Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace
PO Box 42144
Washington, DC 20015
January 28, 2008
Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
Dear Secretary Rice:
Israel’s blockade of Gaza does nothing to advance the peace process you are fostering, and does much damage to human life. Further, continued punitive military action by Israel has done nothing to stop the qassam rockets that have terrorized Sderot and other Israeli towns. On December 19, 2007 Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, proposed to stop the rocket firing into Israel in return for lifting the blockade. On December 23rd Prime Minister Olmert rejected the proposal. The Hamas government in Gaza has already called for a ceasefire which Israel in effect refused to consider. Hamas proved in 2006 that it was capable of honoring a ceasefire until it was broken by Israel’s repeated assassinations inside the Gaza strip.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard, issued the following statement on January 18th: “The killing of some forty Palestinians in Gaza in the past week, the targeting of a Government office near a wedding party venue with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians, and the closure of all crossings into Gaza raise very serious questions about Israel's respect for international law and its commitment to the peace process. Recent action violates the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also violates one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law that military action must distinguish between military targets and civilian targets. Israel must have known about the wedding party in Gaza near to the interior ministry when it launched missiles at the ministry building.
Those responsible for such cowardly action are guilty of serious war crimes and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes. The United States and other states which attended the Annapolis conference are under both a legal and a moral obligation to compel Israel to cease its actions against Gaza and to restore confidence in the peace process, ensure respect for international law and protect civilian life.”
Many international officials have commented on the serious humanitarian crisis in Gaza due to the Israeli blockade. Karen Koning-Abu Zayd, the Commissioner-General of UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said Israel’s decision to cut fuel and electricity to Gaza violates international law. She noted that if you don’t have electricity, you don’t have water. She said Israel’s actions have a “very serious” effect on the population. UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler has said that 22% of Palestinian children already suffer from malnutrition because they lack access to food.
Israeli journalist, Amira Hass writing in Ha’aretz on October 15, 2007 stated that in Gaza “nearly 1.5 million [people] of them have been living: in an area of some 360 square kilometers, closed in on three sides by sophisticated barbed-wire fences, concrete walls and military lookout towers, and to the west by Israeli navy ships that seal them off from the sea. Overhead, in the sky, unmanned aircraft and hot air balloons continually photograph whatever happens inside this closed cage, which has seven gates connecting it to the world, all of which are sealed off almost hermetically.” Mustafa Barghouti, M D. stated recently that “Two–year old Ibrahim Abu Jazar has become the 41st Gazan to die since June 2007 after being denied exit by the Israeli authorities to receive medical treatment unavailable in the Strip, The sick infant, who died yesterday, is the 5th Gazan patient to die in such circumstances since the beginning of the year alone.”
With 85% of manufacturing businesses shut down, and hundreds of thousand of workers laid off from the construction, trade and service sectors, the prospects for some measure of relief for the Palestinian citizens of Gaza seem quite bleak.
Since the United States is the partner of Israel, both in terms of supporting Israel’s policies and providing the bulk of Israeli weapons, we must admit complicity in this humanitarian tragedy.
As people of faith, we urge you to exert immediate and effective pressure on the Israeli government to lift the siege of Gaza. We urge this also in the name of the 1.5 million Palestinian civilians of Gaza, who are composed primarily of children, women, the elderly, and the unemployed. Surely their deprivation and suffering will not enhance the prospects for peace.
We ask you to call upon Israel to activate Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's initiative for Palestinian responsibility for control of the borders thus ensuring a sufficient and normal flow of medicine, food, fuel and goods to Gaza. We also call upon you to support the re-formation of a unity Palestinian government composed of both Fateh and Hamas, and urge Israel to engage in negotiations with such a government as soon as possible. President Bush’s commitment to reach a just peace by the end of his administration will not be possible without such a commitment.
We ask that you designate someone to meet with us to discuss these issues in fuller detail.
Dr. John Salzberg, Co-chair