Why I'm Fasting for Gaza On August 19
This Wednesday, August 19, I'll be taking part in a daytime water fast organized by an ad hoc group I'm involved with, Ta'anit Tzedek, Jewish Fast for Gaza.
I'm fasting because I believe Israel's blockade against Gaza is unjust. I'm fasting to bring more attention to this issue in order to help influence Israel's government to lift the blockade.
The blockade began in June, 2007, soon after the May, 2007 victory of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority elections. Here is a concise description of the blockade from a UN report just released:
- The closure of Karni, the largest and best equipped commercial crossing.
- Sweeping restrictions on the import of industrial, agricultural and construction materials.
- The suspension of almost all exports.
- A reduction in the amounts of industrial fuel (used to operate Gaza’s sole power plant), benzene, diesel and cooking gas allowed entry.
- A general ban on the movement of Palestinians through Erez, the only passenger crossing to the West Bank, except for limited numbers of “humanitarian cases”.
- The closure of the Rafah Crossing, directly controlled by Egypt, except for intermittent openings.
- A significant reduction in the fishing areas and farming land accessible to Palestinians.
In September, 2005 Israel evacuated the 8500 Israelis who were living in the Gaza strip and re-deployed its army to the periphery of Gaza. Many people have confused this evacuation and re-deployment with ending the occupation of Gaza. Israel maintains control over land, sea, and air access to the Gaza strip controlling movement of people and goods.
Israel's soldiers don't patrol Gaza's towns as they did before disengagement, but Israel's sovereignty is felt everywhere, from shekels being the form of currency to the determination of how much fuel will be let in to run Gaza's power generators. Israel decides which Gaza's lands its farmers can tend and how far out into the ocean its fisherman can fish. Gaza is not sovereign in any sense of the word.
There are illegal tunnels on the border with Egypt used to smuggle goods and weapons into the Gaza strip. As a lifeline to Gaza's economy due to Israel's blockade, the goods going through those tunnels support their construction and upkeep, thereby facilitating the smuggling of weapons as well.
Here are just a few details taken from pages 3 and 4 from the recent OCHA report that will help you to understand the impact of the blockade. I encourage you to read the full report to understand the impact in more detail.
- Patients in need of specialized treatment outside Gaza must go through an arduous and uncertain process to obtain the necessary permits required to leave Gaza, adding considerable anguish and stress to patients’ lives. Since January 2008, 40 percent of the applications for permits to leave Gaza were rejected or delayed, compared to approximately 10 percent in 2006.
- Between July and September 2008, prior to the beginning of the last academic year, only 70 students managed to leave the Gaza Strip through Israel to attend universities outside Gaza.
- The local market has been saturated with previously exported agricultural products (mainly cut flowers, strawberries and cherry tomatoes), reducing the income of producers. arrests, torture and extra-judiciary executions.
- Approximately 75 percent of Gaza’s population (more than 1.1 million people) is food insecure, up from 56 percent in the first quarter of 2008. The main causes of food insecurity are the increase in poverty, the destruction of agricultural assets and the inflation in prices of key food items.
- As a result of the lack of adequate maintenance and upgrading of the wastewater infrastructure, 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage are being discharged daily into the environment. This has led to a further pollution of the sea and underground aquifer, creating serious health concerns; only 5-10 percent of the water extracted from Gaza’s aquifer meets the WHO safety standards.
Israel's blockade of Gaza is collective punishment, is immoral, and should be stopped.
I tried to find information on Israel's conditions for lifting the blockade. I could not find anything. If you have a reference that lays out Israel's conditions for lifting the blockade, please leave it as a comment here.
I did find a detailed recent report from israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs which defends IDF (Israel Defense Forces) behavior during Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" mission on Gaza in December, 2008 - January, 2009. The report does touch on some of the issues of Israel's policies regarding humanitarian aid getting through. I find the justifications thin. You can come to your own conclusions.
There is a seemingly endless cycle of violence between Israel and Hamas. The violation of Israel's intrinsic right not to have her neighbors send missiles at her, and the violation of the people of Gaza's intrinsic right to food, clothing, housing, and freedom of movement, fuel the cycle of violence. Also giving energy to that cycle is the mutual rejection of a right to exist by each side.
Israel may be a small country in the Middle East. It has legitimate fears about Iran's intentions. But that doesn't change the reality that in its relationship with the Palestinians in general and with Gaza in specific, Israel is the more powerful entity. Gazans have a lot more to fear of Israel than Israel has to fear from the Gazans. That powerful differential is meaningful, especially from a moral perspective.
It is Israel that has sovereignty and it is Israel that has inflicted massive punishment on Gaza's population. As a Jew, as a Zionist, as lover of Israel, as a human being, I call on Israel to stop its blockade on Gaza.
I'll be fasting this Wednesday, August 19. Together with the hundreds of others who have signed on, we will be calling attention to the plight of Gazans and Israel's role. But I'll also be fasting so that I feel something in my body in relationship to all this. There is nothing theoretical or intellectual about the suffering in Gaza. It is in the realm of the physical. And so I want to do something in my body that reminds me of that suffering.
As we enter the month of Elul on Thursday, in preparation for the New Year and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), I pray that Jews and Israelis can begin to take responsibility for our part in this mess.
Here are some links that I've collected at my "delicious" social bookmarking account: