UPDATE DEC. 27: Here is an iron rule of the modern age. Whenever you think a situation has gotten so hellish that it can’t get worse — it will get worse. The piece below examined the literally atrocious condition of Gaza at Christmas. Now, of course, that situation has grown infinitely worse, with a massive Israeli airstrike, killing at least 200 people so far — children among them, of course — with more hell promised to come. (Photo via the Angry Arab.)
What is happening in the Holy Land during this holiest of seasons? Sara Roy reports in the London Review of Books:
Israel’s siege of Gaza began on 5 November, the day after an Israeli attack inside the strip, no doubt designed finally to undermine the truce between Israel and Hamas established last June. Although both sides had violated the agreement before, this incursion was on a different scale. Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel and the violence has not abated since then….
On 5 November the Israeli government sealed all the ways into and out of Gaza. Food, medicine, fuel, parts for water and sanitation systems, fertiliser, plastic sheeting, phones, paper, glue, shoes and even teacups are no longer getting through in sufficient quantities or at all. According to Oxfam only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza in November. This means that an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered the strip compared to an average of 123 in October this year and 564 in December 2005. The two main food providers in Gaza are the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP). UNRWA alone feeds approximately 750,000 people in Gaza, and requires 15 trucks of food daily to do so. Between 5 November and 30 November, only 23 trucks arrived, around 6 per cent of the total needed; during the week of 30 November it received 12 trucks, or 11 per cent of what was required. There were three days in November when UNRWA ran out of food, with the result that on each of these days 20,000 people were unable to receive their scheduled supply. According to John Ging, the director of UNRWA in Gaza, most of the people who get food aid are entirely dependent on it. On 18 December UNRWA suspended all food distribution for both emergency and regular programmes because of the blockade.
The WFP has had similar problems, sending only 35 trucks out of the 190 it had scheduled to cover Gazans’ needs until the start of February (six more were allowed in between 30 November and 6 December). Not only that: the WFP has to pay to store food that isn’t being sent to Gaza. This cost $215,000 in November alone. If the siege continues, the WFP will have to pay an extra $150,000 for storage in December, money that will be used not to support Palestinians but to benefit Israeli business.
The majority of commercial bakeries in Gaza – 30 out of 47 – have had to close because they have run out of cooking gas. People are using any fuel they can find to cook with. As the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has made clear, cooking-gas canisters are necessary for generating the warmth to incubate broiler chicks. Shortages of gas and animal feed have forced commercial producers to smother hundreds of thousands of chicks. By April, according to the FAO, there will be no poultry there at all: 70 per cent of Gazans rely on chicken as a major source of protein.
Banks, suffering from Israeli restrictions on the transfer of banknotes into the territory were forced to close on 4 December. A sign on the door of one read: ‘Due to the decision of the Palestinian Finance Authority, the bank will be closed today Thursday, 4.12.2008, because of the unavailability of cash money, and the bank will be reopened once the cash money is available.’…
During the week of 30 November, 394,000 litres of industrial diesel were allowed in for the power plant: approximately 18 per cent of the weekly minimum that Israel is legally obliged to allow in. It was enough for one turbine to run for two days before the plant was shut down again. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company said that most of the Gaza Strip will be without electricity for between four and 12 hours a day. At any given time during these outages, over 65,000 people have no electricity.
No other diesel fuel (for standby generators and transport) was delivered during that week, no petrol (which has been kept out since early November) or cooking gas. Gaza’s hospitals are apparently relying on diesel and gas smuggled from Egypt via the tunnels; these supplies are said to be administered and taxed by Hamas. Even so, two of Gaza’s hospitals have been out of cooking gas since the week of 23 November.
The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us, but there is little international response beyond UN warnings which are ignored. The European Union announced recently that it wanted to strengthen its relationship with Israel while the Israeli leadership openly calls for a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip and continues its economic stranglehold over the territory with, it appears, the not-so-tacit support of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah – which has been co-operating with Israel on a number of measures. On 19 December Hamas officially ended its truce with Israel, which Israel said it wanted to renew, because of Israel’s failure to ease the blockade.
How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel? How can the impoverishment and suffering of Gaza’s children – more than 50 per cent of the population – benefit anyone?
As Roy notes, the UN has sounded some warnings about the situation in Gaza and has attempted to document the situation there. How has Israel responded to these efforts? Stephen Lendman reports on the treatment given to Richard Falk, a Jewish American who is the UN Human Rights Council Special Investigator for the Occupied Territories.
On December 14, he arrived at Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv to perform his assigned duties. He led a three-person mission that intended to visit the West Bank and Gaza, assess conditions on the ground, then report on Israel’s compliance with human rights standards and international humanitarian law….
Nonetheless, he was denied entry and harassed as follows:
- despite his UN status, he was put in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems;
- then “treated not as a UN representative, but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed;”
- separated from his two UN companions; they were allowed entry and taken to the airport facility about a mile away;
- required to put his luggage and cell phone in a room, then taken to a “locked tiny room that smelled of urine and filth;”
- five other detainees were with him in very cramped, uncomfortable quarters;
- he was confined there for the next 15 hours, “which amounted to a cram course on the miseries of prison life, including dirty sheets, inedible food and lights that were too bright or darkness controlled from the guard office;”
- Israel’s “obvious intention (was) to teach me, and more significantly, the UN a lesson: there will be no cooperation with those who make strong criticisms of Israel’s occupation policy.”
One can only imagine the uproar if a UN envoy to, say, Iran or Syria or Russia was given this kind of treatment. Indeed, you don’t have to imagine it. You need only look at news reports of the recent incident when Jimmy Carter and other who had come to investigate depredations by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe were turned away at the border. Yet not only has Israel been allowed to impose this horrific collective punishment on Gaza, it is now gathering “international support” for a full-scale assault on the besieged enclave, as Israel’s ynetnews.com reports:
Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni and Israel’s ambassadors around the world are preparing to launch a global effort in a bid to secure backing for the anticipated operation in the Gaza Strip….
As reported by Ynet, the triumvirate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Livni ruled in favor of the operation in a clandestine meeting last Thursday. The international diplomatic groundwork was one of the steps the three agreed would have to precede the operation.
So on the holiest of days in the homeland of Christ, we stand on the precipice of an even greater disaster. And when it happens, let no one say they didn’t see it coming. As Lendman notes, Falk has been speaking forcefully on the growing horror and atrocity in Gaza for a long time. In an article from July 2007, Falk wrote:
“It is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust’….Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians (in such terms)? I think not.”
He condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza and referred to subjecting “an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty.” He called it “a holocaust-in-the-making” and appealed to world governments and international public opinion “to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy.”
He urged concerted action to spare Gazans “from further pain and suffering.” He took umbrage with how America supports Israel and with European governments for having “lent their weight to recent illicit (and overt) efforts to crush Hamas as (the legitimate) Palestinian (government).” He referred to “Israel’s impunity under America’s geopolitical umbrella,” and the immorality of the international community watching Gaza’s “ugly spectacle unfold while some of its most influential members actively encourage and assist Israel” in its efforts…
He condemned Israel for being “more determined than ever to foment civil war in Palestine,” arm and pit Fatah against Hamas, “make Gazans pay with their well being and lives,” crush their will, and maintain separate Gaza and West Bank “destinies…”
“To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community….” This prospect sends a “warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never again.'”
It seems to be the tragic fate of this generation of Israel to teach the world, once more, the bitter lesson of the universality of human evil. This base drive to impose suffering on others — out of fear, out of greed, out of the lust to dominate — lives in us all, in every individual, every nation, every people, every tribe, every sect, every clan. It must be resisted at all of these levels — beginning within, of course. And when it breaks out into the open, we must condemn it forthrightly, call it what it is, no matter what form it takes or who unleashes it.