Destroying Gaza

After being subjected to almost two years of relentless economic siege and vicious military assault, the 1.5 million residents of Gaza are on the brink of collapse. Israel is apparently determined to push them over the edge.

Before the latest round of Israeli killings, Hamas had been observing an “informal moratorium“, largely refraining from attacks on Israel. In fact, Hamas hadn’t claimed responsibility for an attack inside Israel for months. Flatly rejecting an offer of a formal truce, Israel continued its policy of collectively punishing the population of Gaza, assassinating Palestinian “militants” (in scare quotes because there were no trials and I’m not prepared to take Israel’s word for it) and destroying Palestinian infrastructure. Failing to provoke the desired reaction, Israel began killing Palestinian leaders, assassinating high ranking activists in the PRC, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and Islamic Jihad, as well as numerous Palestinian civilians and scores of Hamas “militants”, along with the son of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar.

The effect of this was entirely predictable. Hamas ended its de facto truce and began firing hundreds of Qassams into Israel. Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades both escalated their attacks, as a direct and explicit response to the Israeli assassinations. This is a familiar pattern that has been replayed a thousand times over. Ha’aretz sums it up well:

“The current escalation began on Tuesday, when the Israel Defense Forces killed 19 Palestinians, mostly armed Hamas operatives. Since then, Palestinians have fired more than 130 rockets and dozens of mortar shells at Israel.

Hamas was responsible for most of Thursday’s launches, and senior IDF officers believe that unless the situation calms down soon, Israel will have to further escalate its military operations.”

So Israel provokes a Palestinian response through assassinations, Palestinians

Between Jan 2 - Jan 8, 2008 (source: UN)
Casualties between January 2nd – 8th, 2008. (Source: UN OCHA)

(eventually) respond and Israel then uses this inevitable reaction as a pretext to escalate the conflict further. Countless ceasefires have been destroyed in this way, most recently Hamas’ 16-month unilateral, self-imposed ceasefire which ended after eight Palestinians were killed on a beach by an Israeli shell, or Hamas’ five-month unilateral truce which was brought to a close in April 2007 after Israel continued to kill Palestinian militants and civilians in the West Bank. Of course, in 1982 Israel tried the same strategy of provoking the Palestinians into a conflict. The PLO failed to bite, so Israel just invaded anyway. It must be difficult to know how to respond to such an enemy.

Israel yesterday tightened the siege on Gaza still further, closing all the border crossings and preventing even the delivery of UN humanitarian aid to a place where 80% of the population is dependent upon UN food aid for survival. This is a clear act of collective punishment, the rationale bluntly expressed by Ariel Sharon’s son in Israel’s leading daily:

“It is better to see a whole Gaza neighborhood turning into ruins than seeing funerals for our soldiers.”

The third option – responding positively to Hamas’ overtures for a ceasefire and making serious steps towards a negotiated solution of the conflict – being too absurd to warrant mentioning.

The closure will “lead to the deterioration of an already dire situation,” warned an UNRWA spokesman. According to the UN, half the residents of Gaza no longer have access to fresh water as a result of Israel’s fuel restrictions, while a shortage of cement has a put a stop to all construction. Palestinians have had to resort to burying people killed by Israeli air-strikes draped in flags and bed sheets, because they’ve run out of burial shrouds. The situation in Gaza is so severe that 99.4% of Gazan children suffer trauma (via), 40% suffer insomnia (.pdf) and 34% suffer anxiety. Gazans continue to experience widespread power cuts as a result of Israeli restrictions on the import of fuel. As one Palestinian explained,

“We had electricity for only two hours during the day yesterday,” said Um Sultan, from Beach (Shati) refugee camp. “We can’t afford to buy gas heaters, or even gas,” the widowed mother of five said. “We try using blankets to keep warm, but we don’t have enough blankets.”

Put simply, Gaza is being destroyed. The proposed justification for this is that it is a necessary measure to stop the Qassams, which killed a total of two Israeli civilians last year. The first point is that Israel has alternatives if it wants to end Palestinian rocket attacks – that is, to make serious efforts to reach a negotiated solution to the conflict based on international law, negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas, end the criminal siege of Gaza and stop assassinating Palestinians. The second point is that the Israeli government has pursued policies that have knowingly and predictably not only failed to reduce the number of Qassam attacks, but actively increased it. This suggests either that Israel is deliberately seeking a confrontation with Hamas, or that it simply couldn’t care less about the Qassams. Finally, if the pathetically inept Qassam missiles constitute a justification for the mass collective punishment of the people of Gaza, then the Israeli occupation and its associated brutalities are certainly enough to legitimise Palestinian rocket attacks and suicide bombings against Israelis. Those who approve of the former must do likewise for the latter, and I expect them to say so loud and clear.

Throughout it all, of course, construction of the annexation wall and in the settlements has continued apace (.pdf). But then, you knew that already, didn’t you?

Cross-posted at The Heathlander


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  1. I’m not holding my breath, tho’.

    I am not sure why George Bush’s p*cker is so completely in Israel’s pocket (tho’ I have dark conspiratorial suspicions) but the fact is that he has given the Israeli right wing carte blanche to do their worst, in Gaza and the West Bank, which they have.

  2. Eighteen year old cancer patient Mahmoud Hussein died on Saturday after Israeli authorities denied him permission to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment, Palestinian medical sources said.

    Hussein, from the city of Jabalia, became the 72nd person to dies as a result of Israel’s crippling closure of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings, the according to the Popular Committee for countering the Israeli siege said.

    Are not these deaths every bit as appalling as those resulting from rocket attacks or airstrikes?

    – “The population of Gaza is paying a high price for the violence resulting from daily Israeli army operations, which have the effect of worsening the already harsh reality of life there,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

    The impact of the occupation on Palestinian children:

    “Here are some figures from UNICEF:  

    One in ten Palestinian children is stunted, one in two is anemic, and 75 per cent of children under the age of five suffer from vitamin A deficiency…Chronic malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies is epidemic

    …In order to guage the psychological effects on Palestinians it is necessary to consider the extraordinary level of violence that has persisted since the occupation began in 1967. In one study, 85 per cent of Palestinian children reported having witnessed a violent event related to occupation and resistance, and 39 per cent had lost a family member to ongoing conflict with the Israelis. In the first two years of the first Intifada,

    Israeli forces injured “between 50,000 and 63,000 Palestinian children and youth…in shootings, beatings, and tear-gassing,…about 7 per cent of the total child/youth population.” (Child Development, 1996, Issue 67.)

    Furthermore “Some two-thirds of children living in the West Bank and Gaza do not have safe areas for entertainment, socializing and playing sports.”

    Also, in the first two years of the second Intifada, the IDF inflicted $930 million in “raw physical damage” on the Occupied Territories.  UNCTAD estimates that up to one-third of Palestinian infrastructure has been physically destroyed by Israeli military force since September 2000. According to B’tselem and Human Rights Watch, Israeli forces demolished at least 8,772 Palestinian homes from 1987 to 2006. Amnesty International reports IDF bulldozers uprooted and destroyed “hundreds of thousands of olive, citrus, almond, date and other trees” between September 2000 and May 2004 alone.  According to UNICEF,

    “Nearly half of all students have seen their schools besieged by [Israeli] troops, and more than 10 per cent have witnessed the killing of a teacher….”

    OCHA reports 109 weekly search raids and 101 weekly arrests on average by Israeli forces between August 2006 and July 2007. In addition since 1967 more than 650,000 Palestinian men have been incarcerated by the IDF, a high percentage of whom have been tortured.”

  3. due to fuel shortages:

    “Gaza’s main power plant shut down one of its two turbines on Sunday because of a fuel shortage following Israel’s closing of the territory’s border crossings in response to Palestinian rocket attacks.

    Kanaan Abeid, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority in the Gaza Strip, said the second turbine would also cease operation in the evening.

    “There is no fuel coming in and we have no reserves,” Abeid said, estimating as many as one million people would be affected by the full shutdown.”

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