Palestine Center Brief No. 315 (July 12, 2018)
By Mohamed Mohamed
Israeli use of disinformation and deception is an insult to the intelligence of those exposed to it, as it equates what is ultimately an expression of frustration with terrorism. Israelis want the world to believe that incendiary kites coming from Gaza have created massive forest fires and destroyed vast parts of nature. In reality, these kites and balloons have caused only a handful of fires around the Gaza border fence, and the damage is nothing compared to what the Israeli siege is doing to Palestinians every minute of each day.
“More than 100 days have passed since the kite and balloon terrorism began,” reads an article in an Israeli news website. To the casual observer in the Western world, with little exposure to the realities in Palestine and without context, it can be very easy to presume that Palestinians are fanatical, destructive people obsessed with harming Israel.
But the launchings of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza, which have caused numerous fires in Israeli-controlled areas, need to be viewed from the proper perspective. Of course, Israel and Israeli media fail to provide this crucial context, because doing so would shatter the false perception that Israel is always the victim of Palestinian aggression and sadism.
Israel is complaining of more than 100 days of incendiary kites and balloons, but it fails to mention that it has imposed a complete land, sea, and air siege of Gaza for at least 4,028 days since June of 2007. What’s worse is that restrictions of movement began in 1991, long before the full siege that was implemented in 2007, which Israel and much of the mainstream media claim is a result of the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Israel also does not mention its assaults and bombardments of the territory that killed thousands of Palestinians, injured tens of thousands, and destroyed a countless number of homes.
In any case, the prolonged blockade of 2007 has been absolutely devastating from humanitarian, economic, psychological, and social standpoints. To begin with, almost two million Palestinians in Gaza are confined to about 140 square miles, unable to travel to the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, let alone the rest of the world. For comparison, this is an area that is almost the same size as the city of Detroit, which has a population that is less than half of Gaza’s. In almost all countries, the human right to freedom of movement is taken for granted, and the thought of being trapped in such a small area is simply unacceptable.
Despite being on the Mediterranean coast, the Israeli siege prevents any ships from entering or leaving Gaza. In 2001, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Gaza’s only airport. Fishermen are only allowed access to six nautical miles off the coast, less than a third of the waters that were agreed upon under the Oslo Accords. Since much of Gaza’s agricultural land (about 35 percent) lies within the militarized border buffer zone that Israel has imposed, many farmers find it very difficult to make a living. In many cases, both fishermen and farmers are shot dead for being too close for Israel’s liking.
This restriction on movement naturally leads to severe effects on the economy of Gaza and has created a situation of extreme poverty. Palestinians in Gaza are unable to trade with Palestinians in the West Bank, with Israelis, or with the rest of the world. Due to “security” considerations, they cannot import numerous products, including critical supplies such as concrete which are needed to rebuild homes and hospitals, as well as basic materials needed for industrial operations, 98 percent of which have been shut down.
Bizarrely, at one point or another, Israel has banned products such as sage, cardamom, potato chips, and even A4 paper. It is difficult to understand how such items could be justified as security threats. But clearly, such policies are also intended to inflict psychological damage upon the population. This is expected from a ruthless state that calculated the minimum number of calories needed to punish the people of Gaza without outright starving them.
Economic stagnation has helped create an unemployment rate of at least 44 percent, one of the highest in the world. More than 60 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 29 cannot find work. About one million people rely heavily on food aid from UNRWA, and almost 80 percent of Gaza’s population is dependent on some form of international aid. At least 96 percent of water in Gaza is undrinkable, and its residents are now lucky to get four hours of electricity per day. Surely, this miserable living situation has contributed to the sharp rise in suicides, mental illness, and crime within society in Gaza.
The wretched conditions mentioned above do not even begin to cover the full extent of the misery that Israel has perpetrated on the population of Gaza. A UN report claimed that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020, but it appears that life there is already intolerable. Every time I speak to the representatives of the NGO’s that The Jerusalem Fund supports, I always ask them in vain, if things have gotten better. They almost never have positive news to report. The most positive things I’ve heard are that the weather was not too hot, or that they had one more hour of electricity than they expected on a certain day. The despair in their voices is unmistakable, and one can almost feel it.
With such hopeless circumstances in Gaza, it really should be no surprise that out of almost two million people, a handful of them are launching incendiary kites and balloons at Israel. Violence and destruction never lead to positive outcomes for anyone involved, but Israelis must take a minute to think about why this is happening. What would Israeli citizens or any other group of people do if they have been under siege and trapped for 11 years in a comparable way? Would they not lash out in a similar fashion? No one in the world would accept such a situation.
As part of its propaganda efforts, Israel emphasizes that it “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005, and therefore it is no longer occupying it. Despite its “disengagement,” Israel maintains “effective control” over the territory through its merciless siege, and this has led to the denial of basic freedoms and rights to Palestinians. Effectively, Israel is still an occupying power and under the Fourth Geneva Conventions, it is obligated to lift this blockade, which is causing a humanitarian nightmare for Gaza’s population.
The bottom line is that flaming kites are minor inconveniences when compared to the combination of food insecurity, unpotable water, unemployment, siege, sniper fire, airstrikes, and many other Israeli hostilities making Palestinian lives a living hell in Gaza. If Israelis want the fires to stop, they must pressure their government into ending the illegal and immoral collective punishment of Palestinians.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Palestine Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.