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Gaza carnage - the 'living cartoon of the war in the Middle East'

As the atrocities in Gaza continue and hundreds of innocent people perished senselessly, the world, especially the West, continues to perform its self-gratifying and preposterous umpiring "duty". It calls for the Palestinians to respect rules of international law, stop spewing anti-Israeli hate, and cease the indiscriminate rockets on Israel. It touted Israel's "right to self-defence" as the justifying mantra for the latest and every prior carnage in Gaza.

At the same time, it blames the Palestinians' own failure to build solid educational, economic and educational infrastructure in Gaza after the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the strip, and for having elected Hamas - a terrorist organisation, as the governing authority in Gaza. As such, the Palestinians have failed to earn international respect and recompense. Some went on to say that the current and preceding battles between Israel and Hamas have been a direct result of a very wrong decision by the Palestinians a decade ago.

With such prevalent Western views, some emboldened Israeli right-wingers have called for Gaza to be "returned to the Stone Age". But wait, haven't already the Palestinians in Gaza been living in conditions not so dissimilar to those in the Stone Age? Or even worse?

The answers may be reached after considering the following facts.

While it is true that Israel removed its military installations and settlements from inside Gaza in 2005, it has retained control of the Palestinian population registry, of Gaza's sea and air space, of a "buffer zone" of land inside Gaza, of Gaza's only commercial crossing and thereby controlling all entrance and exit of goods as well as the pedestrian crossing at Erez that connects Gaza to the West Bank and Israel.

The extent of Israeli control of every vital aspect of life in Gaza is virtually complete. It is Israel that has sole authority in facilitating the entrance of goods to Gaza. Palestinian traders purchase the goods but it's Israel that must allow them to be transferred into Gaza. With difficult access to international markets of goods, Gaza residents turned to Israeli goods. In 2012, they purchased Israeli products at a whopping estimated value of 1.3 billion shekels (approximately US$380 million). To tighten the noose due to the current armed battle, Israel began limiting the types of goods that could be transferred to Gaza, allowing in only medicine, food and fuel. Other items, like clothing, shoes, wood, and paper are prohibited from entering. Export of goods from Palestine has not been allowed since June 9.

Long before that, Israel has limited the entrance of items it defines as "dual use", including construction materials. Sales and transfer of construction materials to the Palestinian private sector has been completely banned for the last nine months. The ban has led to a sharp rise in unemployment. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 24,200 individuals working in the construction sector in the mid-2013, but by summer of 2014, only 6,800 people were employed in this sector.

In the first quarter of 2014, the unemployment rate among the Palestinians was 40 per cent, the highest of which (58.2 per cent) was among younger generation (age 15-29). More than 70 per cent of the population of Gaza receives some kind of humanitarian aid. There is no worse fuel for radicalisation than the void of hope.

The movement of people has also been subject to the same Israeli control. Palestinian residents in Gaza have to get permission from Israeli authorities to leave the territory, and there is no guarantee that the permission will be granted. Can we even imagine that we, Thais, have to ask the permission from another country to leave Thailand, and then be denied? What about dignity?

Talking about the Stone Age, it is worth knowing that residents of Gaza experience rolling blackouts totalling about 12 hours per day on the average. The demand for electricity in Gaza ranges between 350-450 MW, depending on the seasons.

The capacity of Gaza's sole power plant was drastically reduced and not fully restored since it was bombed by Israel in 2006. Today, this plant can supply only two-thirds of the demand of electricity. As the result, Gaza residents purchase 120MW from Israel and another 28MW from Egypt. That is not nearly enough. Now, Israeli officials have called for the cut of electricity supply from Israel to Gaza.

Contrary to the general outside perception that Gaza should be punished for having elected the Hamas as their governing authority, residents of Gaza did not vote for Hamas. In fact, Hamas representatives won a majority of parliamentary seats in the Palestinian Authority-wide elections that took place in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 2006.

In 2007, the Hamas took control of Gaza by force, and elections have not been held in the Palestinian territory since. Also, it is worthy of note that more than 53 per cent of current Gaza population is under the age of 18. That means that a vast majority of people in Gaza were not even eligible to vote when the elections took place in 2006.

Yes, the world can talk about the Palestinians respecting international laws and Israeli right to defend itself. How many have asked the question of the Palestinians' right to freedom and dignity, let alone justice? How many have asked what right Great Britain had in granting somebody else's country in 1917 to other peoples? And that was long before the Holocaust when millions of Jews were unjustly prosecuted, not by Muslims, but at the hand of White Christians.

On July 14, Roger Cohen of New York Times argued that Israel did not really want to destroy the Palestinian Gaza, it only wanted the "status quo" minus Hamas rockets, and that the last thing Israel wanted was to go into Gaza and get stuck. But can that status quo be maintained when absolute injustice for the Palestinians continues to be allowed, and the fundamental issues of the conflicts conveniently swept under the rug?

To this question, Jon Stewart, host of television's Daily Show, who is Jewish, did a satire on the disproportional advantages of Israelis over the Palestinians, calling the battles the "living cartoon of the war in the Middle East". His comments drew harsh responses, especially from the Jewish community. They called him names like "knee-jerk idiot" and "self-hating pro-Hamas Jew".

But that is a small price to pay for doing the right thing - saying the truth.


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