The desecration of Gaza

By Waqas Mirza

As students began returning to school this fall in the United States as in much of the world, an ambiance of despair and despondency engulfed the people of the Gaza Strip. Schools opened there as everywhere else, but students and teachers alike found themselves overwhelmed with problems (the word doesn’t exactly capture it) that many of us here at Amherst fortunately do not have to cope with. According to Al-Jazeera, the remnants of nearly 300 schools that Israel bombed in its latest assault on Gaza (in self-defense, as always) were visible across the densely populated region. Moreover, the continuing U.S.-Israeli-Egyptian siege of the enclave, which Amnesty International labeled the world’s largest open-air prison, has continued to inflict incalculable suffering on an already beleaguered and destitute population.

Disregarding for the moment the terrible human and physical cost Israel so callously imposed on the people of Gaza during the January massacre, the Gazans continue to live under a siege which has turned their homes into a concentration camp, their borders into Israeli missile test sites, their graveyards into overflowing boroughs of human flesh and their lives into disposable instruments of geopolitics. Most harrowing about all of this is the complicity and active support of the United States government as Israel continues in its biblical quest to punish the Palestinians for resisting the occupation of their native land.

For many of us, it is quite difficult to comprehend how Gaza’s children – the ones who survived Operation Cast Lead – were even able to return to schools after they were forced to witness the slaughter of family members and friends, the incineration of their society and, most painful, the silence of the international community. With what standard does a child in Gaza measure the worth of his/her own life when the countries which are supposedly the guarantors of human rights are the same ones which sanction Israel as it tramples upon any and every vestige of humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions with impunity?

Ninety-eight percent of Gaza’s children, according to a study by Queen’s University, are currently suffering from what the researchers called debilitating psychiatric and psychological effects. Imagine sitting in a classroom where 20 percent of students have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 39 percent have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and most others have some sort of an emotional disorder and/or suffer direct physical trauma. As it happens, these children are the lucky ones. Three-hundred-and-twenty children were not able to enjoy the privilege of sitting in damaged and burnt schools with debilitating psychological effects as they perished in Israel’s assault on the territory in January 2009.

The siege of the territory is calculated to maximize the misery and distress of the Gazans without the public relations debacle which accompanied Israel’s military strikes in January. World Food Program estimates indicate the need for nearly 400 trucks of food to meet the basic nutritional need for Gazans. Israel allows a fraction of that amount. According to Israeli journalist Amira Hass, in the list of items Israel explicitly forbids Gazans to be able to import, one can find books, blankets, cups, glasses, musical instruments, tea, coffee, crayons, clothing, shoes and so forth, rendering any illusions one may have had about the siege reinforcing Israeli self-defense as entirely ludicrous.

A recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jerusalem described the pernicious effects of the Israeli siege and gave an estimate of 120,000 job losses in Gaza. In addition, it described 75 percent of Gaza’s population as being food insecure due to 80 percent of Gaza’s agricultural crops being destroyed by Israeli forces. Adding to the chorus of consternation by international organizations, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned that Gaza’s water supply were in danger of collapse due to the Israeli military’s assault and ongoing siege. Israeli restrictions on the import of any metals and pipes have left the sewage system in Gaza in dire need of repair, with sewage overflowing in the streets in many parts of the territory.

The continuing siege of Gaza is merely an extension of the January military operation, both in terms of its effects and its intentions. As the diplomatic and political stalemate continues with superficial pronouncements of a Palestinian state by the Palestinian Authority, along with Israel’s illegal settlement building in the West Bank, with generous contributions by American taxpayers via the U.S. government, the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza prolongs. In the words of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, a civilization is being destroyed in Gaza, with complete support by the U.S. government.

Waqas Mirza is a Collegian columnist.