The Gaza Prison

GAZA CITY – It is easier to enter a maximum-security prison than it is to enter the strip of land – 45 kilometers long and maybe eight wide – that is home to Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians. Surrounded by a forbidding wall, watchtowers, and deadly buffer zones, I entered with a hard-to-obtain visa at the Erez crossing – iron gates, an interrogation by bored young immigration officers and scanners. On the other side is a kilometer-long caged walkway that leads into this part of Palestine, trapped between Israel, Egypt, the Mediterranean, and the general indifference of the international community.

The view walking – in sweltering heat – through that long cage is apocalyptic. Small groups of Palestinians smash up the remains of Gaza’s bombed industrial infrastructure – the concrete blocks that litter the sandy landscape. They pummel the blocks for gravel and the steel bars inside. The result of their labor is hauled away in carts pulled by mangy horses or donkeys. This is much of what passes for industry in Gaza.

The world periodically wakes up to the horrors of life in Gaza, and then goes back to watching the World Cup or planning summer holidays. We were awakened, for example, by the military assault of December 2008 and January 2009, when more than 1,300 Palestinians (including over 300 children) and 13 Israelis died. We noticed the long-running horror story again when the Israeli Defense Forces attacked a Turkish flotilla, carrying relief supplies, in May, with nine civilian fatalities.

You have to be careful with language when discussing Israeli actions. Those who argue that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza should not compare the situation with Ethiopia or Sudan in the middle of a drought or a war. Conditions in Gaza are harsh and the population does suffer. Israel’s government has denied that people are starving and has relaxed its import restriction regime. But the siege was never intended to starve Gazans; as Dov Weissglass, a former aid to Ariel Sharon, famously observed, the aim was “to put the Palestinians on a diet.”