THE FORGOTTEN GAZA STRIP

THE HISTORY OF GAZA SPANS 4000 YEARS. IT WAS A CARAVAN HUB OF STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE LINKING SOUTH EAST ASIA TO EUROPE. PEPPER, CINNAMON, NUTMEG, CLOVES ARE BUT A FEW OF THE SPICES AND GOODS THAT FOR CENTURIES PASSED THROUGH GAZA AND MOVED THE WORLD ECONOMY.

GAZA HAS ALSO WEATHERED THE REGION’S MAJOR EMPIRES-THE EGYPTIANS, PERSIANS, GREEKS, ROMANS, BYZANTINES, ARABS AND OTTOMANS

THE FOUNDING OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL IN 1948 CHANGED THE MAP DRAMATICALLY. THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SEVERED GAZA FROM THE REST OF HISTORIC PALESTINE, LEAVING ONLY A SMALL ENCLAVE SOME 25 MILES LONG AND 3 TO 5 MILES WIDE. IN 1948 OVER 700,000 PALESTINIANS WERE FORCED TO FLEE THEIR TOWNS AND VILLAGES. THOSE IN NEIGHBORING TOWNS AND VILLAGES TOOK REFUGE IN GAZA.

GAZA FELL UNDER EGYPTIAN ADMINISTRATIVE RULE UNTIL 1967 WHEN DURING THE JUNE ’67 ARAB ISRAELI WAR ISRAEL OCCUPIED GAZA AND CUT IT OFF FROM EGYPT. IT WAS AT THAT TIME THAT ISRAEL ALSO OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM, THE WEST BANK AND SYRIA’S GOLAN HEIGHTS. 

UNTIL THE OCCUPATION IN ’67 THE GAZAN ECONOMY WAS PRIMARILY AGRICULTURE AND FISHING BASED. AFTER THEIR LANDS WERE CONFISCATED IN 1967 TO BUILD ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS AND THEIR ORCHARDS UPROOTED, PALESTINIANS WERE OBLIGED TO BECOME DAY LABORERS INSIDE ISRAEL.

IN 2000 THEN PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON CLOSED THE BORDER BETWEEN ISRAEL AND GAZA. OVERNIGHT 100,000 MEN LOST THEIR DAY JOBS IN ISRAEL. ONCE THE MOST SKILLED LABOR FORCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST, THESE MEN WERE REDUCED TO AID-DEPENDENT CONSUMERS WITH A PRODUCTION SECTOR AT ALMOST ZERO.

IN 2005 ARIEL SHARON CARRIED OUT WHAT HE CALLED A “UNILATERAL DISENGAGEMENT” FROM THE GAZA STRIP, PULLING SOME 7000 ISRAELI SETTLERS WHO HAD OCCUPIED GAZA FOR 38 YEARS AND PLACING THEM IN SETTLEMENTS IN THE WEST BANK.  

THESE SETTLERS COMPRISED ½ OF 1% OF THE POPULATION IN GAZA YET THEY OCCUPIED 20% OF THE LAND WHILE AN ADDITIONAL 10% WAS KEPT UNDER ISRAELI MILITARY CONTROL.

AFTER THE SETTLERS WITHDREW THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY MADE PLANS TO REVITALIZE GAZA’S ECONOMY. HOWEVER, IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH THIS THEY NEEDED ISRAEL’S COOPERATION.  INSTEAD, ISRAEL SURROUNDED GAZA WITH CONCRETE WALLS AND HIGH FENCES AND STRICTLY CONTROLLED ALL ACCESS IN AND OUT OF THE STRIP, INCLUDING THE RAFAH CROSSING BETWEEN GAZA AND EGYPT FOR BOTH PEOPLE AND GOODS.

IN 2006 HAMAS WON DEMOCRATICALLY HELD ELECTIONS WHICH WERE MONITORED BY PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER. ISRAEL AND THE US EXPECTED ABBAS’S FATAH PARTY TO WIN. AS I MENTION IN Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, THE PALESTINIANS IN BOTH THE WEST BANK AND GAZA, FED UP WITH THE CORRUPTION WITHIN THE FATAH RANKS, VOTED HAMAS INTO POWER. THEY WON 76 OUT OF THE 132 SEATS IN THE PALESTINIAN PARLIAMENT. THE FIRST THING HAMAS DID WHEN IT WON ELECTIONS WAS TO PROPOSAL A LONG-TERM TRUCE WITH ISRAEL. IT HAS SINCE AGREED TO ACCEPT A PEACE TREATY BASED ON THE ’67 BORDERS WHICH IS AN IMPLICIT RECOGNITION OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL, A CONSTANT DEMAND BOTH OF ISRAEL AND THE US GOVERNMENT. THE TRUCE OFFER WAS IGNORED BY BOTH ISRAEL AND THE US GOVERNMENT. INSTEAD REPRISALS FOR VOTING THE WRONG WAY  QUICKLY FOLLOWED BOTH FROM THE US GOVERNMENT IN THE FORM OF SANCTIONS AND FROM ISRAEL WHICH CUT OFF THE GAZA STRIP FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD, CREATING AN OPEN AIR PRISON WITH SOME 1.7 MILLION INMATES, 55% OF WHOM ARE UNDER THE AGE OF 18.

THE GAZA STRIP COULD HAVE BECOME A PROSPEROUS MEDITERRANEAN REGION WITH ITS RICH AGRICULTURE AND A FLOURISHING FISHING INDUSTRY, A HIGHLY EDUCATED POPULATION, MARVELOUS BEACHES AND GOOD FINANCIAL PROSPECTS DUE TO THE RECENT DISCOVERY OF EXTENSIVE NATURAL GAS SUPPLIES FOUND WITHIN ITS TERRITORIAL WATERS. BY COINCIDENCE OR NOT, THIS WAS PRECISELY WHEN ISRAEL INTENSIFIED IS NAVAL BLOCKADE ALONG GAZA’S COASTLINE.

INSTEAD GAZA HAS BEEN SUBJECTED TO NUMEROUS ISRAELI ASSAULTS NOT LEAST OF WHICH WAS THE 2014 51-DAY POUNDING OF GAZA RESULTING IN 2,217 DEAD, 11,000 WOUNDED AND 111,000 HOMES DAMAGED OR DESTROYED, THE VAST MAJORITY OF WHICH HAVE YET TO BE REBUILT BECAUSE ISRAEL STRICTLY RATIONS THE BUILDING MATERIALS IT ALLOWS INTO GAZA.

ONCE A FERTILE, PRODUCTIVE AND SUSTAINABLE TERRITORY, THE GAZA OF 2016 HAS BEEN TRANSFORMED INTO A RADICALLY IMPOVERISHED POLITICAL POWER KEG WERE AID DEPENDENCE WENT FROM 10% IN 2000 TO 80% WITH NO AUTONOMY AND ON THE BRINK OF ECOLOGICAL DISASTER THROUGH A COMBINATION OF ISRAELI ASSAULTS AND ECONOMIC DESTABILIZATION.

BERNIE SANDERS HAS NOT FORGOTTEN GAZA AND ITS PEOPLE. “PEACE,” HE SAID, “WILL ALSO MEAN ENDING THE ECONOMIC BLOCKAGE OF GAZA AND BESTOWING ON ALL PALESTINIANS THEIR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.”

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