Palestine: A strangled people

    Bold claims about Middle East peace from
    London ring hollow in the empty streets of Gaza.


    Sami Abdel-Shafi, Gaza City, the Guardian. Saturday May 3 2008

It is a strange feeling: after working as a productive professional in Gaza for five years, I have become a black market junkie. I make several phone calls a day hunting for fuel for my car, diesel for the electricity generator waiting on standby to power the house, even cigarettes and vitamins. The only way to get hold of these things, to buy life-saving medicines, to purchase the essentials for a life of basic dignity, is through the black market, if at all. Today all Gaza suffers severe water shortages, with the fuel needed to pump and transport water (as well as sewage) dangerously scarce. The few cars seen on Gaza’s mostly empty streets today almost invariably run on used cooking oil due to the lack of diesel.

That feeling of strangeness continued as I read the statement delivered by the Quartet in London yesterday. The four powers mediating in the Middle East – the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia – spoke of “deep concern” and demanded “concrete steps by both sides”. There was no sense, however, that they had properly grasped the depth of Gaza’s plight or the realities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. World politics seems to have morphed into a diplomacy of denial – a denial of how much more firm the international community must be towards the cause of an occupied and dying people.

This diplomacy of denial only gives succour to Israel’s urge to exercise its will over Palestinians, and over besieged Gazans particularly. Israel’s cabinet seeks to play God over Gaza by bluntly controlling every facet of civilian life. Tearing up the West Bank presents a threat of similarly terrible consequences. Israel’s separation barrier and hundreds of checkpoints threaten to create numerous smaller Gazas in the West Bank. The villages and cities that are becoming increasingly isolated and economically strangled today could become hotspots of desperation and violence tomorrow.

Last week in Gaza, Israel not only continued depriving the people of fuel and cooking gas, it held back supplies to UN agencies such as Unrwa – the agency devoted to the health, education, food supplies and more of Gaza’s poor and deprived population. In hindering the operations of the UN, Israel was hindering the Quartet, of which the UN is a part.

Israel’s current policies are slowly expelling Palestinians from their land and pushing those who remain into indignity, desperation and extremism. The word “siege” no longer seems adequate to describe what is being done to Gaza. The territory’s 1.5 million people have been thrust into a humanitarian catastrophe. It has become a nonsense to speak of peace negotiations while Israel creates more injustices on the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In statements ahead of the Quartet’s London meeting, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, acknowledged the “difficult” issues of borders and the fate of Jerusalem as well as Israel’s responsibility to improve the lives of Palestinians. Rice insisted that the US does not regard Israel’s settlement expansion as a fait accompli when it comes to a final agreement on borders.

If there was a glimmer of hope in the Quartet’s statement and Rice’s words, however, it is hard to foresee constructive action in its tow. The US administration is nearing the end of its term. The UN is undermined. Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is appeasing hawks in Israel’s military establishment, the settlement movement and the Knesset itself – even as he extends what increasingly looks like an illusory hand of peace to Palestinians. Palestinian politicians, too, must recognize that their embarrassing and divisive standoff only diminishes the world’s appreciation of the suffering of their people.

In the meantime, the Palestinian people are approaching something close to destitution. It is not enough for the Quartet to push for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. World politicians and delegates, including Israelis of all convictions, must be encouraged, and allowed, to come to Gaza and witness what is happening here today. Only then will observers be able to assess just how Palestinians are made to live, and to assess the world’s moral obligation towards a people who surely deserve a chance of a dignified and peaceful life.

Sami Abdel-Shafi is the co-founder and senior partner at Emerge Consulting Group, a management consultancy in Gaza City


Where r your so called brothers in those other arab countries that blow up innocent people for the sake of the palestinians, if they love there brothers so much where r they in the time of need. I read and c the Hamas org holding back fuel from there brothers not the Israelies. The palestininas wanted Gaza so Israel gave them Gaza and look how they live they caused there own problems. If u don’t agree with that statement how come if u ask the average Israeli Arab living in the old city he perfers to live under Israeli rule then his arab leaders (name 1 arab county that gives there people more then the Israelies) the palestininas have been crying for 60yrs over the troubles, they can’t even get there government to work properly they use what ever money they get from other nations including Israel and the U.S. and the U.N. and spend it on weapons NOT in helping there people. By the way I ask u who started ALL the wars Israel and lost every single one and have the nerve to cry for the land back. I would love a sound response but I am sure that won’t happen.

Comment by Bon — May 4th, 2008 @ 12:00 PM


You are right that the Arab countries are not making enough effort to help the palestinian people that are under apartheid for the last 60 years. But it seems that you have many misconceptions that I would be happy to clarify it for you.

First, regarding Gaza, Israel didn’t give Gaza to the Palestinians it actually pulled out the settlers from the occupied land and created a big prison out of it. As you may know, Israel controls the land around Gaza as well as the air and sea. It is impossible to enter food, fuel or medical supplies without the consent of the Israeli occupation. Although they have agriculture and manufacturing, most of the population lives on aid from humanitarian organization because the occupation is not letting them export their goods.

Second, Israel treats its Arab population as second class citizens. The arab neiboorhoods are less developed then the jewish populated ones. Arab schools are a world apart in quality from the public schools serving Israel’s majority Jewish population.

Third, the Palestinians are not able to govern themselves obviously because of all the aspects of occupation I mentioned earlier, but as well because of the ban that the western countries have imposed, starting with Canada, on the Palestinians since they elected democratically their own representatives. Given that the majority elected did not match the desires of the western countries, these countries stopped all aid to the Palestinian civilians to punish them for electing their representatives democratically.

Fourth, I think you need to read some war history because most the wars were actually started by Israel, in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1978, 1982, 1996, 2006… The only war that the Arab started was in 1973.

To clarify some misconceptions, I recommend that you check this website: . They have a link called : Palestinian-Israeli Conflict For Beginners. It is very well done.

Hope to see you in the peaceful counter-rally to the 60th anniversary Israel Day celebration :

11am Phillips Square
(Ste-Catherine & Union)
11:45am Place du Canada
(Boul. Rènè Lèvesque & rue de la Cathédrale /Metcalf )

Comment by Ramy — May 5th, 2008 @ 6:25 PM

ramy, you’re telling this guy to basically, get a clue, and you refer him to what you consider to be some sort of official authoritative source of mideast history, this palestineremembered website, and this source is CLEARLY biased in one direction of the conflict. you seem like a smart guy so i’ll let you figure out what i’m getting at.
and as for the 1967 war, it started with egypt EXPELLING UN forces who were providing a peace-keeping buffer zone in the sinai, then closing tiran to all israeli ships, amassing soldiers and tanks in the golan heights and declaring unified arab action against israel! after this israel “pre-emptively” struck. how can you ignore these facts when making such a claim as “israel started the 1967 war”?

Comment by morf — June 4th, 2008 @ 7:51 PM

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