousands of children were punished to death. But I was a
shamefully slow learner. In 1991, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait
and before the United States began bombing Iraq, I was part of the Gulf
Peace Team, an assembly of international peace activists camped on the
Iraq side of the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. “What alternative
does the U.S. have?” reporters asked us. “Do you think the U.S. should
just sit back and allow Iraq to illegally invade another country?”

“The economic sanctions are a viable alternative,” I said. “Continued
use of economic sanctions would be a less violent way to persuade Iraq’s
government to leave Kuwait.”

What a foolish and uninformed statement I’d made. Iraq was subjected to
thirteen years of the most comprehensive state of siege ever imposed in
modern history, and the sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of
hundreds of thousands of children. Now, many people committed to
peacemaking understand that economic warfare can be just as brutal and
devastating as bombing, although news coverage generally recedes and
then disappears once the bombing wars stop.

This morning, an Egyptian friend corrected me when I questioned him
about the June 9th, 2008 cease-fire negotiation between Israel and
Gaza’s Hamas government. “In fact there was no cease-fire,” he said.
“The war became an economic war, and it targeted civilians who had
committed no crime, particularly children.”

People who live on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing
understand the impact of the bombing. At a tea shop and a barber shop,
windows are cracked. An owner of a small shop near the border told me
that his children can’t sleep at night because they hear constant
explosions. The Egyptian community of Rafah has also witnessed,
previously, month after month of quiet inactivity at the Rafah border
crossing, during the period when the Egyptian and Israeli governments
agreed to seal the border shut. Trapped, isolated, hungry and desperate,
Gazans endured economic warfare while the world ignored their pleas for
relief from slow motion death. We must call for an immediate cease-fire
and a “cease-siege.” As the June 19th, 2008 agreement made clear, a
ceasefire for Gaza cannot only mean an end to bullets and bombs, but
must also end the less visible-but equally destructive-economic
violence. I hope that trucks like the ones our driver pointed to will be
lined up for months and years, carrying tons of cement and
reconstruction materials, along with humanitarian relief, as Gazans
rebuild, above ground, constructing a peaceful future.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative
Nonviolence. (www.vcnv.org) She and Audrey Stewart are at the Egyptian
side of the Rafah border crossing.

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One comment

  1. […] Cease Fire, Cease Siege Wall Street Robber Barons Ride Again The Facts About Hamas and the War on Gaza Who and what is Hamas? […]



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