Over 550 Palestinians have been killed and 3,000 injured by the Israeli Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip since July 8. United Nations estimates as of July 21 indicate that almost 80 percent of the dead were civilians. 27 Israeli soldiers have died, and rockets from Gaza’s governing body Hamas have killed two Israeli civilians.
Ayman Mohyeldin, an NBC correspondent, described what he witnessed over the weekend.
"Among the targets over the past two days we've seen residential buildings, we've seen a hospital, we've seen an ambulance driver and a medic killed, we've seen a journalist killed, we've seen journalist buildings targeted," Mohyeldin said. "So it gives you a sense of the scale of the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip."
On Sunday alone, over 100 people were killed, including 70 from the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City. According to Mohyeldin, Israeli shelling destroyed Shejaiya’s main road. Last night, the AP reports that Israeli forces bombed five mosques, a sports complex and the home of a dead Hamas military leader.
"This is indeed a massacre," said Mohammed Omer, an award-winning Palestinian journalist based in Gaza.
"Fifty percent of the people who are killed are students," Omer said. "I assume that tells you that mostly students are victims, namely children.”
According to Omer, Israeli strikes have targeted hospitals, water and electricity facilities in Gaza, where the population faces blackouts of up to 22 hours a day and limited access to clean water.
"Everything is controlled—what you eat, what you're fed, medical supplies that you get and don't get. The kinds of food you need to eat are decided by the ones who control you, and that's Israel in this case," Omer said. "Gaza is living under total occupation by sea, by land and by air."
The Israeli military has occupied Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967 against international consensus. Israel tightened its control of Gaza in 2007, when Hamas came to power in the strip.
Hamas is the government of the Gaza Strip and is designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and the European Union. In June, following the collapse of US-led peace talks, Hamas formed a unity government with its rival Fatah, which governs the West Bank. Palestinians have accused the Israeli government of seeking to utilizing the current military campaign to prevent them from having a united political front against Israel's occupation.
1.2 million of Gaza’s residents are refugees–who fled or were expelled from their homes in what became Israel in 1948–or their descendants. Israel bars them and another 6 million Palestinian refugees from their legal right to return home.
Many refer to Gaza, a densely populated area a little larger than Staten Island, as “the world’s largest open air prison.”
Because Israel and Egypt restrict the opening of Gaza's borders, Gaza's citizens can't flee to safer areas in this current conflict.
According to Mohyeldin, the Israeli military has fired upon every major city in Gaza. As of July 21, 100,000 residents have fled to shelters in 69 UN-operated schools and countless more have relocated with family or friends.
"You simply can't just look at a map and say 'Well you know what, this area has not been hit yet, so it's safe for us to move in that direction.' That creates the fear that people here are suffering from.”
While Israel says its operation is a justified response to Hamas’ rockets and tunnels from Gaza into Israel, one central Palestinian narrative views Hamas' rockets as challenging Israel's blockade on Gaza's civilian population, which Mohyeldin described.
"[Israel] has imposed this siege on Gaza that has pretty much decimated every aspect of life here—socially, economically, culturally, politically. And as a result of that, the Palestinian factions have resorted to firing rockets into Israel to try and change the nature of the conflict, to try to bring about a change to the status quo."
"It is not a war between two equal sides, despite the fact that that is how its often portrayed in most of the western media," Mohyeldin said.
Palestinians say the status quo is defined by United States support for Israel and its military.
"People are feeling very sad because these missiles that killed their children are made in the USA," Omer said. "They are paid by the taxpayers' money—they are paid by average Americans."
The United States provides $3 billion in military aid to Israel each year. American companies like Boeing, Raytheon and Hewlett Packard provide military or surveillance products that Israel uses to maintain its occupation and siege of Palestine. Gaza has no standing army and no missile defense system or bomb shelters for its civilians.
Palestinian civil society has issued a call for universities, religious organizations, trade unions and other groups to divest from companies that fund their oppression, modeling their Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on the success South Africans had in ending apartheid through similar tactics.
Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and co-founder of the BDS movement, said that he learned the power of boycotts from Martin Luther King.
"If we are indirectly implicated in a system that is evil, that's unjust, that’s oppressive, it is a profound moral obligation to withdraw that support," Barghouti said.
Barghouti draws a connection between issues facing Palestinians and those facing Americans.
"We need to stand together and one way to do that is through BDS targeting companies that oppress all of us – targeting companies that are involved in human rights violations against black Americans in Chicago as well as Palestinians in Gaza."
Omer had a special appeal from Gaza to Black Americans.
“I appeal to the Black community in the US to pressure Barack Obama to let Israel end the massacres in Gaza and lift the blockade. People need to live in a dignified way. No more no less. Because after all, we are all human beings.”
Follow Kristian on Twitter @kristianbailey.