Although Professor Juan Cole is lamentably jejune in his abiding trust in Barack Obama’s good intentions in Iraq, he has been doing yeoman service in covering the ongoing atrocity in Gaza. The inhuman conditions in the world’s largest open-air concentration camp have slipped almost entirely from notice in the Western press.
At most one sees a few comforting headlines or crawl-lines about “pledges of aid” from the world community for poor Gaza, which seems to have suffered some sort of unavoidable natural disaster, like a flood or earthquake. Forgotten is the fact that Gaza was ravaged in a relentless, murderous military assault that deliberately targeted heavily populated areas and numbered hundreds of children among its many innocent victims. Forgotten is that the attack. fueled with American money and American weapons, was a clear act of “collective punishment,” one of the most heinous of the war crimes perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews and non-Jews alike. Indeed, the Israeli government was quite candid that the attack was designed as a collective punishment; they were admirably honest about adopting this policy of the Nazis as their own.
After many days of horror, many children and other non-combatants slaughtered, the attack finally came to an end — apparently as a gesture toward Barack Obama, to spare him the embarrassment of finally having to comment on the massacre being committed by a staunch U.S. ally: something he had adroitly avoided throughout his president-electship, preferring instead to hide behind the specious nostrum of “one president at a time in foreign policy” — a “principle” which, oddly enough, did not prevent him from commenting at length on any number of other foreign policy issues. But the end of military operations was by no means the end of the collective punishment atrocity — which, indeed, began before the attack itself, with the barbaric, Warsaw Ghetto-like blockade of essential goods and services imposed by Israel on its captives in Gaza.
Not only did these sanctions leave ordinary Gazans even more stricken and weakened — and vulnerable — than usual, it also prevented civilians from fleeing the carnage. With the American-backed dictatorship in Egypt giving its silent collusion, the borders of the Gaza cauldron were completely sealed. There was literally nowhere for civilians to go in the midst of the invasion; they could not even flee to a desperate, hellish exile in a foreign land, as more than two million Iraqis did to escape the similar American invasion of their country. This enclosure in Gaza was also a deliberate strategy, designed to heighten the terror against civilians and “break” the Palestinians psychologically.
Now, as Cole — nearly alone among commentators with a mainstream audience — has frequently noted, the Israelis are continuing their economic stranglehold on Gaza, refusing to let in some of the most basic materials needed to rebuild the shattered region and sustain even the barest modicum of a decent human life for the captives there. While Saudi Arabia — yet another savagely repressive dictatorship supported by American guns and money — joins the United States and other countries in making a great show of pledging billions in aid to Gaza, the Israeli government — soon to be in even more virulently rightwing hands — throws up roadblocks to staunch the flow.
But of course, it is not just Israel who is holding up the distribution of aid. It is also one of the great showy donors themselves: the United Progressive Liberal Humane States of America. As Cole notes:
[Hillary] Clinton arrives in Israel from a donors conference in Cairo that raised $5 bn. Unfortunately, Israel won’t let most of it in, since it is trying to half-starve the Palestinians into submission. And the only realistic conduit for that amount of money is the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy in Gaza, which was taken over by Hamas when it won the January, 2006 elections. But the US and Israel refuse to deal with Hamas and won’t let the money go through bureaucracies it controls (all the relevant ones). Washington and Tel Aviv will probably try to use the money to bolster Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction within the Palestinian authority. What they can’t understand is that Palestinians have excellent BS meters, and don’t support people they view as corrupt collaborators. The frantic search for the ‘good Palestinian’ only creates unpopular failures over time.
Cole also points to a revealing article by Helena Cobban. Although he provides a useful link, the piece is worth quoting more fully. In her piece, Cobban talks to Professor Efraim Inbar, a key adviser of incoming Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and learns that the post-attack strangling of Gaza is indeed a deliberate act of collective punishment. Cobban writes:
In a telling op-ed published in The Jerusalem Post in early February, Prof. Efraim Inbar, an adviser to Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, argued that, “The developing international campaign to reconstruct Gaza is strategic folly. It is also unlikely to be effective. And, under current circumstances, it is also immoral.”
The article strongly supported a policy of punishing all the people of Gaza for the actions of Hamas.
I interviewed Inbar here in Jerusalem yesterday. Referring to his article and to today’s donors’ conference, he admitted that the international community might (misguidedly) insist on rebuilding Gaza– “but we can always slow the process down.”
Indeed until now Israel, which is the “occupying power” in the Gaza Strip, has complete control over the passage of all freight into or out of the Strip. Since the Gaza war it has used that power to prevent the entry of just about all the basic materials required for physical rebuilding: cement, rebar, glass, piping, etc. So it seems that the outgoing Olmert government has already been working hard to prevent or slow down the rebuilding of Gaza.
The Independent, in another piece linked by Cole, details some of the sand that Israel is pouring into the gears of the aid machine:
The total number of products blacklisted by Israel remains a mystery for UN officials and the relief agencies which face long delays in bringing in supplies. For security reasons such items as cement and steel rods are banned as they could be used by Hamas to build bunkers or the rockets used to target Israeli civilians. Hearing aids have been banned in case the mercury in their batteries could be used to produce chemical weapons.
Yet since the end of the war in January, according to non-government organisations, five truckloads of school notebooks were turned back at the crossing at Kerem Shalom where goods are subject to a $1,000 (£700) per truck “handling fee”.
Paper to print new textbooks for Palestinian schools was stopped, as were freezer appliances, generators and water pumps, cooking gas and chickpeas. And the French government was incensed when an entire water purification system was denied entry. Christopher Gunness, the spokesman for the UN agency UNRWA responsible for Palestinian refugees, said: “One of the big problems is that the ‘banned list’ is a moving target so we discover things are banned on a ‘case by case’, ‘day by day’ basis.”
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said: “Israel’s blockade policy can be summed up in one word and it is punishment, not security.”
Again, the Israelis are not being coy about their intentions. They are seeking, says Inbar, not only to punish the Palestinians but also to “train” them — to break them to the yoke, like oxen or mules, in other words. As Cobban reports:
Inbar is the Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. In another part of yesterday’s interview he talked about the need to maintain the extensive series of roadblocks and other movement-control mechanisms deep inside the West Bank with which Israel controls its 2.3 million Palestinians. Those roadblocks currently number more than 600, and have completely paralyzed the ability of West Bankers to build anything like a functioning economy.
Inbar described the West Bank roadblocks as another part of the effort to punish, or “train”, the Palestinians. The US and other governments have urged Israel to reduce their number. But Inbar told me, “The Americans may push us on this, and we may remove one or two roadblocks. We’ll just play with the Americans!”
They will “play with the Americans” indeed. And the Americans are happy to be played with. It’s all a game for the elites in both countries, as they serve each other’s mutual interests for their agendas of domination. As Cobban notes:
In some cases, like that of the US, this intention of giving reconstruction aid now seems bizarre and hypocritical, given that Washington could have stopped Israel’s assault on Gaza in its very first hours, and thereby prevented just about all of the horrendous damage Gazans have suffered….
Yes. The attack certainly could have been stopped — before it started, or at any time thereafter — with a word from the Bush Administration. Even a critical word from the incoming president, riding a wave of worldwide popularity — and making clear that there would be serious consequences when he took office if the atrocity did not halt immediately — would probably have been equally effective. But of course the Bush Administration did not want the attack to stop; and neither did the president-to-be.
Here again, I will pay Barack Obama much more respect than many of his followers do. I don’t believe that he looked at the attack on Gaza, felt to his very soul that it was an horrific atrocity, but then refused to denounce it out of some sort of cynical political calculation. (Which is the usual explanation offered by his acolytes when he does something unseemly.) I believe that, like most good, decent, honorable, upright, serious members of the American Empire’s power elite, he did not think the attack on Gaza was an atrocity at all. It was simply a grim necessity, the kind of thing that essentially good and altruistic nations like the United States and Israel have to do sometimes, even if, unfortunately, it does produce some “collateral damage” here and there. But just like the last great Democratic secretary of state said about the 500,000 children killed by America’s Gaza-like blockade of Iraq for years on end, these grimly necessary unfortunate actions are “worth it.”
Just as Bush could have ended the attack with a word, so too could Obama end the deliberate degradation and destruction of the Palestinians in Gaza. He could force the Israelis to lift the blockade tomorrow — today — this very hour — simply by threatening to cut off the massive flow of American aid that Israel is dependent on. The fact that he will not do that — or anything like that — is, like the Israeli infliction of Nazi-like collective punishment on Gaza, a very deliberate choice.