“…a person who hears the voice of a man who calls the Muslims to his help but he does not respond to him, is not a Muslim.”
– Prophet Muhammad
Gaza is an island.
Although located in the middle of the Arab world and bordering one of its principal and most populous countries, it could very well be in the middle of the ocean, isolated and unbeknownst to anyone. Its residents, if given the choice, may actually prefer this setting than bear witness to the malignant neglect afforded them by their fellow Arabs as Gaza inexorably withers under the barbaric Israeli siege.
If there were any doubts of its dire situation, they were removed by Dr. Richard Falk, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories.
On Dec. 9, Falk clearly and forcefully stated that, “An urgent effort should be made at the United Nations to implement the agreed norm of a responsibility to protect a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a Crime Against Humanity.”
Yes, crimes against humanity are being committed in Gaza according to a Jewish-American professor of international law, and nary a peep was heard from Cairo, Amman, Riyadh or Doha.
“If the UN says that the tight siege on the Gaza Strip is a war crime, we wonder why Arab leaders do not demand the reopening of the Rafah crossing,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, in reference to the land border crossing shared with Egypt.
The UNHRC harshly reprimanded Israel for its policies toward Palestinians generally and its blockade of Gaza specifically, calling for an end to their “cruel, inhuman and degrading” punishments. Falk also insisted the UN International Criminal Court investigate Israel’s behavior and actions in order to “determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.”
In the face of Dr. Falk’s and the UNHRC’s findings and conclusions, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the princes, sheikhs and emirs of the Gulf fiefdoms, and the feckless Arab League, all remained silent.
Some Ships Set Sail … and Others Don’t
Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens have been cut off from the rest of the world since June 2007. That is when Hamas exerted full authority over the tiny strip of land and its borders were subsequently sealed by Israel and Egypt. Since then, the Israelis have imposed ever more severe restrictions on what may enter the territory, now significantly limiting even the most basic of humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, clothing, cooking oil and medicine. As a result, according to Iran’s Press TV, hundreds of patients have died, 40 percent of ambulances have stopped running due to lack of fuel, and 75 percent of Gaza’s children suffer from malnutrition. As reported in the Dec. 14 Sunday Times, some families have now resorted to eating grass. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency just announced it has been forced to suspend food distribution to the 750,000 Gazans who depend on them for assistance. It has run out of flour and with all border crossings closed by Israel, there is no way for its trucks to enter and replenish empty food stockpiles.
Attempts have been made to break the siege on Gaza. Who has tried, and who has not, is most telling.
The U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement has successfully landed four ships on its shores, bringing humanitarian relief along with academicians, journalists and doctors, and leaving with patients in need of medical attention and students otherwise prohibited from studying abroad.
Heroic grassroots movements such as this have raised needed awareness of Gaza’s plight, but the question remains: where are the ships from the Arab countries?
In early December, a Libyan cargo vessel carrying 3,000 tons of food, powdered milk and blankets to Gaza was turned away by Israel under the pretext of not having diplomatic relations with Libya. That has been the only attempt made by an Arab or Muslim country to challenge the Israeli blockade.
A Qatar-based aid group, simply named Qatar Charity, was set to send a shipment of $2 million in cancer medication shortly after the Libyan endeavor. Under intense pressure from the Israeli government, however, Qatar capitulated and cancelled the trip just hours before departure.
Within the last week, Iran’s Red Crescent Society stated its intention to send a relief ship with 1,000 tons of supplies including wheat, sugar, rice, cooking oil, and medical supplies.
“Unfortunately so far the Egyptian government had not allowed us to send the relief items to them by air,” said its Secretary-General, Ahmad Moussavi.
And that aptly summarizes the second heinous crime being committed against Gaza: the complicity of the Arab states in abetting the Israeli siege.
Protests From Afar
There have been large rallies in Tehran in support of Palestinians and in protest against Israeli actions, with equal venom directed at Hosni Mubarak for not opening the Rafah crossing to allow in humanitarian aid. This caused Iran’s Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami (no relation to former President Mohammad Khatami) to declare:
“Certain Arab leaders should be tried as ‘betrayers’ for all Israeli crimes in the occupied lands and the Gaza Strip.”
Mubarak replied to Iran’s criticism by characteristically warning of a “Persian” invasion of Arab countries; an all too tired and racist refrain which avoids addressing the matter at hand. Sporadic and smaller demonstrations have taken place in Beirut and by the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The Real Threat Posed by Gaza: Democracy
No one should be surprised at the Arabs’ foot dragging (at best) or collusion with the Israelis (at worst) in maintaining the siege.
Egypt is the most egregious offender of course, easily able to open the Rafah crossing at will, or permanently, to allow desperately needed supplies in, and civilians in need of medical care, out. The deafening—and deadly—silence from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states is not unexpected. In the July 2006 invasion and destruction of Lebanon for example, the leaders of all of these nations gave their tacit approval to the Israeli onslaught in the hopes that Hezbollah would ultimately be destroyed.
But what threat does Hezbollah and Hamas pose to them?
These groups are looked at much differently in the Middle East than in Western Europe or the United States. Whereas the latter two narrowly question how they may imperil Israel, the Arab leaders question what ramifications the democratic elections they call for, or were elected by, may have on their own grip on power.
Hence the unelected monarchs and dictators such as Mubarak and the Kings Abdullah find parties such as Hamas and Hezbollah anathema, for they have used the power of the ballot as a stamp of their legitimacy. That is something those rulers have never had, or if so, in nothing more than sham elections. For this reason alone, the Israeli siege of Gaza remains tolerated and unchallenged by the regions’ U.S.-supported dictators, kings, princes and emirs. The entire population of Gaza is paying dearly for their experiment in democracy, which elected Hamas in 2006, and they will continue to do so for some time.
The vast majority of human rights activists, advocates and people of conscious are rightly condemning Israel for its cruel blockade. But what they have wholly failed to denounce is the acquiescence of the Arab and Muslim countries to it.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, in a recently televised speech, called for open-ended demonstrations until the siege is lifted. He also addressed the Arab heads of state directly:
“Where are your Arab sensibilities? When a million-and-a-half Arab people in the Gaza Strip are living under a siege, in hunger, under threat? My humanitarian, religious, Islamic, and Arabic sensibilities call on me to take part in actions and protests against it.”
When the siege of Gaza ends—and it will end, but only after a terrible price has been exacted—and its citizens in future years and generations are asked why it was allowed to continue on for so long, they will point east, west and south, and say:
“We had met the enemy. And they were us.”
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri <at> yahoo.com.