New Internationalist

When oh when will I get back home?

As of today, the Gaza Strip has been sealed for 20 consecutive days. The Israeli military has permitted only minimal amounts of humanitarian aid, plus some food stocks, to enter Gaza, and fuel supplies are now almost exhausted. People are not starving in Gaza, but aid agencies have been forced to scale down distribution, and the power cuts across the Strip are relentless. Every day I speak to my friends and colleagues, and they seem to be coping remarkably well, though you can hear the undertones of despair whenever they talk about this brutal siege.

I am not in Gaza, though I've been trying to get back to my apartment in Gaza city for almost two weeks now. Erez Terminal is the main pedestrian crossing into Gaza, and yesterday I drove down there because I'd heard it might be open - but I was refused entry by the Israeli military, and drove back to Jerusalem and unpacked my suitcase again. I'm staying with a friend in Jerusalem, and she took me out for dinner last night to console me. 'For once you've been locked out of Gaza, not inside,' she said. 'Everyone who lives in Gaza is either locked in, or out.'

I constantly talk about wanting to get back 'home', but under the circumstances most people would probably agree I'm luckier to be locked out of Gaza rather than inside. I'm staying in a comfortable apartment, with constant electricity and hot water, and can go out for a drink or a nice meal in a restaurant whenever I feel like it. Life in Jerusalem is easy.

I often take the bus to Ramallah, on the nearby Palestinian West Bank, to visit friends. With its cafés, restaurants, bars and splurge of fancy new shops, Ramallah is a world apart from Gaza. People in Gaza often say that West Bankers don't like them, or understand what they are going through, and the gulf between the two territories is widening on every level. Fatah is in control of the West Bank, while Hamas rules Gaza, and both movements have launched crackdowns against each other, harassing, intimidating and detaining their political opponents. The unity of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is a tragic bad joke, with the worst lines yet to come.

Meanwhile, Israel, which regards Hamas as a terrorist organization, is determined to keep 1.6 million civilians sealed inside Gaza. The official Israeli reason for the current suffocating closure is that they want to ensure Hamas, and the other militant groups inside Gaza, stop firing rockets into Israel. As a woman commented in response to my last blog, Gazan militants have been firing rockets into Israel for years. The rockets are senseless, and achieve nothing, but only exacerbate the stand-off between Hamas and Israel, which Hamas can only lose.

But Israel's sealing of the Gaza Strip is a mistake, for the simple reason that it will not work. The ceasefire between Gaza and Israel worked for five months, with barely a single rocket fired towards Israel, until the Israeli military killed six Palestinians inside Gaza three weeks ago. When you lock people up en masse, and impose massive collective punishment against an entire population, then those with weapons have nothing left to lose. There is no easy answer to the Israel/Gaza question - but locking up Gaza will not make the people inside cower - it will breed the very extremism that Israel claims it is intent on wiping out.

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