One Year on, No Reprieve for Gaza

For T.S. Eliot, "April is the cruelest month." For Gazans, December 27 to be exact is the cruelest of days in the cruelest of winters. Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which caused destruction beyond imagination in the overcrowded Gaza Strip, has reached its first anniversary. There is nothing, however, to celebrate.

On December 27, 2008, Israeli war planes rained bombs down on the Gaza Strip, killing over 200 people on that first day. What followed was a shocking show of Israeli military might and brutality, which ended with nearly 1,500 Palestinians dead, the overwhelming majority innocent civilians. Approximately 5,000 others were wounded. According to Al Haq statistics 11,154 homes were destroyed or damaged in the 22-day assault, directly affecting 100,000 Palestinians and internally displacing tens of thousands.

When Israel finally halted the bombs, missiles, ground assaults and phosphorous shells, it left sheer devastation in its wake. Today, a year later, while the bombs have mostly ceased to fall, Gazans have yet to see justice served.

For one, Israel has remained unrelenting in its siege on Gaza, which has now entered its third year. Despite international calls for a lifting of the blockade, the most recent being from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, it has remained nearly airtight. In a statement on December 27, Ki-Moon called on Israel to, "end the unacceptable and counterproductive blockade of Gaza, facilitate economic activity and civilian reconstruction, and fully respect and uphold international law.”

The blockade, crippling as it may be, is only one level of hardship for the Gazans, particularly after last year’s invasion. If one were to classify levels of grief, it would go something like this: death, injury, loss of home, loss of livelihood, etc. This is why the pain suffered by the people of Gaza as a result of Israel’s Cast Lead has yet to heal. Not only has nothing been rectified, things continue to worsen. Just last week, three men were shot and killed near the Erez Crossing between Gaza and Israel. Israeli troops justified the killings, saying the three were trying to infiltrate the border. Gazans say the men were collecting scrap metal and were unarmed.

Then there are the botched attempts at Gaza’s reconstruction. After several thousands of homes crumbled to the ground under the weight of Israeli bombs and bulldozers, scores of Gazans are still waiting to receive proper shelter. Many have either taken up temporary residence with more fortunate relatives while others have resorted to makeshift tents or mud huts built for them by aid agencies because cement and other building materials continue to be banned from entry into Gaza by Israel. The unemployment rate in Gaza is close to 50 percent and malnutrition among children is rampant. So, even those who may have a roof over their heads do not necessarily have a sufficient amount of food on their tables.

Mostly, the overwhelming sentiment among Gazans and other Palestinians who hurt for Gaza is sheer grief. For those who lost family members during Israel’s Cast Lead, a year’s time means nothing at all. To lose a child, a mother, a father or brother and sister and in some cases, all of the above, no amount of food packages can heal the wound. But what makes matters worse is the fact that justice for those who were killed so brutally has yet to be served even though most of the world has now seen the callousness with which Israel attacked Gaza. The delegations of foreigners who have visited the Strip, both officials and otherwise, have helped to shed light on the atrocities in Gaza, as did the horrific pictures that surfaced during and after Cast Lead. Furthermore, thanks to Justice Richard Goldstone, Gaza’s suffering now has an international voice, one that is credited with impartiality and accuracy. If anything, it has given a ray of hope for us Palestinians that someday Israel may be held accountable for the inexcusable crimes it has perpetrated against our people.

Still, the injustice of what happened in Gaza last winter is unbearable, not only because of the nature of the crimes committed but because of the continued lack of attention they have been given by the powers that be. This is not only a crime in itself, it also allows for a margin of impunity for Israel to commit similar crimes against the Palestinians simply because it can get away with it.

What is worse, today Israel has shifted attention away from the miserable plight of the Palestinians living in Gaza and has instead pinned all the ills of this region on the Palestinians. The fate of one Israeli soldier being held in the Strip has overshadowed the fate of 11,000 Palestinian prisoners of war and 1.5 million Gazans, most of who live under dire economic circumstances. Gilad Shalit has been Israel’s cover for bombing and besieging Gaza for so long it seems as if his captivity is actually in Israel’s favor. With Shalit –” who was captured during a cross-border raid into the Strip in 2006 –” in enemy hands, Israel has found the perfect alibi for keeping its hold on Gaza.

In the meantime, the wounds of Cast Lead continue to fester and only a handful of conscientious people in the world seem to care. Other than the brave convoys that sail into Gaza or cross Rafah in defiance of Israeli rule to bring some relief to the people, not much has been done to lift the cloud of oppression hovering over Gaza. Israel has gotten away with shunning humanitarian law, ethics and legal prosecution for years. Crimes have been committed in the false name of Israel’s security for far too long. Today, on this first year after Israel’s carnage in Gaza, let the people come first. It is long overdue.