by Sami Abdel-Shafi
This editorial by Sami Abdel-Shafi, Carter Center representative in Gaza, was published in the Dec. 29, 2009, edition of The Guardian.
On my way to visit a friend in the Abed Rabbo district, north of the Gaza Strip, the taxi driver handed me a small pack of biscuits for change. There are nearly no copper coins left here so cab drivers barter a half Israeli shekel for biscuits brought in from the tunnels between the southern city of Rafah and Egypt's northern Sinai. Some Gazans, who once earned a respectable living, resorted to melting coins and sold the copper for food supplies.
This was not the first time I was forced into arcane methods of barter. A few weeks ago I was told that oil filters for our British-made electricity generator could only be brought in through the tunnels. One alternative was to fit a refurbished car-engine filter to the generator.
We had wood-fired coffee next to the rubble of my friend's family's former homes - all levelled during Israel's three-week war on Gaza that started one year ago. His only source of income, a taxi, was crushed by Israeli tanks during the assault. He agonises about how his children no longer respect him as their father. He is unable to provide them with the security of a house and an independent family life; they lost everything.
The family is spread around relatives' homes. But the family's old man just moved into a 60sq m house built from mud and brick, standing next to the rubble of his 400sq m three-story house for which he saved for a lifetime. It was one of the first the UN Relief and Works Agency built after having seemingly lost hope in any Israeli intention to allow construction materials into Gaza. My friend's daughter earns the highest grades in her class and is eyeing a scholarship for one of the universities in Gaza when she leaves high school. But this young woman's resilience and motivation will go nowhere as long as Gaza is blockaded.
Almost nothing has been more deceitful than casting Gaza as a humanitarian case. This is becoming exponentially more problematic a year after the war. Gaza urgently needs far more than merely those items judged by the Israeli military as adequate to satisfy Gaza's humanitarian needs. This list of allowable items is tiny compared to people's needs for a minimally respectable civil life.
Gaza is not treated humanely; the immediate concerns about the situation have clearly given way to long-term complacency, while failed politics has now become stagnant. The humanitarian classification conceals the urgent need to address this. Moreover, many in the international community have conveniently resorted to blaming Palestinians for their political divisions, as though they were unrelated to Israel's policies - most notably Gaza's closure after Israeli disengagement in 2005.
It seems evident that most officials in the US, UK and other powerful nations in Europe and the Middle East do not - or perhaps cannot - pressure Israel to reverse its policy of forcing Palestinians into eternal statelessness. How Palestinians are forced into degrading living standards in Gaza, and how they have no means to repel the ongoing demolition and confiscation of property and land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is abhorrent. How Palestinians are still divided despite the increased suffering of their people is no less abhorrent. However, no one should fool themselves into believing that their reconciliation would alter Israel's policy.
The international community must surely adopt a new approach - where it would not be seen as acquiescent to Israel's policies. If the current policy continues then, at least, let it not be at the expense of Palestinian self-respect. Palestinians are a dignified people, as competitive and civilised as any other people in the world. It is far too humiliating for Palestinians to endure not only being occupied but to be made beggars.
For years it has been impossible not to suspect that Israel does not want peace. Of late, the US-backed state has consistently created impossible conditions for fair and equal negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and it continues to undermine moderate voices and drive people towards extremism in Gaza. The fact that Palestinians still genuinely want peace should not allow Israel to reject the simplest rules of civility. The US and the EU should come to Gaza; then they could draw their own conclusions on an Israeli policy they have backed and funded without ever witnessing its consequences on ordinary civilians' lives. Surely then they could not fail to see that changing their policy is a moral imperative.