Sewage Tsunami and Economic, Physical and Political Strangulation in Gaza by Anna Baltzer, April 7, 2007

One week ago, the walls of an overused cesspool in northern Gaza
collapsed, flooding a nearby Bedouin village with up to two meters
of raw sewage. At least five people drowned to death, with dozens
more left sick, injured, or missing.

Predictably, the international community's fingers are pointed at
the Palestinian Authority, which was warned of the danger of Beit
Lahia treatment plant's flooding but did not take the necessary
steps to ensure the villagers' safety. To many, it's just another
example of how the Palestinians are incapable of ruling over
themselves. But the PA is only part of the problem. In fact, funds
were secured long ago for transferring the dangerous sewage pools,
but according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), the
project "was delayed for more than two years due to delays in
importing pipes and pumps from abroad as a result of the closure
imposed by IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] on the Gaza Strip. In
addition, IOF military operations in the project area prevented
workers from free and safe access to the area to conduct their work.
It is noted that this project is funded by the World Bank, European
Commission, Sweden, and other donors"
(http://www.pchrgaza.ps/files/PressR/English/2007/20-2007.htm).

Almost two years ago, Israel claimed to be withdrawing from Gaza,
yet according to the Human Rights Council report commissioned by the
UN last year and released two months ago, "Even before the
commencement of "Operation Summer Rains", following the capture of
Corporal Gilad Shalit, Gaza remained under the effective control of
Israel. [...] Israel retained control of Gaza's air space, sea space
and external borders, and the border crossings of Rafah (for
persons) and Karni (for goods) were ultimately under Israeli control
and remained closed for lengthy periods." Rafah has been open an
average of 14% of scheduled times, so Gazans (including sick people
needing treatment in Egypt, and students) have had to wait sometimes
for weeks on end to get through either way. Last December Israel
promised to allow 400 trucks a day to pass through Karni crossing,
delivering among other things desperately needed food and medical
supplies, and allowing produce out to support the largely
agriculture-based economy. The promise has yet to be implemented,
which has had "disastrous" consequences on the local economy. The
report continues, "In effect, following Israel's withdrawal, Gaza
became a sealed off, imprisoned and occupied territory"
(http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/4session/A.HRC.4.
17.pdf).

Last week, over fifty fishermen were arrested in Gaza when they
tried to go fishing. Israel controls Gaza's waters, not
Palestinians, so the Army opened fire on the small fishing boats
(http://bbsnews.net/article.php/20070326104022273). Israel also
frequently shoots through the cage around Gaza from sniper positions
if not conducting all-out ground invasions (two this past week) or
air bombardments. Israel has killed more than 700 Gazans (including
hundreds of women and children) since the celebrated "withdrawal"
still used by Israeli apologists to show that Palestinians can't
take advantage of a good opportunity if it falls into their laps.

Recently, perhaps the most paralyzing features of Israel's continued
control over Gaza--as well as the West Bank--is the US and Israeli-
led economic embargo against the Palestinian government since Hamas'
victory last year. Doctors, teachers, elected officials, and other
civil servants have not been fully paid in more than one year,
pushing the population into a humanitarian crisis (about quarter of
the population is financially dependent on these salaries). Over 80
percent of Gazans are living below the official poverty line, and
even issues as serious as overburdened cesspools are often left
unaddressed. It is tempting to wonder why the international
community should be held responsible for financially supporting the
Palestinian population to begin with. The late Tanya Reinhart
articulated her answer to this question during her last lecture in
France. She explained that Europe, like the US, had no right to cut
off food and medicine from the Palestinians:

"It was not an act of generosity which Europe could either carry on
or not," she said. "It was a choice which had been made to take on
the obligations imposed by international law on the Israeli occupier
to see to the well-being of the occupied populations. Europe chose
not to oblige Israel to respect its obligations, and preferred to
pay money to the Palestinians. When it put an end to this, it
breached international law"
(http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?
itemID=12385&sectionID=1).

The United States, Europe, and Israel (which has withheld $55
million per month in taxes collected from Palestinians on behalf of
the PA) say they will only return the Palestinians' lifelines if
Hamas agrees to three conditions: (1) renouncing violence, (2)
accepting previous agreements, and (3) recognizing Israel. These
conditions sound reasonable enough, but are painfully ironic for
anyone living on the ground here. True, Hamas has not sworn off
violence once and for all, but neither has Israel! In the past year,
Palestinians have killed 27 Israelis, most of them soldiers. During
that same period of time, Israelis have killed 583 Palestinian
civilians (suicide bombers, fighters, or others targeted for
assassination are not included). Hamas has held fairly consistently
to a unilateral ceasefire since January 2005, when they announced
their transition from armed struggle to political struggle. Actions
speak louder than words. Hamas says it reserves the right to resist
violently, but has stopped attacking Israelis. Israel claims that
all it wants is peace, yet the daily invasions and assassinations
continue.

The second condition involving previous agreements is hard to take
seriously given Israel's consistent violations. In one of her last
speeches in New York at St Mary's Church, Tanya cited an early 2006
interview in the Washington Post in which "Hamas Prime Minister
Haniyeh explained that according to the Oslo Accords in 1993, five
years later in '98, there should have been already a Palestinian
state. Instead, what Israel did during this whole period was
appropriate more land, continue to colonize, to build settlements,
and it did not keep a single clause of the Oslo Agreements"
(http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/03/19/1354224). When
will the US demand that Israel adhere to previous agreements in
order to receive the billions that we hand over every year?

And finally, the last and crucial condition is that Hamas must
recognize Israel. The question is, what exactly is meant
by "Israel"? Does "Israel" mean a place where Jewish people are
respected and secure, or is it something else? Israel defines itself
as "the state of the Jewish people." It's not the state of it's
citizens; Israel is the state of a bunch of people who aren't its
citizens, and not the state of a bunch of people who are its
citizens. Palestinian citizens of Israel don't have equal rights to
Jews (for specific examples, read my recent "Existence is
Resistance" report), because so many laws are aimed at condensing or
chasing away Palestinian communities in order to fully "Judaize" the
country. Israel has an artificial Jewish majority that was created
and is maintained through various forms of ethnic cleansing.
Israel's very existence as a Jewish state is conditional upon the
dispossession and either expulsion or bantustanization of the
indigenous Palestinian population. If you ask one of these
Palestinians if he recognizes the right of such an Israel to exist,
a country built on his land that explicitly excludes him and
discriminates against him, and that Palestinian says "no," is he
being racist or anti-Semitic? Or is he himself defending against
racism and anti-Semitism? (Remember that Arabs are Semites, too.)

Israel cannot specify what exactly it wants Palestinians to
recognize because Israel doesn't actually recognize itself. Israel
has refused to clarify its own borders, because they keep expanding
as the Jewish state establishes more settlement "facts on the
ground." In spite of all of these things, the PLO actually agreed to
recognize Israel, renounce terror, and sign agreements with Israel
almost twenty years ago. Israel responded with continued
colonization and resource confiscation in the occupied territories
and bombardment of Lebanon to root out the PLO, which was becoming
dangerously moderate (see Chomsky classic, The Fateful Triangle).
Hamas too has indicated that it would consider peace if Israel
withdrew to its internationally recognized 1967 borders leaving
Palestinians with just 22% of their historic homeland, but Israel
says full withdrawal is out of the question. It is Israel who has
yet to recognize Palestine's right to exist, not the other way
around.

One more point of irony is that Israel justifies the ongoing siege
of Gaza as a response to the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit even
though such collective punishment is cruel, illegal, and hugely
hypocritical. Just last week, the Israeli Army abducted and
imprisoned 29 Palestinians, including one child. The week before
that they took 37 Palestinians, including five kids. The week before
that they took 61, and the week before that 63, and the week before
that 107 Palestinians. Israel has "captured" ("kidnapped" would be a
more appropriate word for many since most of the abductees were
civilians) at least 860 Palestinians this year, and it's only April
(for week by week statistics, visit http://www.pchrgaza.ps/).
Palestinians are illegally holding one Israeli, and Israel is
illegally holding more than 11,000 Palestinians (http://www.mandela-
palestine.org/), including about 40 elected officials and almost 500
women and children. If the Israeli Army is justified is collectively
starving and bombarding 1.3 million Gazans to avenge the capture of
one of their fighters, what could the families of 11,000
Palestinians claim is justified?

In reality, Israel is holding more than 1.3 million Palestinians
prisoner with its ongoing siege of Gaza. Most of them are refugees,
encaged in one of the most densely populated places in the world
while many can practically see their land through the cage around
them, but are forbidden from ever returning because they are not
Jewish (I, on the other hand, could go live there next month if I
wanted to). The Beit Lahia sewage treatment plant was designed in
the 1970's to serve up to 50,000 people, but the local population
has since risen to 200,000. The "sewage tsunami" is as much a result
of population density as anything else. In comparison, the land-rich
West Bank feels like paradise, but perhaps not for long. As the Wall
continues to snake around West Bank towns and villages, cutting
inhabitants off from their land, jobs, schools, hospitals, and each
other, Israel's intention seems clear: those Palestinians who won't
leave the West Bank altogether will be squeezed into bantustans,
each of them a new Gaza. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority,
civilians, and popular resistance will continue to be demonized with
claims of "anti-Semitism" even though the worst crimes are not their
own. The guilt and responsibility are not just Israel's. They are
all of ours.

The sun is gleaming through silvery olive trees into our office
window as I look out across Palestinian land and homes that still
remain intact in spite of the Occupation and all its crimes. There
is still hope for the West Bank, but only if people speak out and
act now. There are so many ways. Visit Palestine. Support the
nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement called for by
Palestinian civil society. Join a local solidarity group and educate
your community. Forward this message to your friends and family.
Write your representatives. Anything but staying silent.

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