End the Siege of Gaza!

Srilata Swaminathan

SRAEL'S blatant act of piracy when its navy viciously attacked and captured the Free Gaza flotilla on May 31 in international waters, killing 9 unarmed activists and injuring dozens more, has not only blown the lid off its nefarious and highhanded siege of Gaza but exposed to the world the brutalities that it has been inflicting on the hapless Palestinians for decades. This blockade of the sea coast off Gaza began over three years ago and is just one more way that Israel is trying to crush the Palestinian people and take over their lands at all costs. Needless to say, the US administration has supported the blockade under the Bush administration and continues to do so under the Obama one!
 The sea blockade is just one of the many ways in which the Palestinians are being ruthlessly marginalised, denied all rights and benefits and are being made refugees in their own land. First, all land routes into Gaza have been blocked and taken control of. Over the years, Israeli settlements have taken over more and more land till now more than ninety percent of Palestinian land is under Israeli occupation. Palestinians have to carry identity cards even to move around within their own country. All entrance and exits into Gaza are strictly policed by the Israeli IDF (Israeli Defence Force) and there are more than 570 check points which are controlled by the IDF.
Gaza is effectively cut off from the rest of the world by land, sea and air! And as though the land and sea embargoes weren’t enough the Israelis have just built a 600 km. long and 8 metre high concrete slab wall topped by razor wire, arc lights, surveillance cameras etc. at the cost of 3.2 billion dollars which is known worldwide as the Apartheid Wall. One observer has remarked that Gaza has been turned into one enormous, overcrowded and filthy prison!
Israeli stranglehold over Palestinians intensified after Hamas won a democratically fought election in 2006. Gaza has not yet recovered from the deadly “Operation Cast Lead” assault from December 2008 to January 2009 when the Israelis killed more than 1400 Palestinians while destroying buildings and infrastructure that left over 20,000 homeless. Even now barely 25% of the reconstruction has been completed.
The unemployment figures are a staggering 44% while over 80% are dependent on some sort of food aid and the number of families unable to feed themselves has gone up from 100,000 to 300,000 in just this past one year. Per capita GDP has fallen sharply from $2500 a decade ago to $600 last year. The blockades along with long power cuts and the fact that Israel has banned all exports and imports have ensured that Palestine’s industry and agriculture have come to a total halt, with hundreds of factories shutting down,  while putting thousands out of work. Gaza’s water, sanitation, education, health and power sectors are all lying in total disorder while its 1.5 million inhabitants are living in abject poverty!

Scrap Indo-Israel Arms Deals

The Israeli actions have prompted an avalanche of protests the world over calling for international sanctions and isolation of Israel, with several European countries summoning their Israeli ambassadors for explanation. But in India, the Ministry of External Affairs did not go beyond issuing an insipid condemnation while choosing to be conveniently silent on the increasing strategic and military intimacy between India and Israel. The words of condemnation will remain hollow and ritualistic until all arms deals with Israel are scrapped.
Since 2008, Israel has gained the status of India’s top defence supplier. While these deals, secured in utmost secrecy, remain mired in corruption allegations, the moot issue is that through these deals India actually subsidises Israel’s massive war economy and in fact contributes to the killings of Palestinians. 
CPI(ML) stands in solidarity with the demand for international sanctions against the state of Israel and demands for an immediate lifting of the blockade in Gaza.

CPI(ML) calls for an urgent scrapping of India’s military and strategic ties with Isreal and cancellation of India’s arms deals with Israel.

The flotilla of seven Gaza-bound ships led by the ship Mavi Marmara, were carrying 750 freedom activists from 40 countries (but mainly from Turkey) and 10,000 tons of food, medicine, construction and education materials along with other essential commodities. Prior to Hamas’ electoral victory the Israelis allowed 4000 types of goods to be imported in approx. 10,400 trucks per month. But now only 80 items are allowed in a mere 2,500 trucks per month. Instead of the Israelis making a list of banned items they have made a list of items that can be imported and so while books, paper, medicines are banned they allow mayonnaise and potato chips! Even clean drinking water is no longer available in Gaza as most water sources including the groundwater are polluted with chemicals, seawater, pesticides and sewage.
The attack on the flotilla was given huge media attention and there were protest rallies and statements given in many countries demanding that action be taken against Israel and that the Gaza blockade should be immediately lifted. Under enormous pressure from many countries and international bodies, Israel has been forced to form an investigative commission and they are reluctantly allowing two outsiders (one of whom is well known for his pro-Israeli leanings) to monitor the investigation on condition that they do not cross-examine the Israeli soldiers who took part! The last thing they want is to be crucified by another “Goldstone Report” - referring to the UN investigation into Operation Cast Lead that says Israel committed war crimes in its three-week bombardment of Gaza. But everyone knows that a commission made of the same criminals who perpetrated the crime can be nothing more than a farce! The self-enquiry commission has, of course, the blessings of the US!
One positive fall-out of the international pressure has been that Egypt, which had cooperated with Israel and supported the land and sea blockades has now re-opened its land border crossing with Gaza after they had closed them since Hamas won the elections.

Protesters Block Israeli Cargo Ship at Oakland Port in US

IN a historic action in the early morning hours of 20 June, over 800 labour and community activists blocked the gates of the Oakland docks, the sixth largest port of the US, prompting longshore workers to refuse to cross the picketlines where they were scheduled to unload an Israeli ship.
From 5:30 am to 9:30 am, a militant and spirited protest was held in front of four gates of the Stevedore Services of America, with people chanting non-stop, “Free, Free Palestine, Don’t Cross the Picket Line,” and “An injury to one is an injury to all, bring down the apartheid wall.”
Citing the health and safety provisions of their contract, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)workers refused to cross the picketline to report for duty.
To loud cheers of “Long Live Palestine!” Jess Ghannam of Free Palestine Alliance said, “This is truly historic, never before has an Israeli ship been blocked in the United States!”

The ILWU has a proud history of extending its solidarity to struggling peoples the world over. In 1984, as the Black masses of South Africa were engaged in an intense struggle against South African apartheid, the ILWU refused for a record-setting 10 days to unload cargo from the South African “Ned Lloyd” ship. Despite million-dollar fines imposed on the union, the longshore workers held strong, providing a tremendous boost to the anti-apartheid movement.

Since the shocking attack on the flotilla the Israelis have gone ahead and seized another humanitarian ship on June 7 which had 11 activists on board and carrying 750 tons of aid material. The ship was named Rachel Corrie after the woman activist of the same name who was crushed to death by Israeli bulldozers in Gaza in 2003. While nobody was killed or injured in this incident Israel has, just a few days ago, killed 4 Palestinian deep sea divers who they found ‘suspicious’!
Senior Israeli Cabinet ministers are currently debating to decide on whether to lift the blockade on Gaza but the general consensus among them is to keep the blockades but increase the amount of goods allowed in to Gaza. But hopefully Israel will find it much more complicated as Turkey has just cancelled a major trade agreement with it, Italy is not inviting it to the Conference of that region that is to be held next month, and Iran is planning on stepping in and sending some aid ships to break the blockade!

The US has been the real culprit and has unashamedly used its might and power to support Israel. For all Obama’s rhetoric the US continues to give it $3 billion in aid annually and has promised it $50 billion in arms over the next ten years. Obama has been Israel’s staunchest ally throughout the flotilla attack, has helped defuse the situation in the United Nations and is strongly supporting Israel’s right to conduct its own investigation because otherwise it fears that its own complicity and double standards will be further exposed.