It is with horror that I watch the latest events in Gaza unfold. As a Canadian based in the West Bank who once lived in Gaza, I know the fear that is currently running through the veins of each man, woman and especially child as they face Israel's unrelenting aerial and naval bombardment. My time in Gaza was marked by long periods of aerial bombings and sonic booms. I still– 6 years later – live with those horrible memories and the sheer sense of helplessness and hopelessness that ensued.
Today, the Gaza Strip is a much different place. The people have not changed – they are just as vibrant, funny and full of life as they were when I lived there – but their living conditions, and prospects for a bright future, have grown dim.
Today, the people of Gaza suffer from a brutal blockade that has lasted for more than 6 years and isolation that has lasted for more than 20 years. Israel strictly controls imports into Gaza and exports are virtually non-existent. Palestinian life is so controlled by Israel that the Israeli government even sets policies on the minimum number of calories needed to prevent malnutrition. Access to the sea – one of their main sources of livelihood – is strictly curtailed and the water of the Gaza Strip is barely drinkable, with less than 5 per cent of their water supply fit for human consumption. Today, Gaza is an open-air prison and it comes as little surprise that UN agencies recently concluded that, in a few years, Gaza will become unlivable.
But these facts have to be put in their proper light by looking at the population of Gaza. Today, 90 per cent of Gaza's population is descended from the over 750,000 Palestinians ethnically cleansed in 1947-1949 from their homes in what is today Israel. More than 50 per cent of the population of Gaza is under the age of 18 and 20 per cent are under the age of 5.
They live in one of the most densely populated places on Earth, without reasonable prospects for survival. All of these measures – the blockade, isolation, siege, and damaged water supply – will have a tremendously detrimental impact on the lives of these young individuals. These are not natural disasters, but man-made ones.
Now, heaped on top, is Israel's latest bombing campaign, one that does not distinguish civilian from combatant, adult from child – notwithstanding false Israeli claims otherwise.
Israeli Army officials have taken to Twitter and other social media to belittle death. In the aftermath of one assassination, the Israeli army participated in the hashtag #HamasBumperStickers with one Israeli army official tweeting, "My car is a stairway to heaven with a little help from Israel."
The effects are sadly on display: In the past few days alone, Israel has dropped more than 250 bombs on this densely populated land. These attacks are supplemented by naval and tank shelling. Among the 22 Palestinian victims are two school children playing soccer, an 11-month-old infant, a pregnant mother and three other children.
Israel has repeatedly asserted that any "democratic country" such as Canada would do the same and that it was left with "no choice." These are patently false assertions. What Israel fails to explain is that other democracies have not maintained a brutal 45-year military occupation over another people; that other countries have not denied freedom to another people for decades; that other countries do not routinely expropriate land for Jewish-only housing and roads and that democratic countries do not control virtually every aspect of the lives of another people (including caloric consumption).
Yes, there are other options: Israel can easily end its military rule over Palestinians – in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – and allow Palestinians to live in the freedom and dignity that is their right, and that of others around the world. Continuing to maintain control over the lives of others is only a recipe for disaster.
History has demonstrated that no subjugated people will willingly live under oppressive rule. The Palestinians are no different. The time has come for Israel to end its oppressive rule and allow the Palestinians to live in freedom.
Bombing a civilian, stateless, refugee population is not the answer.
Diana Buttu is a Canadian lawyer based in the West Bank. In 2000-2006 she served as an adviser and negotiator for the Palestinian Liberation Organization and to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
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