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On my way to the West Bank:

Reflections on the Gaza–Israeli conflict

In a few weeks I will be travelling to the West Bank on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC). I’ll be participating in a programme as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) to support and advocate for Palestinians and record human rights violations. I hope to write more about this during my three-month stay in the West Bank.

The conflict between Gaza and Israel was recently in the news. In conjunction with the training I’ve received from the WCC, I decided to look up some facts about the current situation in Gaza and the challenges faced by its people.

The Gaza strip is 41 kilometres long and between nine and 11 kilometres wide. It has a population of 1.8 million on an area only 360 kilometres squared. Since 1967, Israel has illegally occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. In 2005, Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza. Yet the occupation continues in the form of a total blockade. The Israeli military controls all movement of goods and people by land, sea and air.

Gaza’s unemployment rate is nearly 40 percent. Over 52 percent of Gazans lack food access. This is due largely to restrictions on farming in areas near Israel. The “buffer zone” has robbed Gazans of 30 percent of their agricultural land and many of the water wells. Fishing is limited to three nautical miles and the fish stocks in this area are largely depleted. The majority (an estimated 79 percent) of the population live in poverty, with many dependent on aid.

Continued blockade
In 2010, an international flotilla carrying aid supplies attempted to break the blockade. It was stopped by Israel. The ensuing outcry from the international community, however, led Israel to announce a package of measures to “ease” the restrictions. This did not result in significant improvements, since there were many delays in receiving Israeli-approval for projects.

The blockade continued in spite of being in violation of International Law. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) states: “the whole of Gaza’s population is being punished for acts for which they bear not responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.” Egypt has brokered agreements with Israel to maintain the blockade on the Gaza-Egyptian border. Indeed, tunnels used to take goods in and out of Gaza under the Egyptian border have been largely destroyed by the recent fighting. However, the Egyptian public is sympathetic towards the Palestinians and is putting pressure on their government to ease the blockade. It is no surprise, then, to find Egypt playing a role in the latest negotiations to broker a peaceful resolution.

Resolution?
Now an interim agreement has been reached. Sadly, 2,143 Palestinians and 69 Israelis were killed. Gaza would like the blockade totally lifted. Perhaps further talks will help bring that about.

For now, Israel must ease imports into Gaza, including aid and material for reconstruction. It has also agreed to expand the fishing zone for Gaza fishermen from three to six nautical miles into the Mediterranean.

‘A Moment of Truth’
The occupation of the West Bank takes on different forms with separations, home demolitions, settlements, checkpoints and other difficulties. Despite the promises of the Oslo accord of 1993 (the right of Palestinian return or compensation) and the UN resolutions declaring the occupation as a violation of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Laws, the situation continues.

In 2009, Palestinian Church leaders put out a document entitled A Moment of Truth: Kairos Palestine – A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. You can find the document at kairospalestine.ps. It is a powerful cry to Western Churches and the international community.

Part of the document states, “The West sought to make amends for what Jews had endured in the countries of Europe, but it made amends on our account and in our land. They tried to correct an injustice and the result was a new injustice. […] We know that certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights. Thus, the promises, according to their interpretation have become a menace to our very existence. The ‘good news’ in the Gospel itself has become ‘a harbinger of death’ for us. We call on these theologians to deepen their reflection on the Word of God and to rectify their interpretations so that they might see in The Word of God a source of life for all peoples.”

Author

  • Ineke hails from Zeeland, Netherlands. She immigrated with her family and grew up in the St Catharines region. She has a B.A. from Calvin College. Ineke is on the board of directors of the St. Catharines Federal Liberal Association and works on the policy committee with an emphasis on social justice issues. She is also editor of the association newsletter. Ineke is married to Ken and is the mother of five and Oma to four young children. She served as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) in the South Hebron Hills of Palestine.

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