The enclave of Gaza, one of the most densely populated places in the world, will mark a decade of life under a strangulating siege next month. Some two million people, many born since the blockade was in place, are imprisoned there in a frightening human experiment, as if someone were trying to study how long people can survive when they are isolated from the world, their cultural environment, and any economic or national horizon.
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In order to keep this enclave alive, Israel sends in measured and insufficient quantities of construction materials. It also allows the transfer of food and medicines and, in exceptional cases, even permits a few hundred people to leave the Strip for abroad – a little less than 1,000 people since January 2016.
The Gaza Strip is caught by the throat in a pincer movement, with one arm being held by Israel and the other by Egypt, which has sealed the Rafah border crossing on all but a few days a year.
Recently, and as reported Tuesday by Jack Khoury, Jordan has also erected an unofficial barrier against Gaza’s residents. Gazans say they have experienced trouble obtaining transit visas (known in Arabic as “non-impediment” permits) to enter the Hashemite Kingdom. Without these permits, Israel won’t allow them to leave Gaza and Jordan won’t allow them to enter its territory.
So, another possible exit route from the Strip has been blocked, in a move that symbolizes the inconceivable hardships imposed on civilians whose only desire is to leave in order to study, obtain medical treatment or just breathe the air outside of Gaza.
There is no justification for the closure of Gaza. It hasn’t prevented missiles from being fired at Israel. It hasn’t caused the hoped-for public uprising against the Hamas government. And it constitutes an incubator for the development of despair and cycles of violence that have made the lives of residents of southern Israel intolerable.
Moreover, the negotiations Israel is conducting with Turkey over a rehabilitation of their bilateral relationship is likely to lead to a significant easing of the siege. This proves that the blockade has lost its security justification and is now serving as a diplomatic bargaining chip – and not even between Israel and the Palestinians, but between Israel and a third party. Residents of Gaza, who thought they were imprisoned in their towns only because of the Hamas government, are now being asked to be patient until Israel and Turkey resolve their differences.
The Israeli government must immediately end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, stop playing with the lives of some two million people and offer them some practical means of leaving Gaza, so they can exercise what the enlightened world considers basic human rights. This Palestinian ghetto must be opened.