US Churches appeal for end to Gaza blockade

The Washington-based Churches for Middle East Peace, a broad ecumenical network,  have protested over Israel's violent attack on the  aid convoy to Gaza in international waters earlier this week, and appealed for an end to the three year blockade of the territory.

In a statement, CMEP said: The violence and death that erupted in the early morning hours of May 31 - when Israeli commandos mounted an operation to stop an international flotilla at sea that was seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza - has prompted concern around the world.  While details of the incident remain unclear, nine persons on the vessels were reported killed and many were injured, including some Israeli forces.  

The incident highlights the need for the United States to work for new, constructive Israeli policies toward Gaza that end the blockade and provide for the humanitarian need of those living there without diminishing Israel's own security.     

Less than three months ago, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and the heads of many of CMEP's sponsoring organizations wrote to President Obama urging him to use America's unique relationship with Israel to persuade it to open its borders with Gaza now.  CMEP said then: "We believe this policy is strategically unsound, harms Israel's security, and exacts an unacceptable toll on innocent Palestinians."

The letter also said: "The perception of US support for or acquiescence in the closure challenges our reputation for upholding humanitarian values. It deprives 1.4 million Palestinians of a decent, minimum standard of welfare. It restricts the use of the $300 million the United States has committed to rebuild Gaza, is a serious obstacle to restoring hope and making peace, and undermines long term Israeli security."   Over 6,000 endorsements of this letter from CMEP supporters have been received and sent by CMEP to the White House. 

The current Israeli restrictions on trade and movement of persons in and out of Gaza have been in place since 2007.  They have limited trade in food and medicines and led to worsening unemployment and poverty among Gaza's population of 1.4 million.

Restrictions on imports of building materials have limited reconstruction of housing and utilities destroyed during the war. Travel restrictions have limited opportunities for education.

The restrictions were aimed in part at ending rocket attacks from Gaza and securing the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit.  They also had the political goal of undermining Hamas' control in Gaza.

The blockade has not had the desired results.  Hamas remains in power.  Rocket attacks have not completely stopped. Smuggling of goods through tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt has become an economy of its own. Paradoxically this underground trade is controlled and taxed by Hamas.   President Obama has said that "the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security interests."

The Gaza flotilla incident also underlines the necessity of pressing without delay for a comprehensive agreement for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, beginning with the indirect talks now being brokered by the United States.  

This crisis and its tragic consequences must not be allowed to undermine peace efforts.  The United States should seize this opportunity to push hard now for an end to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has already said it plans to continue the proximity talks with Israel brokered by the United States.  The United States should help Israel find better ways to enhance its security through negotiation and a comprehensive agreement for peace.

More than 6,000 CMEP supporters  have signed on to a petition calling on President Obama to address the urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza.

While the UN has repeatedly called for an end to the blockade, which is illegal under international law, and causing great hardship, Israel always denies that there are are any shortages of food or medicines and explains that they need to keep the blockade in order to protect Israel from attack.

Source: CMEP/ICN

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