By Annamaria Racota
On January 18, 2010, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) issued a report entitled, Suffocating: The Gaza Strip under Israeli Blockade as part of its new campaign to bring greater awareness to the situation’s human rights implications. AIUSA Director for International Affairs, T. Kumar, briefed the public on this issue and discussed the organization’s recommendations regarding the blockade. As an apolitical advocacy group, AIUSA’s new campaign is unconcerned with the political motivations for the blockade, namely Hamas’ accession to power over two and a half years ago. Rather, the campaign seeks to educate the public about the plight of the people of Gaza and the initiatives that must be undertaken to provide them with the basic human needs for survival.
As AIUSA’s report states, the most recent military operation led by Israel, the “Cast Lead” offensive, resulted in the deaths of around 1,400 people and immobilized the civil society of the region as a whole. The Israeli offensive destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, including schools, water distillation facilities, hospitals, factories, and electric grids. In addition, in implementing the blockade and preventing supplies and aid from entering, the offensive further devastated the region, stalling the recovery and reconstruction process. The crippling effect of the blockade on the ability of Gaza inhabitants to earn a livelihood is intensified by restrictions placed on fishing, farming, and exports from the region, which has led to massive layoffs. The blockade has also limited access to vital medical care, as supplies are scarce and only 50 percent of people are allowed to leave Gaza to obtain surgery or other medical help. According to Kumar, long delays last year caused the deaths of 28 people waiting for medical treatment.
For these reasons, AIUSA has proposed five recommendations to help alleviate the effect of the blockade on the human rights situation in Gaza. The first is an appeal to the Israeli government to end the targeting of innocent people, which is in contravention of the 1949 Geneva Convention. The second appeal is for Israeli citizens to urge their government to dismantle the blockade. Next is an appeal to the Egyptian government to open the last remaining blockade zone. The fourth calls on the international community to prioritize addressing the human rights situation over the political conflicts between Gaza and Israel. The final recommendation is for the Obama administration to initiate a study on the effect of the blockade on children in Gaza, given that 50 percent of the population is less than 18 years old. AIUSA also urges Congress to allocate more funds to the U.S. agencies in the region, to help subsidize the U.S. $2.5 million dollar shortage.
Some event attendees criticized AIUSA’s recommendations as unrealistic and ineffective. For instance, one attendee claimed that it is unlikely for recommendations to have an impact on U.S. policy, since President Obama stated during his election campaign that he did not intend to change the administration’s policy toward Israel. Another criticism focused on the utility of the second recommendation, in light of the trend toward greater extremism within Israeli civil society. Lastly, people criticized AIUSA for failing to provide any recommendations for Hamas and what it could do to alleviate the plight of the Gazan inhabitants, with the exception of ceasing permanently all indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel.
AIUSA maintains that the goal of these recommendations is to initiate a positive impact on the human rights violations in Gaza by urging the parties involved to look at the situation from a humanitarian perspective. The next step in AIUSA’s campaign involves a photo exhibit in Congress and a demonstration in front of the State Department.