Since the start of the December 2008 Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip, the most often asked question has been how to achieve a durable ceasefire. Pundits have given various answers to that question, most of which revolve around the same pointa durable ceasefire can only be achieved once Israel destroys Hamass military capabilityand for some, the definition includes the elimination of Hamass role in Palestinian politics. This narrow approach which takes into consideration the interests of only one side and avoids the root causes for the continued violence is why a durable ceasefire remains elusive.
A sustainable and durable ceasefire starts with an immediate halt of Israels military offensive against the 1.5 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and the opening of the Rafah border crossing, a legitimate and secured crossing, to allow uninterrupted passage of medicine, food, fuel and people rather than the forced reliance on underground, unmonitored tunnels. Diplomatic talks, which must include Hamas recognized as an elected political party, should focus on lifting the 18-month old siege, not the easing of the siege.
Siege, Ceasefire and War: Civilians Still at Risk
Israels December military offensive, the mounting Palestinian civilian death toll and the destruction of Gazas infrastructure has forced the international community to deal with a part of the world that has been deliberately ignored despite an unprecedented humanitarian blockade that has inflicted a significant erosion of livelihood, damage to infrastructure, essential services and death.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since the June 2007 blockade, the daily lives of most of the 1.5 million Gazans have been consumed by basic tasks such as collecting and storing clean water and searching for food, fuel and medicine as well as other essential supplies.
Since June 2007 and during the six-month ceasefire, Gazas largest commercial crossing, Karni, has been closed. All exports and most industrial/non-humanitarian imports were suspended, and the amount of fuel allowed entry was severely reduced. There has been an almost total closure of the Rafah crossing point, the only passenger crossing with Egypt; a ban on movement of Palestinians through Erez, the sole passenger crossing with Israel and the West Bank; and a reduction in the sea area which Palestinian fishermen can access. As a result, Gazas sole power plant was operating with a 41 percent electricity shortfall, leaving the residents of Gaza City, including hospitals, without power for 16 hours daily. The lack of power affected the water and sanitation systems, which has caused health concerns. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80 percent of Gazas water supply does not meet their standards for drinking.
On the level of health services, since the imposition of the blockade in mid-2007, the quality of health services has been drastically affected. Critical medical equipment became obsolete due to the lack of power, spare parts and maintenance. Stocks of essential drugs became short in supply. According to OCHA, over one third of applications for permits to leave Gaza for medical treatment were denied by Israel.
According to Physicians for Human Rights, 200 patients died while waiting for permits in the past year. WHO attributes at least 20 such deaths, in a two-month period, to the fact that patients could not leave Gaza for treatment.
Israels 2005 Withdrawal from Gaza
Some have argued that since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 Gaza has become a launching ground for rockets on Israeli towns, and the threat emanating from Gaza had to be dealt with. According to a December 2008 article in the Washington Post, eleven Israelis were killed by rockets from Gaza since Israel withdrew in 2005; this does not include the number killed as a result of the current round of rocket fire, which is 12 Israelis. According to Human Rights Watch, during 2006, Israeli forces fired some 14,000 artillery shells into the Gaza Strip which killed 59 Palestinians, almost all of them civilians. In all, OCHA has documented the death of 1,290 Palestinians by Israeli forces between 2005 and 2007, 222 of which are children.
Other Significant Figures
According to the Israeli Human Rights organization BTselem and OCHA, from September 2000 to July 2007, at least 5,848 people were killed directly or as an indirect consequence of the conflict. Of those killed, 4,228 are Palestinian; 1,024 Israeli and 63 foreign citizens. A total of 971 children were killed between September 2000 and July 2007. Of the overall number of children killed, 88 percent were Palestinian and 12 percent were Israeli. According to Defense for Children International, in 2006, 31 percent of the Palestinian children killed were 12 years or younger. The group reported that the majority of the children died as a result of injuries sustained to the head, chest or to multiple parts of their body.
An End to Occupation is the End to the Conflict
Many have argued that there is no military solution to this conflict, just as laying siege to 1.5 million Palestinians is not the solution. Only an end to the occupation in a manner that provides Palestinians with real freedom over their lives, land and future can there be a durable, sustainable ceasefire.