The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is escalating due to attempts by Israel to halt the flow of Hamas fired rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot, by imposing economic blockades on the heavily militarized border.
Israel has restricted essential supplies and fuel which has led to severe deprivation for the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, 80% of whom are below the poverty line.
The siege has fueled an upsurge in Palestinian rockets fired into southern Israel and an attempted suicide bombing in Dimona, leading to Israeli retaliatory air strikes and deadly raids in Gaza, targeting Hamas members and strongholds. In the recent outbreak of violence at least 12 armed members of Hamas have been killed and several Palestinians and Israelis wounded.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by most major western powers; however, the U.S. encouraged them to become a diplomatic political party and run for the elections in 2006, which they did not anticipate Hamas would win. Hamas provides a lot of social welfare benefits which appeals to the poverty-stricken population of Gaza whose economy and livelihoods are crippled under the heavy Israeli border controls.
â€œThe only reason Hamas militants still have a voice is because they have incorporated civilian thought too â€“ they just want to be able to move freely within their area, have their own economy, a postal service, access to clean water and their own farmlands,â€ said Aharon Ahmad Morris, a representative of UCSB Students for Justice in Palestine.
Since Hamas was democratically elected into power, Israel has declared Gaza a â€˜hostile entityâ€™ and punished the whole population for having the audacity to elect Hamas, enforcing strict controls on the border to contain the perceived security threat. This form of repression strips a whole population of their human right to a dignified life and has led to violent resistance encouraged by the militant faction of Hamas. In turn Israel imposes harsher sanctions resulting in a backlash of Palestinian violence, creating a vicious cycle.
It is a very complex situation as Israel is justified in protecting their civilians from the onslaught of suicide bombers throughout the Palestinian intifadaâ€™s, but the issue is the scale of Israeli retaliation, which does not exclusively seek out Palestinian militants. The different perspectives of the term â€˜intifadaâ€™ epitomizes the problem. Palestinians view it as the â€˜shaking offâ€™ of oppression and Israel views it as a terrorist assault.
Rabbi Allison Conyer from Hillel, sympathizes with the Palestinians suffering but wants to emphasize that, â€œNine out of ten times Israel does not respond with force. We hear about Israelâ€™s retaliation but we never hear about the series of attacks that led up to that retaliation. Israel retaliates, Israel doesnâ€™t initiate and that is really important to understand.â€
Aharon stresses how the cramped and dire conditions in Gaza have reduced the Palestinians, treated as second class citizens, to prisoners who can only revolt to regain their freedoms.
â€œIt is a full scale riot with skirmishes between militants and the Israeli army, like a conflict between the correction officer and the rioting prisoner. But there should be no reason why any of them should be prisoners,â€ he said.
This form of â€œcollective punishmentâ€, when a whole population is held responsible for the alleged wrong doing of the political leadership, in this case Hamas, is prohibited in the Fourth Geneva Convention and undermines Israel and the U.S. as a beacon of democracy. The situation has deteriorated to a degree that even the U.N. has had to leave the area.
Aharon emphasizes the immediate need to resolve these breaches of human rights, â€œWho the land belongs to doesnâ€™t concern me, what concerns me is that presently there is a group of people who are being treated less than human beings.â€
The long-term solution sought out by both sides is to humanize the situation by encouraging the youth of Palestine and Israel to form a dialogue and empathize with each others viewpoints and show compassion towards their similar experiences.
Dialogues helped Rabbi Allison understand the atrocity of suicide bombings. â€œThat they have nothing to look forward to and this is the only way to make their lives worth something. I still hate it but at least now I understand how someone can do that,â€ she said.
Aharon has the same outlook, â€œLets look at this from a human aspect not a political / historical/ religious one and go to our core which is humanity and if we can do this then we can exact change on this area.â€
With regards to the current situation in Gaza, the issue is unlikely to disappear unless Israel normalizes the border, removing repressive controls which inhibit the freedoms of an entire population and initiate violent forms of resistance.
Students for Justice in Palestine meet in Student Resource Centre 8pm
Event, Feb 25th, Film â€˜USA versus Al Arianâ€™
Documentary about imprisoned Palestinian Activist