People in US Don’t Support the Gaza Blockade. Why Won’t Congress Take Action?

Jamea Shalout’s home in Rafah, Gaza, consists of two rooms built of cinder blocks and cement. In the room I met her in late 2019 the only personal belongings were the sleeping mats and blankets that her family spreads at night. Across a dirt courtyard, there is a small kitchen and bathroom — with cinderblock walls, dirt floors and a partial roof made from corrugated tin. Water for the family is delivered into the holding tanks on the family’s property. Only one room in the house has electricity, the rest of it does not. Jamea shares her bedroom with six family members at night.

Everyone deserves to live in safety, peace, and have their rights protected. This includes Israelis as well as Palestinians. Unfortunately, Palestinians living in Gaza have been subject to an Israeli-imposed blockade for 15 years. This has stripped them their rights and dignity. The blockade first came into effect in 2006 for Gaza and has been tightened ever since. It effectively restricts most exports and imports to Gaza, restrains movement of Palestinians leaving Gaza, and bans almost all nonresidents from Gaza.

Congress could take action to make change. It could demand that Israel end its blockade. However, 31 House members signed on. February 2020 letterReps. Mark Pocan, Debbie Dingell and Debbie Guthrie wrote the letter calling for all U.S. funding to Gaza for humanitarian aid and urging an end the blockade. However most members of Congress favor the continuation of the blockade despite the human cost. They continue to be ignorant of the human costs borne in part by Jamea.

Jamea is just one of the many who are paying the price for both the economic crisis and the employment crisis in Gaza. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of StatisticsIn 2021, Gaza’s unemployment rate was more than 26 percent. The unemployment rate for women rises to more than 43 percent. The humanitarian catastrophe caused by the blockade is not limited to unemployment. 29 percent of workers in private sectors earned less than the monthly minimum wage (about $420) in 2021. The average monthly earnings for Gaza Strip workers is $190 per mois. This is not enough to meet basic needs, and it is why more than 80 per cent of the population depend on outside assistance.

Nobody in Jamea’s family has a steady job, though some family members find seasonal employment picking dates. They also have a horse and cart that they use to gather plastic for recycling, but this brings in no more than one or two dollars per day as income — not enough to meet the needs of all family members.

The blockade is directly responsible for the Gaza crisis. It, among other things limits Palestinian movement and imports, and also limits exports and exports. Repeated Israeli attacks on Gaza — which have destroyed electrical, water and sanitation, and other basic infrastructure — have furthered economic decline, while the blockade also stops rebuilding and recovery. This reality is neither ethical nor sustainable.

While Congress members may turn their eyes away from Jamea, many constituents want to see the blockade lifted. A recent surveyThe poll, conducted by YouGov and initiated by my organization, American Friends Service Committee, (AFSC), shows that a majority of respondents supported ending the blockade after being presented with basic information. The poll — conducted with 1,000 people in November 2021 — indicated that, after receiving this basic information, over 48 percent of respondents thought that the blockade should end while only 31 percent of respondents supported its continuation. Respondents were given additional information about the impact of the blockade, and their opposition rose to 52 percent.

The majority of people opposed to the continuation the blockade were women, people aged 18-45 and people over 65. The respondents were representative of U.S. adults from all political sexes.

These numbers are important as they show the disconnect between political positions, public opinion, and political positions. The public cares about Jamea and the thousands of others in her situation. Many of us who are calling for a change in U.S. policies regarding Gaza hear from members Congress and the Biden Administration that our positions are marginalized and not supported widely by the broader public. These results are contrary to conventional wisdom and show that most people support ending Gaza’s blockade if they are given basic information.

The results of the AFSC survey point to a broader change in narrative that is occurring as criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians gains mainstream acceptance. This is not yet evident at the political level. This shift is reflected in the recently issued Amnesty International report which details how Israel’s treatment of Palestinians constitutes apartheid. The report notes that “…Israel has imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians wherever it exercises control over the enjoyment of their rights — across Israel and the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] and with regard to Palestinian refugees.”

The apartheid reality is not separated from the blockade of Gaza, and the resulting violations of Palestinian rights. The blockade is a key system of control that facilitates apartheid’s continuation, and it is time for the blockade to end. Public opinion supports a change. Politicians must catch up. We can’t continue to deny Jamea and her family the rights they have under Gaza blockade.