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Sober anniversaries for Gaza fuel movement building

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This month marks a half of a century since some of the darkest pages were written into Palestinian history. In just six days in June of 1967, Israel seized control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. These same lands had been designated for a future Palestinian state at the end of British colonial occupation that had occurred just two decades before in 1947. Territorial boundaries were redefined, and in the 50 years that have since elapsed, Palestinians have lived under the oppression and violence that come with military occupation.

In East Jerusalem, the Israeli military continually demolishes homes and increasingly blocks access to holy sites. In the West Bank, settlement expansion proliferates, while water and other life-giving natural resources serve the Israeli occupation and the big business interests of an incapacitated Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile in Gaza, the near-total blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt has generated a full-blown humanitarian and environmental crisis.

Inhumane Blockade Devastates Gaza

The severity of the situation in Gaza cannot be overstated as the blockade has now been in place for a decade—yet another bleak anniversary commemorated by Palestinians this month. The most visible manifestation of the enclosure has been three bombing assaults conducted by the Israeli military on the tiny coastal enclave: “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008-09, “Operation Pillar of Defense” in 2012, and “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014. The collective death toll was more than 4,000 people, and the overwhelming majority of the deceased were Palestinian civilians, including children. Those who survived the attacks continue to experience severe psychological consequences.

Drinking water in Gaza has become largely unavailable. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that children have shown signs of water related diseases and permanent organ damage due to high levels of ingested chemicals from what little water is available. Constant electrical blackouts—up to 20 hours per day—also affect water and sanitation as well as other critical services such as health and education.

Recently, UNRWA indicated that 87 percent of residents live below the poverty line, and severe movement restrictions have caused unprecedented levels of unemployment, with 80 percent of residents depending on food aid. Young people—Gaza’s majority—have now lived through multiple assaults, and the youngest among them know no other political reality aside from the crippling blockade. For the most part, they have no way out of Gaza and suffer from a lack of opportunities there.

Of the sectors most targeted by the occupation and blockade are agriculture and fisheries. Gaza’s borders with Israel are surrounded by restricted access zones (commonly known as buffer zones) that cut deep into the distressed Palestinian territory’s farmland. Farmers who enter these areas—that is, who go to their own farmland—risk being shot from nearby towers. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented that the restricted access zones account for 17 percent of Gaza’s land, making about 35 percent of all farmland unavailable to Palestinians. Both Israeli and international law prohibit the restricted access zones, but the practice of patrolling them with guns and tanks nonetheless persists.

Similarly, at sea, Israel has imposed an offshore no-go zone in which fishers are subject to arbitrary shootings and confiscation of boats. This area fluctuates unilaterally at the whim of Israeli authorities, and is always far less than the 20 nautical miles designated for Palestinians in the Oslo Accords—which is only ten percent of the 200 nautical miles granted to a given state under International Maritime Law. The impacts have devastated what was once a vibrant fishing community.


Palestinian Social Movements Persist, Resist

Against such an imposing backdrop, Palestinian social movements and human rights organizations in Gaza and their international allies are working together in a careful balancing act that attends to humanitarian relief, sustainable development, and movement building needs.

One such group, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), has been in the process of constantly redefining itself to meet the needs of the Palestinian people. It was founded in 1986 by a group of volunteers and agronomists, on the brink of the first intifada that would prove to reshape resistance to occupation. Since then UAWC has bridged the needs of those living in the increasingly cantonized West Bank with those in the Gaza Strip, which is progressively penned off. In doing so it has garnered a raft of supporters, from the European Union to the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil.

“All of our work is part of a bigger project, and it is one of freedom,” said Saad Ziada, an UAWC leader in Gaza. “We want to have an open sea, and to be able to practice our work without acts of error and killing,” he explained over the phone.

One of UAWC’s most important global connections is La Vía Campesina, the radical agrarian movement that brings together peasant struggles transnationally. In fact, UAWC is the first Middle Eastern member organization of La Vía Campesina and serves as an anchor for the global movement as it works to build alliances in the greater Middle East and North Africa.

“The solidarity we feel from our brothers and sisters in La Vía Campesina gives us more power,” offered Saad. “As Palestinian farmers and fishers, we have high hopes that being a part of this movement will advance our struggle and support our rights,” he added.

In Palestine, the 50-year anniversary of Israeli occupation and decade of near-total blockade in Gaza is a time of looking back on difficult historical moments in which rights enjoyed in most parts of the world vanished. At the same time, it is an opportunity to look forward to a future in which they will be restored and advanced. Even though states and political parties have continually neglected such a political project, social justice movements inside and outside of Palestine are acting as its guardians.

What you can do: Grassroots International, a U.S.-based nonprofit, supports small farmers and producers, Indigenous Peoples and women working around the world to win resource rights: the human rights to land, water and food. Grassroots works through grantmaking, education, and advocacy. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) and La Vía Campesina are among its global network of partners.

About Salena Tramel

Salena Tramel is a PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, where her work is centered on the intersections of resource grabs and climate change mitigation, and the intertwining of (trans)national agrarian/social justice movements. In addition to her research at ISS, Salena draws on her global experience with social movements and grassroots organizations to inform her work as a policy and communications consultant and freelance journalist. Prior to joining the academic community at ISS, Salena served as the program coordinator for the Middle East and Haiti at Grassroots International, where she oversaw two key geographical areas while developing pro-poor advocacy strategies at the US/UN levels. She holds an MA in Sustainable Development with concentrations in Policy Analysis and Advocacy and Conflict Transformation from the School for International Training and a BA in Romance Languages from Point Loma Nazarene University. She has language skills in French, Spanish, Arabic, Haitian Creole, and Romanian.

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8 Responses

  1. June 24, 2017, 6:30 pm

    Thank you Salena for keeping the light shining on the atrocities committed by Zionists criminals and their lackey Egypt.

  2. JosephA
    June 24, 2017, 10:50 pm

    Thanks, Salena, for sharing.

  3. HarryLaw
    June 25, 2017, 8:47 am

    Israeli war crimes have been well documented in Gaza, the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure etc, most Israeli excuses are that they have a right to defend themselves [from Hamas violence] Obama said as much during the last Gaza massacre. There are other war crimes committed by the Palestinian Authority which in many ways are just as bad. Abbas wanted all electricity cut to Gaza, which would mean constant electrical blackouts—up to 20 hours per day which also affect water and sanitation as well as other critical services such as health and education, did the Israeli Authorities advise Abbas that this in itself was a war crime, and explain that when we [the IDF] commit war crimes we give the excuse that we have the right to defend ourselves whereas you want to cut off electricity to Palestinian incubators and water treatment plants merely for political purposes. Disgusting.

    • June 25, 2017, 1:12 pm

      Agreed. Between Abbas and Bibi things look bad. When a true leader of the people surfaces the Zionists are quick to jail him and minimize his exposure to the outside world. I predict more detentions coming up as BDS grows.

  4. HarryLaw
    June 25, 2017, 10:36 am

    This spat between Abbas and Hamas is nothing new in inter Arab emnity thats why
    Gaddafi’s speech to the Arab League in Syria 2008 was so prescient..
    “We [the Arabs] are the enemies of one another I’m sad to say, we deceive one another, we gloat at the misfortune of one another, and we conspire against one another, and an Arab’s enemy is another Arab’s friend.
    Along comes a foreign power, occupies an Arab country [Iraq] and hangs its President,and we all sit on the sidelines laughing. Any one of you might be next, yes.

    • June 25, 2017, 1:20 pm

      It’s important to make a distinction between the leaders in the arab world and the arab street. As a Palestinian I can tell you that the arabs for the most part are united, particularly around the plight of the Palestinian people. There are Jordanians and Lebanese that are not fond of the Palestinians because they feel they are a burden on their societies as refugees. A burden created by the Zionist criminals.

      • Kaisa of Finland
        Kaisa of Finland
        June 25, 2017, 9:21 pm


        “As a Palestinian I can tell you that the arabs for the most part are united, particularly around the plight of the Palestinian people. There are Jordanians and Lebanese that are not fond of the Palestinians because they feel they are a burden on their societies as refugees..”

        I would be interested in hearing more about this. I knew in the Lebanon Palestinians are not given full rights to take part f.ex. in the “working life” and so, but about Jordan, I did not know. But now since f.ex. Saudi-Arabia has close relations to U.S., what do you think is their opinion on the matter and what about Egypt, which also seems to be in close relations to Saudi Arabia?? Since Saudis are important to U.S. it would be usefull for the Palestinians to have their support (all though otherwise that country is not really a place where the human rights would be any more appriciated than they are in Israel)..

        Anyway, if you have some kind of idea of which arabic countries would support the rights of the Palestinians, I would be interested in hearing.. It would be usefull to get a wider picture of this issue, since I have recently learned to know how huge is the influence of the Zionists in the U.S.

      • July 3, 2017, 8:25 pm


        On paper all the Arabic speaking countries support the Palestinians.

        I lived in the UAE for several years and through my work I was constantly in the company of government officials from all over the Middle East and North Africa. Officially they support the Palestinians but behind closed doors they wheel and deal with the U.S. and Israel whenever it suits their financial needs or their need to maintain power. They pay lip service to the Palestinian cause because they know their citizens are pro-Palestinian.

        At the street level I have rarely come across an Arab who wasn’t sympathetic and supportive of the Palestinian cause. Certain religious sects like the Palestinian Druze (who enlist in the Israeli army) or the Christian Maronite Lebanese do battle with Palestinians but their numbers are small and insignificant

        In my opinion, the Palestinians would do well to steer clear of aligning themselves with the dictators and monarchs of the Arab world and focus on building alliances with like minded grassroots movements in the Middle East and across the world (something they are currently doing with success through BDS). Having said that, I know that desperate people may make deals for food and funds with state criminals to survive.

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