Author's note: Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence,
is writing from Arish, a town near the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza.
Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola New Orleans,
and Audrey Stewart are also in Egypt and contributed to this article.
As I write, we can hear the dull thud of explosions
in the distance. Israeli air strikes continue to blast targets in southern
Gaza. Merciless bombing of the small Gaza Strip continues into a third week.
I heard some people here in Egypt wonder if the Israeli air force must be running
out of places and people to target. But perhaps the surveillance drones we
heard and saw flying over the Rafah border crossing today hunted down more
spots on which bombers could fix their cross-hairs.
Perhaps they spotted underground tunnels. The Israeli government has, reportedly,
already destroyed 80 percent of the tunnels that connect Gaza with the outside
world. It's common knowledge that a vast network of tunnels, some say as many
as 1,700, were constructed, many from outside Gaza's territorial borders, leading
into the territory. Israel claims the tunnels are legitimate targets because
the Hamas government can use them to import weapons. But the buildup of the
tunnel industry was fueled by desperation for needed goods within Gaza, a desperation
caused by Israel's decision, over the past 16 months, to tighten the thumbscrews
of its blockade on Gaza. If the blockade continues, and if the tunnels are
completely destroyed, besieged Gazans will be cut off from secure supplies
of food, medicine, and fuel, yet another terrifying prospect for people who
are desperate to protect their children from any greater harm.
Supposedly concerned for Israeli security, the United States supports the
Israeli government's objective of eliminating Hamas' capacity to fire primitive
rockets into Israel. The extensive tunnel industry may be used for weapons
transport. I believe it's wrong to transport weapons, and it's wrong to develop,
store, sell, or use them. Distant thuds reinforce this belief, but if the U.S.
and Israel believe importation of weapons via underground tunnels is wrong,
then the U.S. transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Israel must, seen in perspective,
be abominable, given the slaughter Israel has inflicted on Gazan civilians
since the air strikes began on Dec. 27.
The taxpayers of the U.S. provided Israel with F-16 fighter jets and missiles
to carry out these attacks. From 2001 to 2006, the United States transferred
to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F-16s.
Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to
transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and "bunker buster"
missiles. In July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of
JP-8 aviation jet fuel.
U.S. donations of jet fuel enable Israel to fire missiles into Gazan homes,
streets, schools, and hospitals. Meanwhile, ambulance drivers in Gaza, also
directly targeted, don't have enough diesel fuel to bring injured and wounded
people to the Rafah border crossing, where patients might be allowed to enter
Egypt for critically needed care.
Within Gaza, even before Dec. 27, civilians lacked essential fuels to power
the main power plant, which operated at about 2/3 capacity. Now, it's inoperative.
When trucks don't have fuel, this means that rubbish can't be collected. Hundreds
of tons of rubbish went uncollected in Gaza because of the blockade. Seventy-seven
thousand cubic meters of raw and partially treated sewage were dumped into
the sea. Farmers couldn't operate 70 percent of their agricultural wells. Power
cuts affected hospitals, water pumps, sewage treatment plants, bakeries, and
other facilities dependent on backup diesel generators.
Now Gazans not only face the consequences of a destroyed healthcare system
and rising sickness due to waterborne diseases, they also face the reality
that Hamas could be forced to sign a cease-fire that doesn't allow for opening
the Rafah border and which insists that Egypt assume responsibility to prevent
usage of underground tunnels. In exchange for relief from cowering under bombs
fired by sophisticated weapon systems, Gazans would be required to endure slow-motion
death through systematic cutoffs of their access to food, medicine, and potable
water. This is why it is so important for people all over the world to insist
that Israel not only stop attacking Gaza, but also end the brutal and lethally
punitive blockade imposed on Gaza.
Here in Egypt, the government has stated that it will undertake responsibility
to be an effective partner in negotiating a cease-fire.
Israelis expect Egyptians to stop the tunnel industry. Egypt would be responsible
for assuring that no one enters a tunnel, builds a tunnel, or is an accomplice
to maintaining a tunnel. Already, any Egyptian caught inside a tunnel faces
15 years in prison. How much better for all concerned if the cease-fire negotiations
asked the Egyptians to maintain an open border with Gaza, lift the punitive
blockade, and assist in the immediate and ongoing transport of goods and services
that could help Gaza rebuild and assume responsibility, aboveground, for maintaining
its citizenry and its sovereignty.
Egypt, the second largest recipient of military aid from the U.S., will be
encouraged to use threat and force to curtail the tunnels, supposedly in the
name of ensuring security for Israel. But who will challenge the obscenely
bloated "defense industry" that allows elite gangs, some comfortably
occupying the board rooms of major corporations, to supply a repressive, immoral,
and illegal occupation force with the disproportionate capacity to kill, using
conventional weapons against civilians who have no means to escape?
U.S. support for hard-line, extremist Israeli government policies again represents
tunnel vision by choice. U.S. foreign policy makers can begin a cure for this
dangerously impaired vision by recognizing the basic human rights of all Palestinian
people, and at this crucial moment by caring for the survival and dignity of
Gazan people, especially those for whom meeting basic needs depends on what
might come through a tunnel.