Fragmentation and collapse of the health system in Gaza is partly due to Israeli blockade and continued political violence. Meanwhile, homes, families and innocent lives are being destroyed by militants on both sides of the conflict: bombings in Gaza accounted to more than 2000 casualties in 2014.
Heard of the documentary ‘Five Broken Cameras’? Give it a watch if you haven’t already. Over the course of five years, Palestinian Emad Burnet’s camera is broken five times by threatening Israeli soldiers who continue to disrupt peace in his village. They don’t want the assaults, arrests and incursions to be filmed. His five cameras collectively paint a raw account of the lives of Palestinians on the outskirts of the West Bank, whose lives are disrupted by persisting Israeli settlement expansion. Gradually, a concrete wall is built along Emad’s village, closing in on his Palestinian homeland and progressively restricting freedom of movement.
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is complicated. We must be careful not to choose sides; generations of hostility and hate are only deepened if we continue to do so. Besides, lives have been lost and crimes committed on both sides. However, it is difficult not to feel enraged when protesters against Israeli military incursion have been detained purely for exercising their freedom of speech. If settlers continue to occupy Palestinian land, of course there will be dispute, of course there will be opposition. Protesters as young as 16 have been arrested and torn away from their families; illegal Israeli settlements continue to be built along the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Inhabitants are being forced to evict their homes, shoved away by men in armour, holding guns, threatening children and families with tear gas if they contest. There is less and less land for Palestinians to call their own.
Governed by Hamas, Gaza is a war zone; militants on both sides have been at war three times since 2008. The region’s 1.9 million inhabitants are victims to an ongoing navy blockade imposed by Israel. Of 86 hospitals and clinics in occupied Palestinian territories, 73 have suffered damage and losses in the conflict between July and August 2014. Yet health services cannot be rebuilt while Gaza is still under siege. Medicine is expensive and often unavailable. Hospitals are struggling with lack of free beds, so patients are often discharged prematurely and without follow-up. Mental illness is on the rise, and because food insecurity is common, almost 50% of preschool children in Gaza are anaemic and malnourished.
The Freedom Flotilla is an international movement directed at disrupting the siege on Gaza. One of its campaigns, Women’s Boat to Gaza, calls on the strength and solidarity of women in the fight for justice in Palestine. As much as it represents passive opposition against the Israeli blockade, it also encompasses female empowerment – a celebration of the valuable role, influence and voice of women in the campaign for civil and human rights.
Thirty female activists began their journey from Sicily on the 4th October on two boats, Zaytouna-Oliva and Amal, with an aim to arrive in Gaza within three days. Campaigners from across the world included a Nobel Peace Laureate from Northern Ireland, an MP from New Zealand, a Swedish European Parliament Member and American screenwriter. A squad of influential women from across the world, joining forces for peace and justice, is wonderfully affirming – particularly for the young Palestinian women they aimed to journey toward. It sends a message to the women of Gaza that they are not alone. Even Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters has drawn attention to the cause.
However passive the movement may be, the resistance carries risks. Media reports alleged that Israeli navy ships were planning to intercept the two boats. Although the Amal had to stop after it broke down early in its course, the Zaytouna-Oliva continued across the Mediterranean Sea. However, on Wednesday 5th October, 40 miles from Gaza’s shore, it was intercepted by Israeli forces. The boat was searched, diverted to an Israeli port by Thursday, and the activists on board detained for two days deprived of sleep. A video of Madeleine Habib, captain of the Zaytouna-Oliva, was consequently posted on YouTube by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. ‘If you’re seeing this video, it’s because I’ve been captured in international waters by Israeli forces. I urge you to contact the Australian Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and request my immediate release.’ By Friday, the activists were deported.
Solidarity boats to Gaza have been raided by Israeli Occupation Forces in the past. In May 2010, one American and eight Turkish activists were killed on board a Gaza Freedom Flotilla boat. A tenth activist died four years later. Despite the risks of arrest and deportation, activists from across the world have continued to join in solidarity to plan and attempt to travel across to Gaza. It is an act of unity, to offer hope to the captivated civilians of Gaza. This blockade of Palestinian land is untenable. More media and international attention to the illegal acts going on here are demanded.
The interception of the Zaytouna-Oliva on international waters was an act of piracy.
Detainment of the unarmed women on board was an act of kidnap.
Air raids launched across Gaza, and the continued captivity of Palestinians living there, are acts of negligence for basic human rights.
By the time the fifth and last camera is introduced in ‘Five Broken Cameras’, Emad’s son Gibreel has grown to 5 years of age. Emad expresses sadness at the loss of his son’s innocence, growing up exposed to the hostility and oppression in his suffering Palestinian village. Emad cannot predict the future for this son; he knows only for certain that the conflict will be a significant part of his life, influencing his values and beliefs as a Palestinian man fighting for his rights to his homeland.
But it’s not about taking sides. Long-standing political and religious strife make this issue complex. Regardless, there is absolutely no need for settlement expansion, to smother land entitled to the people that already live there. There is no justification for ground incursion and civilian blood spilt. And there is no excuse for the captivity and siege of millions of Palestinians along the Gaza strip.
Fragmentation and collapse of the health system in Gaza is partly due to Israeli blockade and continued political violence. Meanwhile, homes, families and innocent lives are being destroyed by militants on both sides of the conflict: bombings in Gaza accounted to more than 2000 casualties in 2014. The second intifada, or ‘uprising’, ended in 2005. Since October 2015, there has been an escalation of tension, conflict and bloodshed across Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Over the past year, there have been a high number of deaths of both Palestinians and Israelis. Is the third intifada lingering around the corner? One would pray that the febrile unrest of the last two uprisings never again repeat themselves. Hope, too, that one-day secularism, democracy, and a two-state solution may become a possibility.
Hope and pray for peace in Palestine and Israel.