Gaza has been called an “open air prison” by many people, including Noam Chomsky, John Holmes (UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator), and David Cameron (UK Prime Minister). How do I, an American living in Gaza, know it’s an “open air prison?
I can’t see my jailers, but I’m quite certain they can see me with their drones and other 21st century equipment.
Unless I’m near the border (not too close because I don’t want to get shot) and looking carefully at the horizon, I typically don’t see the fence that surrounds this prison.
I’m not required to adhere to any daily routines that are common in US prisons, such as eating and exercising with the other prisoners. No one in Gaza wears a prison uniform.
So why is Gaza the world’s largest “open air prison” and, more importantly, why do the nations of the world allow this to continue?
Gaza is an “open air prison” because:
- Palestinians cannot move freely in and out of Gaza. Palestinians who live in Gaza are not allowed to leave without super-extraordinary measures which make it nearly impossible, especially for males of a certain age. They cannot even travel to the West Bank to visit family without permission from the jailers, which is rarely given. Visitors cannot enter Gaza easily. It took me two years, a warning from my government not to go to Gaza, review and approval by Egyptian authorities, and many, many questions before I was allowed to enter through the Rafah gate in August 2012. There is only one other gate into Gaza — Erez from the north — which has been locked down for more than five years.
- There are no flights, planes, or boats into Gaza. Israel has blockaded all methods of travel into Gaza. Israel destroyed the only airport that once existed in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. There is no train service. In 2010, Israeli commandos killed 9 Turkish citizens trying to enter Gaza from the sea. Several Israeli officials are now being tried in abstentia in a Turkish court.
- Fishermen who sail too close to the 3 mile limit may be shot and killed by the jailers. It has happened since I arrived.
- Farmers who tend to their fields in the “buffer zone” near the border may be shot and killed.
- Postal service is difficult, if not impossible. Try mailing a package from the United States to Gaza. (I could use some new books if someone wants to try.)
- Traveler checks are not honored by the banks in Gaza any longer because I’m told that Israel will not allow the banks to send the checks to New York for redemption.
- Food, fuel, construction supplies . . . even toothpaste, must be approved by the jailer before it is allowed to enter Gaza. The list of approved items is nonsensical. Public documents show that Israel has deliberately put Gazans on a diet.
Six and a half years ago, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian national elections and took control of Gaza, a senior Israeli official described Israel’s planned response. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Please read the latest news here.
- There is a siege mentality here among many of the people I have met. They talk about the world “outside” as though it’s a foreign place inaccessible to them. Many of the younger people are discouraged. Finding a job in Gaza is very difficult, but leaving to look elsewhere is impossible.
- There are very few “outsiders” in Gaza, which sharply focuses the attention on those few, just as visitors to a US prison might be the object of curiosity.
- This prison is going to be unlivable by 2020 according to a UN report released this year.
Why does the community of nations allow this to continue? I’m puzzled and extremely frustrated because I don’t know the answer. If the US was keeping Brooklyn hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world, would there be outrage?
I’m angry too because my country is complicit in this inhumane treatment of 1.7 million people. When the history books are written, the US is going to be on the wrong side and it won’t be a proud moment for Americans.