World’s Largest Outdoor Prison: An Overview on Gaza
By Yusif Barakat
My trip to Gaza was a life-changing experience. My comments about Gaza, Palestine, I hope will be a life-changing experience for you, too.
The days we (the 5 women from Michigan Peace Team and I) spent in Cairo were frustrating and difficult, to say the least.
The 1,362 internationals that arrived in Gaza with us were all expecting to spend a week in Gaza, presumably in people’s homes, in order to force open the borders and get a real flavor for what the people were going through.
Instead, only 85 of us (I was blessed to be one of them) ended up on a 4-day trip to Gaza, December 30th 2009 to January 2nd 2010. Two days were used for back and forth transportation from Cairo, with only 2 days in Gaza. In my report, which can be found on www.yusif.org, I describe the details of the time in Cairo and Gaza. In this overview, I will describe the conversations I had with members of Hammas, as well as people I met during my visit.
Generally, when Israel had settlements during their occupation in Gaza, things were more regimented. The Israeli forces patrolled the streets and basically kept a tight grip on the population.
A news reporter at the Gaza T.V. station told me that they had a truce with Israel and had a comfortable existence under occupation.
The second intifada (uprising) changed things and the conflict flared up again. Israel had a strategic reason for leaving Gaza and that is why they returned the land they occupied, which was turned back into farm land. Though the Zionist settlers left Gaza proper (in 2005), Israel remained surrounding the borders of Gaza on all sides and were planning to bomb them. The Israelis would not have been able to bomb Gaza if the Israeli troops and settlers were present.
You can see that Israel did not leave Gaza out of magnanimity of freeing the people but out of a more sinister reason of preparing to destroy them! Meanwhile, Israel gained a lot of positive political press coverage when they vacated Gaza on the guise that they were doing it for “peace”. Israel used the withdrawal from Gaza as a bargaining chip in what they called “the peace process”, while the whole time, they were planning the invasion “Operation Cast Lead” and devastation of the land and people.
(As an aside- think of the name they gave it “Cast Lead”. Think of the implications of that and the arrogance, knowing that they were going to destroy land and people! The audacity of casting led on a whole population! How cruel is that?
Then again, think of the term used by the U.S. “shock and awe” and the damage U.S. did to Iraq! How arrogant is it to say: “We’re going to shock and awe them” by devastating them? It smacks of a Hollywood saga, staring “Cowboy” Bush!)
Israel began plans for their invasion since they withdrew from Gaza in 2005. During the few years between leaving Gaza and their invasion the Israeli strategy was to choke the population by sealing off all the borders, denying all import and export of any goods or supplies! They also controlled the flow of water, electricity, trade and money. Basically they starved the people before they bombed them.
Gaza, like the rest of the occupied West Bank (Palestine), was converted to using the “shekel”, which is the Israeli money denomination. By restricting the flow of shekels in and out of Gaza they brought the Gazan economy to a complete halt. As an aside, think of how you SHACKLE people (defined by “anything that confines or restricts freedom”) by manipulating their skekels.
The scheme designed by Israel was to use the rocket launches from Gaza as an excuse to invade, bomb and devastate Gaza. During “Operation Cast Lead” they killed around 1,400 men, women and children, injured thousands of others and isolated the 1.65 million Gazans left.
Israel bombed farms, killing animals and live stock. They bombed and closed the only airport. They bombed and destroyed the sewage treatment plant forcing all sewage in Gaza to be dumped into the sea! … They bombed hospitals, schools, mosques, production plants, homes, government offices, police stations, villages and basically destroyed the infra-structure of most of the Gaza Strip.
The one thing they were not able to destroy was the WILL and the SPIRIT of the Gazan People! The people maintained a strong willed resilience, resourcefulness and a high, remarkably hopeful spirit.
An outdoor prison
Basically Israel has trapped and confined 1.5 million Gazans in an outdoor prison as they continue to isolate and starve the population.
With the Mediterranean Sea on the West, The Gaza Strip is only 35 kilometers long and 7 to 15 kilometers wide. To continue the death grip, (in cooperation with Egypt) Israel sealed all the borders (by land, sea and air) and would not allow supplies or materials to come in so the Gazans could rebuild. They would not allow medicine or medical supplies. They would not allow trade or rebuilding of factories, further crippling the economy. The fishermen are limited to less than 2 miles in how far they can go fishing. Fishing is limited to where there are few fish and to where they are fishing in polluted waters. In addition the Israelis held over 12,000 prisoners, many of whom are women and children.
People in Gaza told me (and people who visited Gaza before the invasion confirmed this) that Gaza was a paradise. On the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, it was an ocean front paradise, which they feel will be rebuilt again, when they are free.
Israel continues to control and shut off water, electricity, food, medicine, trade and other life-affirming supplies. Out of desperation the tunnel system developed, under the borders between Gaza and Egypt. Israel and Egypt, in joint cooperation with the United States, threaten to shut down the tunnels, are building an iron wall and are threatening to flood the tunnels with water! This is a clear crime against humanity of collective punishment by sealing the fate of the Gazans through starvation and attrition.
All of this is under the guise of security and prevention of smuggling weapons. Obviously tanks, airplanes and rockets cannot be smuggled through the tight tunnels. The only possible arms would be small firearms, which are no threat to Israel, because Israel is the second strongest military power next to the U.S.!
Also, Israel is one of the largest exporters of military weapons in the world. Israel sells weapons to third world countries and developing nations, including warring factions. Does it not make you wonder “who is selling these weapons, and why?” And “who profits from wars?”
Hammas is a brain child of Israel, which they nurtured for many years in order to set them up against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), “Fatah” (part of the “divide and conquer, divide and rule” tactic). Hammas began to gain popularity when they moved to halt the influx of drugs (shipped in by Israel) into Gaza and began to fight against the drug culture. Hammas also provided humanitarian aid to the Gazan People.
During the last election in Palestine, January 26, 2006, Hammas won over Fatah, in all of Palestine. But because U.S. had categorized Hammas as a “terrorist organization” Israel and the U.S. would not recognize them as the legitimate government. This caused the split between Hammas and Fatah, eventually isolating Hammas in Gaza. Israel has tried to obliterate Hammas during and subsequent to their invasion, accusing Hammas of using “human shields” all the while Israel was bombing civilian targets.
Comments from Gazans:
Some comments from residents of Gaza to me were:
“Israel shuts off electricity even to hospitals!”
“They don’t need an excuse to kill us; they just use the rocket attacks, that we use in self-defense, as an excuse to annihilate us!”
“There are organizations that fight against cruelty to animals, but nobody fights against cruelty to Gazans!”
“Their jets fly over us anytime they want and at times drop bombs, but we have no defense!” “We are just ‘sitting ducks’!”
It is obvious that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is only a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. When looking at the big picture, Gaza is a small part of the colonial expansion, which Israel and the U.S. are scheming in order to have hegemony over the Middle East. In the process they are obliterating the Palestinian people and stealing their land.
Once you learn the Truth about Israel you will see their heartless cruelty—their obsessive insanity to possess and dominate Palestinian land. And the saddest part is, it is used to justify Judaism, the religion that claims “peace”! Gaza is worse than “the apartheid” of South Africa. In South Africa the blacks were exploited, but at least the whites did not “Cast Lead” upon them!
Israel is using brutal military power against a basically unarmed people—proud people that have tilled the soil, and cared for the land for thousands of years. They do not deserve the kind of inhumanity inflicted upon them. American tax dollars pay for all that senseless destruction, and criminal thievery of the land.
The United States must take full responsibility for the unconditional support they give to Israel, in monetary and military aid (of over $3 billion–unquestioned- each year) as well as political support. The U.S. has paid over 100 billion dollars in the last decades to sustain Israel’s terrorist oppression over Palestine. Israel would not exist if it were not for the support of the U.S. and U.S. uses Israel for dominance in the oil belt region.
It seems that Israel (which is a small country of less than 5 million people) that is belligerent, predatory, criminal and terroristic, which “Casts Lead” upon its neighbors, should no longer get preferential treatment, as if they were the 51st State of the United States.
According to Cpl. Jake Diliberto, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is founder of Veterans for Rethinking of Afghanistan, “if the U.S. does not give Palestinians justice it will be a monumental recruiting tool for terrorist because all can see the U.S. support of Israel is unilateral.
It is not in America’s best interest (to support Israel unconditionally) because Israel’s behavior creates a retaliation that could blossom into a major regional, possibly global conflict. Because of Israel, the Middle East region is so volatile it could explode into a major disaster—for us and for them.