Last week there was a major escalation of violence in Gaza. This latest escalation started on July 19, when Israeli bombings killed a Hamas member and injured three others in Gaza. On July 20, intense Israeli bombing killed four Palestinians and a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier near the Gaza separation fence. While a truce announced on July 20 between Hamas and the Israeli military temporarily stopped violence from escalating, the truce broke down on July 25 and a new large-scale conflict remains a possibility. Gaza still remains on edge.
Violence has been the focus of much of the media coverage in the US which generally identifies rockets and the burning kites and balloons sent from Gaza as the reason for recent Israeli attacks. However, behind these military actions, the reality of the ongoing Gaza blockade which Israel has tightened this month remains hidden. Understanding the impacts of that blockade on Palestinians in Gaza is key to understanding the current context and escalation, and without changes in the blockade and an end to Israel’s isolation of Gaza, a significant escalation of violence is nearly inevitable.
The latest tightening of the blockade began at the start of July when Israel announced that it would close the Kerem Shalom crossing, the only open commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza. Only basic food and medical supplies are now being allowed into Gaza. Fuel imports to Gaza were also stopped for one week in mid-July. As of July 24, some but not all of the limitations on imports to Gaza had been lifted, but it is unclear how long these changes will last. The predictable result of these Israeli actions has been a worsening of what is already a severe humanitarian and political crisis.
As of 2017, the unemployment rate in Gaza was 44 percent, among youth ages 15-29, unemployment rates are over 60 percent. Stopping all exports and the inflow of goods and materials needed for production in Gaza has further destabilized the Gaza economy and risks forcing the few remaining businesses to close, furthering the employment crisis. This will result in further poverty in a place where 80 percent of the population already relies on humanitarian assistance to meet basic subsistence needs.
Limited supplies of non-food items in Gaza will soon run out. Repairs on basic infrastructure will not be possible. As a result of the cutting of fuel, people are running out of gas needed to cook, and the supply of electricity – previously limited to four hours per day – is declining further. Lack of electricity will increasingly limit the amount of water people receive: Access to water requires electrical pumps that lift water from underground lines to tanks on buildings, and those pumps cannot function when power is cut. Hospitals and public institutions may also be forced to close.
For the protest actions of a few that have destroyed property but not cost lives, all two million residents of Gaza are made to suffer by being deprived of their basic rights. The escalation that has begun could cost thousands of lives.
Israel stated that it was intensifying the siege because Palestinians sent flaming kites and balloons toward Israel near the end of the Great Return March, after Israel responded to these Palestinian protests through the use of brutal force. Between the start of the protests in Gaza on March 30 and May 15, at least 114 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by the Israeli military, and more than 12,000 were injured, 3,500 by live ammunition. Since May 15, at least 30 more Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israel. Flaming kites didn’t start flying toward Israel until mid-April, after nearly 30 Palestinians had been killed and thousands injured.
By mid-July, fire balloons and kites launched from Gaza had lit approximately 700 fires in Israel, burning nearly 2,000 acres of agricultural land and thousands more acres of open fields near the Gaza border. No people have been injured and no homes have been damaged by these fires.
Israelis view these actions as provocative acts of destruction by Palestinians from Gaza, but for Palestinians, these are acts of resistance that must be contextualized by much more significant Israeli actions against Gaza border communities – both present and past.
Current protests come more than a decade-and-a-half after Israel began imposing a “no-go zone” near the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. No Palestinian in Gaza is allowed to come within 300 meters of the Gaza fence, and in some areas, the no-go zone extends up to 1.5 kilometers into Gaza. Anyone entering this “buffer” zone can be shot.
Since late 2000 Israel has systematically cleared the buffer zone areas, destroying thousands of homes along the Gaza borders and razing agricultural land and orchards. This is a process that continues into the present, with Israel regularly spraying toxic herbicides on fields near the Gaza border and carrying out regular land-clearing operations in this area.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between January 1, 2018 and March 26, 2018, the Israeli military entered the buffer zone area of Gaza nine times to destroy property and clear land. During the same period, the Israeli military opened fire in the no-go zones 181 times, killing two people and injuring 13. These actions occurred before the start of the Great Return March.
Given this situation, how can we only condemn Palestinian actions from Gaza while staying silent or accepting the continuation of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Israeli destruction of land and property in Gaza, and the imposition of the buffer zone near the Gaza perimeter?
We must work toward a situation where everyone’s basic rights are respected and that won’t happen through intensified collective punishment against Palestinians in Gaza. If Israel wants Palestinians to stop sending flaming balloons then it must stop destroying Palestinian land and property, restricting Palestinian movement and imposing a blockade over Gaza. Palestinians are taking action to protest the ongoing, systematic violation of their basic rights, and further violation of those rights is not what will bring change.
It must also be clear that the violation of Palestinians’ rights does not end at the perimeter of Gaza. The passage of the “nation-state bill” in Israel this week, a law that enshrines inequality between Palestinians and Israelis into Israel’s basic laws — equivalent to its constitution — makes outside demands for equality all the more urgent. Ending the blockade in Gaza may temporarily bring quiet in Gaza and will improve the lives of people in Gaza, but it won’t bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
To bring peace, there must be equality between Palestinians and Israelis regardless of their locations. To bring peace, the occupation must end, and Palestinians’ right to self-determination must be recognized — a right denied in the new nation-state bill. For peace to be realized, historic injustices, including the rights of refugees, must be addressed.
These actions, not intensified collective punishment, a new military offensive, or new discriminatory laws, are what will bring peace and security for all.