November 17, 2012 - Since 1948, the American Friends Service Committee has been working with Palestinians and Israelis to achieve a just and lasting peace. We began our work in Gaza providing relief and assistance to Palestinian refugees following the 1948 War. Since 1967 we have continued to work with Gazans as they struggled under the burden of occupation, and over the last six years against the ongoing Gaza blockade. Throughout this period we have also maintained a presence in Israel, working with Israeli peace activists who are committed to realizing a different future.
As the violence escalates in Gaza and Israel, we are compelled to lift our voice in support of nonviolence and human rights for all. We speak on behalf of our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues who wish to live in dignity and free from fear with no discrimination between them. We speak from our Quaker values and our experience working in the Middle East and worldwide.
Recently we have witnessed a significant escalation in violence in the region, beginning with the assassination of Hamas official Ahmed Jabari and the initiation of a major new Israeli military offensive against Gaza. Armed groups in Gaza have responded to these actions with increasing rocket attacks on Israel. Both sides have suffered loss of life and injuries.
We call for an immediate end to the use of violence by all parties. We also call upon the international community to take action without delay to help realize a ceasefire and to then continue working towards the realization of a just peace that will benefit all the people of the region.
The current situation bears a striking resemblance to past major Israeli military offensives against Gaza which have had devastating consequences for the population of Gaza. Gazans are still struggling to recover from the damage and devastation caused by 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, during which over 1,400 Palestinians were killed and many homes and much vital infrastructure destroyed.
Continued military escalation and violence will do nothing to make either Palestinians or Israelis safer. Rather, they will likely increase suffering and result in the deaths and injury of many more people. There is also a serious risk that violence could expand into the West Bank and deeper into Israel, and every effort should be made to avoid this situation.
As Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community work to end this latest round of violence, there must also be a concerted effort made to end the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. It is the ongoing occupation that is at the root of this crisis.
While Israel has argued that it ceased occupying Gaza in 2005 when it redeployed its troops and withdrew settlers from Gaza, Gaza continues to be occupied under international law, and in the views of the international community including the U.S., the EU, and the UN. Israel’s continued responsibility as the occupying power in Gaza results from several factors. First, Israel continues to exert effective control over Gaza. It controls the borders, airspace, waterways, population registry, currency, movement of people, trade, electrical supply, water supply, and more. Second, Israel maintains and exerts a right to conduct regular military operations in Gaza, giving it effective military control over the territory. Effective control is one of the key measures of occupation.
A second key factor is the blockade on Gaza which has been in place since 2006 and which both the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations have said amounts to collective punishment. The blockade restricts the movement of both people and goods into and out of Gaza. This has devastated Gaza’s economy, raising unemployment rates and creating significant levels of aid dependency and poverty. Restrictions on imports, combined with Israeli military actions, have also devastated the water, sanitation, and electrical systems in Gaza. Many families do not have access to either clean water or reliable sanitation services and access to electricity and gas is very limited. Finally, restrictions on free movement have separated families, limited access to education, restricted access to medical care, and isolated the population of Gaza. The blockade must end.
Rockets fired from Gaza also cannot be ignored. There have been hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza during 2012 causing both physical and psychological harm to Israelis. The firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly into civilian areas, must end.
That said, we note that the use of the rockets has been an almost exclusive focus for many media outlets in the U.S., and for the U.S. government in its official statements. Palestinian rocket fire has also been cited by Israel and the U.S. as the major justification for this military offensive. However, we find that much of this analysis lacks nuance and believe it important to look at the firing of rockets by Palestinian armed groups within context. Of the grad rockets, homemade rockets, and mortars fired by Palestinians during 2012, 73% were fired during three distinct periods of escalation in March, June, and late October. Each of these escalations was sparked by an assassination/killing, incursion, or other Israeli military action. Only a small percentage of the other rockets and mortars that were fired during 2012 were fired in isolation from Israeli military actions in Gaza. None of this is to justify the firing of rockets by Palestinian armed groups, but rather to point out that the firing of rockets is intertwined with the ongoing military occupation. We therefore do not believe that rocket fire will be ended through the use of increased military force, but rather believe that ending violence by armed Palestinian groups requires engagement with them and ending the blockade and the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
At present the U.S. government has taken an uncritical position supporting Israel’s attacks on Gaza. While it has been very critical of Palestinian violence, it has said nothing about the need to stop Israeli violence and has done nothing to bring the current crisis to an end. U.S. policy must change.
Violence only begets violence and will not resolve this conflict. The only way to truly end the violence of the conflict is to end the occupation, respect international law, and ensure equal rights for all.
We therefore call for:
- An immediate end to the use of violence by both parties.
- Immediate efforts by the U.S. government and the international community to realize a ceasefire.
- An immediate lifting of the Gaza blockade.
- A renewed diplomatic offensive that targets both Israel and all Palestinian factions and that has as its goal ending the occupation and realizing a just peace.
- An end to U.S. military aid to Israel.