No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
– Fourth Geneva Convention, article 33
Nonviolence. Opportunity. Innovation. In the wake of the recent escalating violence and food insecurity in Gaza, our grassroots partners have redoubled their quest for social change and sustainability in one of the most troubled places in the world. We are humbled by their laudable tenacity in the face of massive obstacles.
Gaza’s recent history has been a tragic testament to the experience of ongoing collective punishment. The Gaza Strip is about the same size as Chicago’s O’Hare airport and the most densely populated place on earth. It is often described as an open-air prison between Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean. The people of Gaza have been wracked by violence from Israel’s military occupation as well as due to Hamas’ actions. Through Israeli missile and tank attacks, the death toll has reached an unprecedented height. Nightly sonic booms have shattered windows and terrified the civilian population- likewise citizens of Israel living near the border with Gaza are traumatized by rocket attacks. Water in Gaza has been restricted and power plants have been bombed, causing a wide-spread panic around the loss of resources. Whatever the intention, targeting civilians and collective punishment have both been prohibited by binding international law.
From Haiti to Bangladesh to Egypt, the reality of a global food crisis is quickly unfolding. In Gaza, the nature of the military blockade suggests dire consequences for the majority who are currently experiencing extreme poverty. At least 80% of Gaza’s one and a half million residents are dependent on food aid to meet their basic needs. Within the last year, the Israeli government has tightened an already extremely strict closure on the area, allowing only about 15 basic items to reach Gazans via the tightly monitored international humanitarian community. This has crippled Gaza, and poverty has been skyrocketing ever since. So has the violence.
These past few months have seen some of the most Israeli military incursions since the 2005 unilateral Israeli disengagement. Alarmingly, an increasing number of children are dying as a result. In the first quarter of 2008, there were more child deaths than the entire year of 2007. On Monday, a woman and four of her young children were killed in their home by a missile as they ate breakfast.
This past week, the situation hit rock bottom as the United Nations has been forced to halt its food deliveries due to a lack of fuel. The Israeli authorities are responsible for allowing petrol to cross the checkpoints into Gaza. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, this has not been allowed for nearly six weeks. UN officials report having enough supplies on hand to feed 650,000 people and to perform crucial garbage collection services to a third of the population. At the current pace, hospitals will run out of fuel within the week. The people of Gaza need our support, perhaps now more than ever.
Through it all, our partners on the ground in Gaza are pursuing their goals of a just and self-sustaining society and tackling these challenges head on. They are offering real alternatives at the grassroots level to a humanitarian crisis that cannot be solved through food handouts alone. The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) is engaged in an innovative urban garden program that promotes self-determination through food security for refugees and the urban populace. The project also creates job opportunities for rural women and contributes to environmental awareness and protection. Additionally, PARC has created an emergency farm to table program that is tackling food dependence at its root. Their three-tiered plan starts by compensating local export-oriented crop farmers who have lost their livelihoods. From there it moves on to benefit traditional farmers who have been put out of work by the larger export-led farmers and then filters through women cooperatives that process these agricultural products. The food is then bought for a fair price and distributed to those most in need.
Another organization actively engaged in promoting dignity and well-being is our partner the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP). Their effective response to crisis continually sows seeds of hope in Gaza’s traumatized population. One of their most dynamic programs is the Women’s Empowerment Project, providing rehabilitation, psychological care and training, and other services in their three strategically located centers. GCMHP has also played a founding role in the Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza which has been a fundamental voice for peace and justice.
We commend our partners for denouncing increasing measures of collective punishment while taking a clear stance against militant violence on both sides of the conflict. These actions provide a voice of hope, reconciliation, and in the long run, a mutually beneficial non-violent relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.