CJ Werleman highlights the brutal circumstances of people living in Gaza, as they are forced to live in a perpetual conflict zone

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Last week marked 15 years since Israel turned Gaza into the world’s largest open-air concentration camp, where 95% of the Palestinian population lack access to clean water, and nearly two-thirds of children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. 

I likened the 365 square kilometre enclave to hell on earth when I visited in 2017, and the five years since have delivered even worse conditions.

Denied freedom of movement and the educational and employment opportunities that come with it, the Palestinian youth unemployment rate sits above 70%. A loss of opportunity is accompanied by a loss of hope manifesting through psychological trauma – including anxiety, depression, and the PTSD of living in constant fear and deprivation.

It’s for this reason that Gaza’s mental health crisis has been described as its “invisible bullet wound”, with one report finding that 81% of Gazan school children struggle academically because of conflict-related stress, while another found that 38% of young people have considered suicide at least one.

For those who have reached their breaking point during seemingly never-ending Israeli military enforced lockdown, taking their own life has become the only means of escape.

These horrors should embarrass every British citizen, given the UK Government is implicated in Israel’s crimes. 

After encouraging Gaza to hold elections, with Israel withdrew its forces from the Palestinian territory in 2005, then Prime Minister Tony Blair and United States President George W. Bush suddenly lost their appetite for democracy when Palestinian voters handed Hamas, a militant resistance movement, a decisive and historic victory at the ballot box.

Blair put his full support behind Bush’s move to halt aid to and cut ties with the newly elected Hamas-led authority unless it agreed to recognise the state of Israel and renounce violence. A year later, the UK and US put its full support behind Israel’s move to punish Hamas by blockading Gaza and locking 2 million of its residents in a steel cage, a policy that remains in place today.

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Often overlooked today are the covert actions taken by the US to overthrow Hamas, including the backing of an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, a move that not only sparked a bloody civil war in Gaza, leaving nearly 200 Palestinians dead, but also made Hamas stronger than ever.

Sources within the Bush administration told Vanity Fair in 2008 that the plot was ridiculed by Government insiders as “Iran-contra 2.0” because of the way it echoed past foreign policy blunders in the Middle East and South America, including the CIA’s ousting of the democratically-elected Iranian Government in 1953, which paved the way for the 1979 Islamic Revolution; and the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, which helped to solidify Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba.

Whether Blair was or wasn’t informed of the anti-democratic plot is hardly important now, but what we do know is the former Prime Minister has stated his “regret” for siding with Israel and Bush over the Hamas boycott in 2006, saying in a 2017 interview that the international community should have tried to “pull Hamas into a dialogue and shifted their positions.”

However, Blair’s mea cupla has done little to stop historians, including Avi Shlaim, a Professor of International Relations at St Antony’s College, Oxford, from labelling Blair “Gaza’s Great Betrayer” for ignoring how Hamas leaders “adopted a more pragmatic stand towards Israel than that enshrined its charter, repeatedly expressing its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire”.

“But there was no one to talk to on the Israeli side”, Shlaim says.


The Brink of Annihilation

In choosing to refuse dialogue with Hamas, both the UK and US gave Israel permission to wage a regime change war on Gaza in late December 2008, which took the lives of 1,387 Palestinians, including 300 children, and completely destroyed more than 3,500 homes, while leaving another 13,000 severely or partly damaged.

“Gaza has been bombed back not to the Stone Age, but to the mud age,” said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in 2008, which called for an immediate lifting of this “senseless blockade”.

But the blockade has never ended. Instead, Gaza has suffered repeated Israeli military operations, including 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, in which Israeli forces boasted firing 390,000 tank shells, 34,000 artillery shells, and nearly 5 million bullets upon Gaza’s population, leaving 2,200 Palestinians dead, including 500 children.

The arsenal fired on Gaza equalled more than two bullets for every resident and the ordinance power of 13,000 tons of high-explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT) – the equivalent of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This barrage left more than 10,000 homes and hundreds of businesses completely destroyed. Gaza is now completely “unliveable”, according to the UN, but Israeli warplanes have continued to pound the Gaza Strip on a near monthly basis ever since.

Meanwhile, the most recent UN World Happiness Report, has Israel breaking into the top 10 of the world’s happiest countries for the first time, ranked ninth, with the Palestinians Territories ranked towards the bottom, in 122nd place.

Whereas ordinary Israelis are as happy as those who live in the most economically, socially, and politically prosperous nations on earth, such as Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Denmark, Palestinians are as miserable as those who live in war-ravaged countries, such as Myanmar, Iraq, and Yemen.

Israelis are living their very best lives, while Palestinians are living their very worst, and the UK Government is culpable – having enabled Israel’s shameful and criminal blockade of Gaza, which has brought Palestinians to the brink of annihilation.

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