As a long swath of Israel’s coast was consumed by a raging fire earlier this month that killed more than 40 people, the world quickly came to Israel’s aid. The Europeans sent planes and equipment, and the Americans helped, too. New York’s renowned fire department shipped much-needed retardant to the Eastern Mediterranean, and even the fire brigades of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians sent help to their one-time enemies and current occupiers, respectively.
The Turkish government joined the outpouring of help, despite Israel’s May 31, 2010, attack on a Turkish-flagged ship in an international flotilla heading to Gaza with humanitarian aid and the murder of nine of its citizens (including one dual American-Turkish citizen) by Israeli commandos in international waters.
In essence the dangerous fire somehow brought out the best in the region and in the international community.
While no sane person would wish for anything but a speedy extinguishing of the flames that battered Israel, there is a disturbing inhumanity to the generous international reaction to Israel’s woes and international policies for the Palestinians in Gaza. Where was the international community when Gaza was burning after Israel’s 22-day attack in 2008 and 2009 that killed more than 1,300, wounded some 5,000 and left about 50,000 homeless? In that case, political disagreements trumped human misery, and the policy continues today, with the entry and exit of people and goods entirely controlled by the Israeli military.
Gaza continues under a vise-grip-like siege enforced by the Israeli army, navy and air force. This ongoing blockade, which is supported explicitly and tacitly by the West, has gone on for almost five years and generally prevents Gazans and many of the things they need from coming or going freely — unless, that is, one considers the trickle of people and goods that the Israeli army micro-manages as an indicator of well-being and freedom.
The fact is that Gaza has zero sovereignty and is not free. And despite Israeli insistence to the contrary, the strip is as much under Israeli occupation as it ever was, albeit from outside the prison walls. Citing the European and American support for the blockade, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy refers to it as "the only instance of which I am aware of an international boycott of the occupied rather than the occupier."
So how does this relate to the fires that so cruelly ravished Israel this month?
Consider this: What if the tables were turned and an internationally backed military occupation and siege of Israel prevented or delayed the entry of crucial humanitarian aid destined for Israel in its time of need? In reality, many of the same international players who uphold such policies when it comes to the needs of Palestinians and who do not say a word when humanitarian flotillas bound for Gaza’s beleaguered coast are intercepted and attacked are today the ones who readily and generously send their own assistance to Israel by land, air and sea.
This is not to say that such non-military aid should not get to Israel: it most definitely should. But there is an astounding humanitarian double standard at work here.
The reality is that when Israel burns, the world rushes to help — and when Gaza burns, the world shuffles its feet and stands by for weeks at a time watching the smoke rise in ghastly plumes on the horizon. Where was the aid from the "developed" and "democratic" world during "Operation Cast Lead" when white phosphorous rained on civilian areas and 14,000 homes were damaged or destroyed? Gaza was burning then and is burning today, albeit invisibly to the Western gaze.
So as assistance was offered to Israel in a time of crisis this holiday season, let us hope the new year brings us the comparable vision and sense of humanity and compassion when it comes to Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. However, if the nations of the world refuse to intervene with assistance, then the citizens of the world will act in solidarity and send aid to Gaza in the form of flotillas such as the highly anticipated 2011 U.S. boat to Gaza, convoys and official delegations.
Gaza should be free, not left to burn in the flames of the man-made fire that is the occupation and the siege.