U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently said, “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” The Israeli Ambassador responded that Guterres’ comments were “shocking”, “unfathomable” and “disconnected from reality”. He called for the Secretary General’s resignation. Below are some facts about Gaza to evaluate whether Guterres was accurate or not.
Gaza is a tiny strip of land on the Mediterranean coast with the 5,000 year old Gaza City in the north. The entire strip is only 5 miles wide by 25 miles in length with 2.3 million Palestinians locked in this territory by Israel. It is the size of a small US city.
In 1996 Israeli journalist Amira Haas published the book “Drinking the Sea at Gaza”. After living and researching in Gaza, she described the history, conditions, religion, and politics. The subtitle was “Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege”. Gaza has been under siege for decades.
About 80% of the people in Gaza are descendants of refugees who were expelled from their villages in what is now southern Israel in the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe). Most Gazans have never been able to set foot outside the territory. They are born, live their lives and die in this concentration camp.
Over 50% of Gaza’s work force is unemployed. Israel restricts nearly all aspects of their economy. For example Gaza’s fishermen are prevented from going into deeper waters to fish. If they try, they are fired on by Israeli naval boats. Israel does not permit the import of boat engines or spare parts that are deemed to “dual use”. Farmers and shepherds are fired on as they try to eke out a living.
From December 1998 until February 2001, there was an airport in Gaza until Israel bombed the control tower and destroyed the runways to make it unusable.
Gaza has a port but foreign boats are prevented from landing. In 2010, six civilian ships including the Turkish Mavi Marmara tried to bring humanitarian relief to Gaza. Israeli paratroopers attacked the ships, killing 9 passengers including one American.
Israel routinely demolishes the homes of Palestinians. In 2003, American peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the destruction of the home of a Palestinian pharmacist in in Gaza.
Israel routinely denies exit permits to outstanding youth who have received scholarships to study abroad.
In 2014 Israel bombed Gaza’s water reservoir and sanitation treatment facilities, escalating the shortage of drinking water while sewage ran in the streets. Since then, as documented by Oxfam, Israel has prevented the importation of equipment necessary to rebuild sanitation and water treatment.
In spring 2018 Gazans demonstrated against their imprisonment. They called it the Great March of Return. The two year report documents that 217 Palestinians were killed and over 19,000 injured by Israeli soldiers.
In 2020 the UN issued a report saying that Gaza is not liveable. “The primary cause of this ‘unliveable environment is a highly restrictive Israeli blockade … which has reduced Gaza to the point of ‘systematic collapse.’”
Clearly, the Secretary General was accurate in his statement that Palestinians have endured decades of “suffocating occupation”. It is a measure of the Israeli Ambassador’s sense of impunity that he attacks the top UN official who dares to state this truth.
The diplomatic conflict will increase in the coming days and weeks as Israel’s genocidal campaign continues.
The facts about Gaza and Palestine are clear: Israel is violating international law and Western states that support this are complicit. It is up to the people all over the world to speak out.
Rick Sterling is an independent journalist based in the SF Bay Area. He can be contacted at email@example.com.