Suppose I were to argue that, given Israel’s numerous and gross war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the international community should impose sanctions on Israel of such severity that 80% of the Israeli population would be reduced to reliance upon UN food aid for mere survival, and over 65% of Israeli households would be forced to live in ‘deep poverty’ (i.e. on less than $474 per month). The blockade would be so tight that only 41% of Israel’s food import needs would be met, and supplies of 91 out of 416 essential drugs and about a third of essential medical supplies (including most children’s antibiotics) would run out.
As a result of the worsening poverty, violence and despair, a growing proportion of Israel’s population would experience psychological problems, with some 40% (.pdf) of Israeli children suffering from insomnia and 34% from anxiety. Thousands of psychiatric patients would have their treatment stopped because over half the medicines required would no longer be available, and nearly half of Israel’s incubators would cease to function.
The siege would involve a significant reduction in the supply of fuel to Israel, which would receive less than half the amount it needs. This would cause a 60-70% shortage of fuel required to operate mobile health units. Spare parts for critical medical equipment would be blocked, which would cause the majority of diagnostic laboratory equipment in Israel, including MRI and X-ray equipment, to stop working. The proportion of deaths among hospitalized neonates at Israel’s pediatric hospitals would increase from 5.6% to 6.9% within a year. Patients requiring urgent or life-saving medical treatment would not be allowed to leave the country, causing many to go blind or simply die.
Restrictions on the import of fuel and spare parts would also severely hamper the operation of Israel’s water system, with the result (.pdf) that approximately 15% of the population would receive just 1-2 hours of water supply per day.
Israeli society would be squeezed so relentlessly that unemployment would sky-rocket to 37.6% and around a fifth of the population would experience a drop in income. A majority of households would be forced to reduce spending, primarily on food and clothing (for example, the purchase of meat would decrease by 98%, and the purchase of dairy products by 86%).
Nearly 90% of Israel’s industrial establishments would shut down, and those industries which remained operational would operate well below full capacity. Major Israeli industries (such as agriculture and construction) would be completely ‘paralysed’, leading to massive unemployment and reduction in income.
In short, then, suppose I were to advocate the calculated and systematic destruction of Israeli society as a response to the crimes and disagreeable ideology of the Israeli government. What response would I get? Likely as not, the idea would be greeted with horrified outrage and the men in white coats would be called before I finished the first sentence.
Yet, this is precisely what is being done to the residents of Gaza as we speak. Israel, backed by the ‘international community’, is openly and brazenly strangling 1.5 million Palestinians, over half of whom are children, to within an inch of their lives. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently published an unusually blunt report (.pdf) calling for immediate political action to resolve the “deep crisis” in the Occupied Territories. Warning that Gaza’s “vital services are in danger of complete collapse” as a result of Israeli policy, the ICRC concluded:
“The dignity of the Palestinians is being trampled underfoot day after day, both in the West Bank and in Gaza.
Israel’s harsh security measures come at an enormous humanitarian cost, leaving those living under occupation with just enough to survive, but not enough to live normal and dignified lives…
The 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip continue to pay for conflict and economic containment with their health and livelihoods. Cutting power and fuel further compounds their hardship and is contrary to fundamental humanitarian principles.”
In fact, the analogy presented above is quite unfair. It ignores the fact that the current sanctions regime, the cause of so much devastation and humanitarian suffering in the Gaza Strip, is being imposed on a population that has already suffered well over a year of sustained collective punishment, in which 683 Palestinians were killed, much vital infrastructure (the Interior Ministry, Gaza’s only power plant, etc.) was destroyed, unemployment shot up to unprecedented levels, the number of Palestinian households living in poverty increased by 30%, food consumption fell by 8% (.pdf), the Palestinian economy shrank by 21% in the fourth quarter of 2006 alone and the number of families unable to get enough food increased by 14%. These sanctions, initiated in response to the election of a government unfavourable to the U.S. and Israel, were in turn inflicted upon an occupied people who were already experiencing what the World Bank described as “the worst economic depression in modern history” and who were already suffering malnutrition rates comparable to those of sub-Saharan Africa.
As noted above, if I were to propose the politicide of Israel and the killing of hundreds of Israelis as an acceptable response to the crimes of the Israeli government, which by any objective measure are of a far greater scale than those of Palestinian militant organisations, I would be booed off the stage as an anti-Semite within seconds. Similarly, if I were to advocate the collective starvation of the American/British public and the murder of thousands of American/British citizens in response to U.S./UK crimes in Iraq – which, again, are just totally incomparable to those of Hamas and co. in terms of scale – I’d be reported to the government immediately as a probable al-Qaeda sympathiser. This would not be an unreasonable accusation – after all, “collective responsibility” and the consequent legitimacy of collective punishment is precisely the doctrine organisations like al-Qaeda employ to justify atrocities like the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
And yet Israel’s vicious collective punishment of Gaza is largely condoned or justified in Western political discourse. Certainly, it evokes none of the strident and emotional condemnation elicited by Palestinian attempts to collectively punish Israelis, through means such as suicide bombings and Qassam rocket attacks. (Again, the analogy is somewhat unfair, since Palestinian suicide bombers surely have a stronger justification for their actions than does the occupying Israeli state). Why the double-standard? Racism surely plays a part, as does simple ignorance of the realities on the ground. Either way, international law is clear on the matter, as is basic morality (al-Qaeda-lovers aside): collective punishment is forbidden. The U.S. and the EU, far from intervening in defence of basic Palestinian rights, have thus far been fully complicit in the criminal destruction of Gaza, which demonstrates clearly their profound contempt for human rights and the law, and is frankly nothing short of psychopathic.
Cross-posted at The Heathlander