This month, as the devastating blockade on the Gaza Strip officially entered its 15th year, I re-read David Rose’s explosive report, The Gaza Bombshell, to remind myself (as if it is possible to forget) how the United States and Israel worked together to transform my homeland into what even the most mainstream NGOs describe as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.
The story, as shocking as it may be, is quite simple. In early 2006, the Bush administration in the US kindly “invited” the people of Gaza to head to the polls to elect their representatives in a legislative council election. While Gazan Palestinians thought, as is customary in democratic elections, they should vote for the candidates they believed would best represent their interests, this was not the case – Washington wanted us to vote according to its, and Israel’s, interests instead.
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So, Palestinians ended up making the “wrong” choice, at least in the eyes of our colonial oppressors. And we have been severely punished for this “mistake” for the past 15 years.
The deadly blockade imposed on us for electing Hamas turned Gaza not only into an open-air prison, but into a concentration camp: in this once beautiful enclave, two million people, almost half of them children under the age of 15, are now desperately trying to survive without a secure supply of water, food, electricity and medicines, in a clear violation of international humanitarian law embodied in the Geneva Conventions.
In the last 15 years, while under this medieval siege that turned us into prisoners in our own homeland, we also endured four genocidal wars. More than 4,000 civilians, including many children, perished under Israeli bombardment, for the sole crime of being born in Gaza.
As we were being systemically brutalised, maimed, imprisoned and killed, the international community did nothing but watch idly by – perhaps because the majority of us do not have what is needed (blue eyes and blonde hair) for them to conclude we are somewhat “civilised” and worthy of human dignity.
Of course, life in Gaza was not much better before this blockade.
In the year 2000, before the beginning of the Second Intifada, when many believed there was relative “peace” in Palestine, for example, my dream of starting an academic career at An-Najah University in Nablus in the West Bank was crushed simply because I was a resident of Gaza.
Back then, Israel allowed at least some Palestinians safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank. I applied for a permit, providing the necessary documents from An-Najah. One week later, I was told that my application had been turned down – no reason was given.
I wanted to find out, so I went to the Beit Hanoon (Erez) checkpoint one morning at 6am to try and obtain access to the files Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has on me. I was told to join a queue and wait to be interviewed by a Shin Bet officer who may or may not tell me why I was not allowed to pass into the West Bank. I waited all day. At 5pm, someone just asked me to leave without offering any information. To this day, I have no idea why my application was denied. And I have not been able to visit the West Bank since.
So the siege of Gaza did not start 15 years ago. It did not even start 22 years ago, in 2000, when I tried to get that job in the West Bank. It started almost 30 years ago, with the signing of the Oslo Accords and perhaps even before that. Israel, and its powerful allies like the US, always saw us Gazans as an inconvenience, a surplus population they need to get rid of one way or another. The siege we have been under for the past 15 years is just the latest chapter in our oppressors’ efforts to be rid of us.
Former US President Jimmy Carter was not exaggerating when he said: “[Palestinians in the Gaza Strip] are being treated more like animals than human beings … [n]ever before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then been deprived of the means to repair itself.”
That rare recognition of our situation by an American leader was of course more than 10 years ago, in 2009. Since then, our situation has become demonstrably worse. And it will continue to worsen.
I know things are going to get worse because Israel is publicly and unashamedly tightening our chains. At the end of last year, it announced the completion of a 65km-long (40 miles) underground barrier around Gaza equipped with hundreds of cameras, radars and other sensors. The project reportedly includes a more than six-metre (20ft) high “smart fence” and its maritime barrier has electronic devices to detect infiltration by sea and a remote-controlled weapons system. Constructed using 140,000 tonnes of iron and steel, it apparently took Israel three and a half years to complete this high-tech addition to our prison.
Today, as it has always been, Israel is intent on erasing, destroying, and disappearing Gaza and Gazans. Israelis did not see us as humans with agency who deserve dignity and freedom 15 years ago, and they still do not acknowledge our humanity today. We are nothing but an inconvenience to them. As the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once openly admitted, we could “sink into the sea” for all they care.
They will keep us imprisoned on this strip, and continue to slowly suffocate us for another 15 or even 150 years if the world does not wake up and say “enough”. The blockade on Gaza is a stain on human history. On this shameful anniversary, the international community is obligated to take action and start doing what is necessary to finally open the doors of our prison.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.