Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze the Lifeblood out of the People of Gaza

Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze the Lifeblood out of the People of Gaza

— Two weeks ago, almost 2,000 internationals came to Egypt and Gaza in a massive show of civil society support for the people of Gaza.  1,362 persons representing 44 countries in the Gaza Freedom March and over 500 persons with the Viva Palestina Convoy let the people of Gaza know of their concern for the tragic consequences of the actions of their governments in support of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Yet, two weeks later, with the apparent approval of governments (United States, European Community and Canada) who support the quarantine, blockade and siege of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have tightened the squeeze to wring the lifeblood out of the people of Gaza.

US Military Make Underground Wall Construction Visit

The United States government continues to assist Egypt with the installation of the underground wall to cut off the tunnels under the border of Gaza and Egypt.  According to Reuters, on January 14, 2010, U.S. three military personnel from the U.S. embassy in Cairo visited Rafah to follow up on the building of the barrier.  According to security sources in Rafah, visits by U.S. military have been taking place monthly. 

In a press conference this week in Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, “What we’d like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let’s get the weapons smuggling stopped.” Duguid did not address the use of the tunnels to get life-saving food and materials prohibited by Israel.

Deadliest Week for Gaza Strip since last year’s Israeli Attack on Gaza

Last week, January 6-12, 2010, was the deadliest week for the Gaza Strip in the past year since the 18 January 2009 ceasefire that ended Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli air force bombing attacks killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three civilians. The attacks came in response to an increase in the number of mortar shells and rockets fired by Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that caused no injuries or property damage.

Since the ceasefire a year ago, a total of 84 Palestinians, including at least 27 civilians, and one Israeli (a soldier) have been killed and another 160 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been injured in Gaza and southern Israel.

On 8 January, US aircraft flown by Israeli air force personnel targeted and bombed tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, killing three Palestinians, including a 15 year-old boy, and wounding another two. Another Palestinian sustained injuries in a separate airstrike incident on tunnels.

In two other incidents, on 6 and 10 January, Israeli aircrafts targeted and killed four Palestinian militants, three of whom were killed in one airstrike. Five additional airstrikes, resulting in no casualties, were carried out during the week. Also this week, on four separate occasions, Israeli forces drove tanks into Gaza and conducted land-leveling operations.

Israelis Increase Border Zone into Gaza

On 7 January, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets into areas next to the border fence with Gaza, warning residents to keep a distance of at least 300 meters from the border with Israel and to avoid cooperating with “smugglers” in the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. Israelis have doubled the “buffer zone” along the border from 150 meters to 300 meters.  Israeli forces have opened “warning” fire at farmers as far as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) from the border.

A parallel ban for Gaza fishermen is applied to sea areas beyond three nautical miles from the coast, though often this distance is less in practice. This week, in nine separate incidents, Israeli naval forces opened “warning” fire at Palestinian fishing boats along Gaza’s coast, forcing them to return to shore.

Also this week, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on 6 and 9 January, unknown persons detonated bombs in a pharmacy and two coffee shops in Gaza City; no injuries were sustained, but damages to property were reported.

Two Killed in January in Tunnels and Seven Youth Burned in Tunnel Fire

In December, 2009, three Palestinians were killed after a tunnel collapsed beneath the Egypt-Gaza border.  The three were reported missing, and later found by rescue workers.  In January, 2010, two Palestinians died in two separate incidents involving the collapse of a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border while they were working inside it.  At least 70 people have died and 123 others have been injured in the tunnels since the end of the “Cast Lead” Israeli attack on Gaza.

On January 16, seven Palestinians from Gaza were burned in a fire that broke out in one of the tunnels connected the border towns of Rafah, Gaza and Rafah, Egypt. The seven burned tunnel workers were treated at An-Nasser and Ash-Shifa hospitals in Gaza City.

Digging tunnels and working in them is one of the few jobs available for Palestinian youth in Gaza.  Tunnel workers reportedly earn $25 per day, a huge sum in the current Palestinian economy.  However, they are subjected to daily bombings by US F-16 aircraft flown by the Israeli Air Force, tunnel collapses and fires.

Accidents in the tunnels are frequent. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan, 120 people have been killed working in the tunnel trade in the past three years.

According to OCHA, no commercial gasoline or diesel fuel entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom during last week. Egyptian gasoline and diesel, which is transferred through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, remains available on the open market, with nearly 100,000 liters of diesel and 100,000 liters of gasoline transferred into Gaza per day. 

Israeli Tanks Shell Beit Hanoun, Gaza

Israeli tanks operating near the northern Gaza border near Beit Hanoun targeted civilian properties with heavy artillery fire on January 15, 2010.  Tank shells hit civilian homes on the outskirts of the town, causing material damages but no injuries.

Egypt Builds Anchorage for Border Patrol Boats

Egypt is continuing fortification of its borders with Gaza, this time by sea.  According to Reuters, Egypt is constructing a port for patrol boats that will block sea routes into Gaza for merchandise, food and weapons.

The border patrol boats that will be used to keep Palestinian fishing boats in Gazan coastal waters. Egypt has said it believes the boats are being used to carry out smuggling operations, though there have never been reports of such incidents. “It is to secure the area. It will be used to direct fishing boats in the area to ensure they do not cross the Israeli sea border and risk getting fired at,” the security sources told Reuters.

As Egypt completes the 14 kilometer underground wall along the Rafah border, Egyptian surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea increases the strangling of Gaza.  The tunnels are the only way Gazans can bring thousands of goods into the Strip. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the area, letting in only 36 types of goods for the past three years.

Future Aid Missions Must be Conducted through the Egyptian Red Crescent

On 6 January, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrators, protesting Egypt’s delay in allowing the aid convoy “Viva Palestina”)into Gaza, as well as the Egyptian plans to build the underground steel wall, clashed with Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. As a result, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and 13 Palestinians were injuries, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Eventually, the convoy entered on the same day, carrying food and medical supplies. [Here]

However, in response to the clashes, Egypt introduced a new mechanism, through which future aid convoys into Gaza are brought into Gaza by the Egyptian Red Crescent.

No internationals allowed into Gaza

During the month of December, no internationals were allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, until 92 persons from the Gaza Freedom March were allowed in for 48 hours on December 30.  During January, only the Viva Palestina convoy personnel were allow in for 24 hours.  Many international persons have letters of invitation from non-governmental organizations for them to assist the organizations in a variety of ways. Only one other international has been allowed into Gaza in January.  Egypt has denied the requests for all other internationals. 

The ability of citizens of the world to assist Gaza when their governments will not tragically is being strangled also.

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia.  In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”  (