On May 31, 2010, Israeli naval forces boarded a Turkish ship headed to the Gaza Strip, a narrow territory at the southern tip of Israel that borders the Mediterranean Sea to the west and Egypt to the south. The ship was part of a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza, and was threatening to break through a blockade Israel had imposed on the territory in 2007.
Activists affiliated with the Free Gaza Movement, a coalition of human-rights and pro-Palestinian organizations dedicated to ending what they see as the siege of Gaza, had organized the flotilla along with Insani Yardim Vakfi, a Turkish human-rights group. Passengers aboard the ship, the Mavi Marmara, attacked Israeli commandos boarding the vessel, and the fight that ensued left nine Turkish citizens dead.
About 1.5 million people live in the Gaza Strip.
After Egypt signed a 1949 armistice with Israel, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip until Israel won the territory from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Throughout Israel's occupation of Gaza and other Palestinian territories, Palestinians have sought autonomy in the form of an independent Palestinian state.
In 1993, a treaty between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) established the Palestinian Authority as the territory's governing body.
Israel imposed a blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2007 when Hamas, a Palestinian militant Islamic group, seized control of the territory.
Although Israel mainly imposed the Gaza blockade in order to prevent weapons imports from reaching Hamas forces, the blockade has also prevented goods and people from entering or leaving the territory.
The Free Gaza Movement organized the six-ship flotilla to carry more than 600 activists, from approximately 32 countries, and 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies for the Gaza Strip. The pro-Palestinian group had made several previous attempts to break the Gaza blockade, some of which had succeeded in delivering small amounts of aid to the Gaza Strip, but Israel had turned back or impounded other ships.
The Gaza blockade has created a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, leaving the population there with insufficient food, power and building supplies for a functioning society. The blockade, critics say, is immoral and disproportionate; it collectively punishes an entire population in order to target the Hamas.
According to BBC News, Gaza now receives less than one quarter of the imports it had gotten before the blockade.
In addition to food shortages, Gaza suffers from chronic power outages. The Gaza Strip receives most of its electricity from power plants in Israel, and Egypt; there is one plant in Gaza, but it operates sporadically because of a lack of fuel. Gazans also suffer from a shortage of drinking water, 80% of which does not meet the drinking standards of the World Health Organization (WHO), and from an ineffective sewage treatment system.
In a September 2009 U.N. report, a fact-finding team found both Israel and Hamas guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the hostilities that began the previous year.
The Gaza blockade argue that it is an immoral act that has inflicted misery upon the territory's civilian population. A 2010 U.N. Development Program report found that international aid was failing to meet the needs of Gaza's inhabitants because of the extreme poverty there.
According to the report, "[I]n view of the scale of the needs, international assistance in Gaza is tantamount to tinkering at the edges…. Depriving people of their right to pursue a dignified life should raise an issue of conscience."
According to the Economist:
The blockade of Gaza is cruel and has failed. The Gazans have suffered sorely but have not been starved into submission. Hamas has not been throttled and overthrown. Weapons and missiles can still be smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.Israel, however, is unlikely to lift the blockade unless Hamas abandons its mission to destroy Israel and forswears rocket attacks. Such steps could prompt Israel to engage in peace talks and work toward lifting the blockade.
Do you think Israel should lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip?
How do you think the problems surrounding the Gaza Strip can be resolved? What steps should peace negotiators take to improve the situation for Gazans while preserving the safety of Israeli civilians?
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