At the beginning of this month a great spoof of the Van Damme Volvo advert was posted on Youtube by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In it a group of Palestinians are pushing two cars that have no petrol through the Strip, while one of them talks about the lack of electricity and how he would like to take a shower, before performing a split.
It’s a powerful, imaginative and poignant reminder of the dire situation to which Gaza has been reduced since Israel and Egypt imposed their on-off blockade in 2007. With the collusion of the ‘international community’ and the Palestinian Authority, these efforts have slowly and inexorably ground away at the living standards of one of the poorest and most densely-populated regions on the planet, forcing its population to depend for its economic survival on smuggling through thousands of tunnels that connect it to Egypt.
All this has transformed Gaza into a true 21st century dystopia, in which 1.7 million people are sealed up in a tiny strip of land only 25 miles long and 7 miles wide, surrounded by fences on three sides and the sea on the other, watched over by Israeli drones 24 hours a day, and subjected to periodic military strikes and two full scale wars.
This has been going on for more than six years now and the ‘Quartet’, which is supposedly pursuing something called ‘peace’ in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has put no pressure whatsoever on Israel to do anything about it.
Initially enforced in response to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections in 2006, and tightened after the defeat of a Fateh coup attempt the following year, this blockade/sanctions regime has become a form of collective punishment and an instrument of war by other means, which is ultimately intended to break Hamas by turning Gazans against the government they voted for.
Whatever Israel or anyone else says, the brunt of this form of ‘war’ is borne by the Palestinian population, not by Hamas, and this is whole point of it. It is warfare directed against civilians, and it is ruthless, callous and utterly immoral, and worthy of a great deal more media attention than Roger Waters’ comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany.
But the beauty of the blockade, from the point of view of Israel and its allies, is that generally nobody pays too much attention to a slow-motion form of warfare whose consequences are not immediately visible, unless there is an actual war going on. That’s why sanctions and blockades constitute ‘a very perfect instrument’ of war, as Andrew Cockburn called them, which is available to powerful nations only, as Iraqis and Iranians have also discovered.
In the last two months things have got a lot worse in Gaza. Since the Egyptian military government destroyed more than 1, 200 tunnels it has been impossible to supply fuel and spare parts to keep Gaza’s essential services going. For the last seven weeks Gazans have only had access to electricity for only four to eight hours a day, and running water for only a few hours, because there was not enough fuel to keep the Strip’s only power station running.
As a result, within the last three weeks one pumping station has overflown and 10 others are close to collapse, causing raw sewage to flow through the streets of Gaza City, which adults and children are forced to walk through.
Within the last week, Gaza has begun to regain some visibility again, as a result of a storm which has flooded large sections of the Strip and left thousands of people homeless and spread sewage-infected water through refugee camps and towns.
Confronted with the prospect of a major humanitarian emergency, Israel has just allowed the entry of 450,000 litres of fuel into Gaza, which will enable the Gaza Electricity Distribution company (GEDCO) to switch on the only functioning power station in the strip. The fuel is being paid for by Qatar, and will be shipped via the Palestinian Authority and also by sea to Gaza.
Israel’s relaxation of the blockade is unlikely to signify a longterm change of policy or a sudden conversion to humanitarianism. It wants Hamas out, and so does the ‘international community.’ What it actually wants, in the end, is a compliant Palestinian population controlled by a puppet Palestinian regime, that will do whatever Israel wants, to the point when it feels able to impose ‘peace’ on its own terms.
For now Gaza will have some 30 percent of its electricity supplied for 90 days. After that things may well get back to normal, unless some serious pressure is brought to bear on Israel and Egypt, and the Western governments that have gone along with this disgraceful process.
And that is one more reason why we need a different kind of boycott that will make Israel realize, just as South Africa once had to, that it must change, and that there will be a penalty for its flagrant disregard of decency, humanity and justice.