Blockades, bombings, calorie counts: The burdens of life in Gaza

Jaipur, Jan 24 (IANS) It is possibly the unluckiest and harsh place to live, with residents not only facing a dangerous, deprived existence but added indignities like a “calorie count” for the food to be allotted to them and the virtual impossibility of going outside the area. But the people of the Gaza Strip are still resilient and would not like to be labelled victims, says a prominent Palestinian activist and other observers.

The roots of the conflict in Palestine were sown nearly a century ago when the Balfour Declaration promised a Jewish homeland in the region, exacerbated after the state of Israel was founded in 1948 and intensified for Palestinians, especially residents of Gaza, after Israel conquered the area in the 1967 war.

Though the situation in the West Bank is hardly rosy for the residents, conditions are far worse in Gaza, where the rocket attacks into Israel by militant have met a brutally disproportionate response, and many have been killed, and over a 100,000 displaced.

In a session titled “Eyeless in Gaza” at the Jaipur Literature Festival here on Sunday, writer, activist and artist Molly Crabapple, who reported from the area in 2015 for an internet media network, had an somber description of seeing first-hand the implementation and effect of the famous ‘blockade’, set up by Israel in 2007 to limit the flow of goods and the movement of people as a part of its counter-insurgency strategy.

She described the land as “brutalized and besieged” but with “the spirit of resistance” undimmed.

She revealed she heard ordinary Palestinians ask they were being collectively punished since they had not fired any rockets.

Laleh Khalili, a professor at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, highlighted the policies of “confinement”, “siege” and “starvation” employed by Israel in Gaza.

She revealed that the government had drawn up a chart to daily calories to be provided to men, women and children in Gaza, with Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass in 2006 widely quoted as having said: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet.”

Human rights activist Omar Barghouti, who co-founded the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement), deplored the policy shift to the right in Israel. He reported that Gazans are “completely dehumanized”.

Asked why the attacks on Gaza continued despite increasing international outcry, he held that he was “assuming a rational mentality in the Israeli Government that doesn’t exist”, adding that they continue to “shoot themselves in the foot over and over again without realising”.

Barghouti said the Israeli government feared the traction that the BDM movement was gaining in the international community. Official sources have stated that the movement could develop into an “existential threat” for Israel.

“If equality, justice and freedom can destroy Israel, what does that say about Israel?” he said, claiming that Jewish support for the BDS is strong in America, and increasingly in Israel too, as more Jews empathise with the struggles of the Gazans.

Crabapple supported the claim, saying that many American Jews saw a parallel between the recent rejection of Syrian refugees by many European countries, and the situation the Jews faced when fleeing the Holocaust.

Speakers also maintained that despite the horrors they were enduring, the Palestinian should not be labelled “victims”.

“If you’re just a victim, you attract charity, but if you resist, you attract solidarity,” said Barghouti, calling on the international community to create “much more effective solidarity” so that the Palestinian people would continue to have the “hope to resist”.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)

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