Friday, March 07, 2008

"Holocaust" in Gaza

I was going to write a blog questioning Thailand's reputation as "the brothel of the world" (based on this analysis which disputes inflated statistics from NGOs on human trafficking and child sex slavery), but the overwhelming human tragedy in Gaza has captured my attention. I want to scream, but words will have to suffice.

Last week, Israel’s deputy defense minister, Matan Vilnai, issued a chilling warning that Palestinians in Gaza faced a “holocaust” (using the term shoah in Hebrew) if they continued to fire home-made rockets into Israel. Over the weekend, Palestinian leaders exploited Vilnai's use of the term, with both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal charging that a "holocaust" was unfolding in Gaza. Israeli spin-doctors tried to explain that shoah also meant "disaster," but the word has been used for fifty years to explain the Nazi attempt to exterminate all the Jews.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are living through their worst humanitarian crisis since the 1967 war because of the severe restrictions imposed by Israel since Hamas took over, according to a report released yesterday by a coalition of groups including Oxfam, Save the Children and Amnesty International. "The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion" details the impacts of the Israeli blockade: Movement is all but impossible and supplies of food and water, sewage treatment and basic healthcare can no longer be taken for granted. The economy has collapsed, unemployment is expected to rise to 50%, hospitals are suffering 12-hour power cuts and schools are failing. The report called on the UK and EU to condemn the Israeli blockade.

The 16-page report details how more than 1.1 million people, 80% of Gaza's population, are dependent on food aid, up from 63 percent in 2006. Close to 70% of the 110,000 workers in the private sector have lost their jobs. Over 40 million liters of sewage are pouring into the sea daily. "Punishing the entire Gazan population by denying them these basic human rights is utterly indefensible," said Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International. The report concluded that Israel's blockade of Gaza was unacceptable and that collective punishment is illegal.

Responding to Israeli claims that Hamas is responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Michael Bailey of the Jerusalem Oxfam office, said "because Israel is still in control, it is still the occupying power even though they (Israel) are not inside Gaza; they control all the borders, the air and the sea space," Bailey said. "Therefore whoever is in charge inside Gaza, they are really powerless to control an economy that depends 90 percent on imports for any manufacturing or productivity."

The NGO report parallels a recent study for the UN by John Dugard on Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories, in which he described Palestinian terrorism as the "inevitable consequence" of Israeli occupation and laws that resemble apartheid. Palestinian terrorist acts are to be deplored but "must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation", wrote Dugard, whose report accused Israel of acts and policies consistent with all three. Israel of course dismissed his conclusions as one-sided and inflammatory.

In most of the stories I have read from the western press, Hamas is said to have "seized power" in Gaza. But in fact, they won a surprise victory in parliamentary elections held in January 2006, taking 76 of the 132 seats , while the ruling Fatah party took only 43. After gaining power fairly in the election, Hamas announced it was giving up suicide attacks and "offered Israel a 10-year truce in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Palestinian territories. Hamas also declared a unilateral ceasefire with Israel, but after Israeli air strikes into Gaza began, it was formally renounced

And now, in the April issue of Vanity Fair, it is revealed that President Bush, Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice and their neocon cronies, most notably Elliott Abrams, immediately set about to undermine that electoral victory. Acording to Suzanne Goldberg in the London Guardian, "The 2006 election result was seen as an affront to the central premise of the Bush administration's policy in the Middle East - that democratic elections would inexorably lead to pro-western governments." So much for the ideology of "democracy." Abbas was pressured into outlawing Hamas and attempting to "seize power" in Gaza. When that failed, the Israeli troops went to work.

And they've done their job well. According to a heart-rending report in the London Guardian on Wednesday by Seumas Milne, "More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israeli forces in the past week, of whom one in five were children and more than half were civilians, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. During the same period, three Israelis were killed, two of whom were soldiers taking part in the attacks." Milne charts how this disproportion of deaths has increased: "At the height of the intifada, from 2000 to 2005, four Palestinians were killed for every Israeli; in 2006 it was 30; last year the ratio was 40 to one. In the three months since the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference at Annapolis, 323 Palestinians have been killed compared with seven Israelis, two of whom were civilians." The US and Europe’s response, according to Milne, "is to blame the principal victims for a crisis it has underwritten at every stage."

And what do the major Democratic contenders have to say in America's charade of a primary campaign? Nothing. " Search as one might at mid-day," John Nichols writes in The Nation, "but you won't find a statement on the exploding crisis in the Middle East."
That Obama and Clinton are not inclined to look up from their campaigning for long enough to address an international crisis is probably to be expected. But that doesn't make it any less unsettling. And if their current disengagement foreshadows things to come, then the talk of "change" that has so energized the 2008 presidential race will almost certainly turn out to have been just that: talk.
And now the internet headlines scream that a gunman, no doubt a Palestinian, has killed eight students and wounded nine others in a conservative Jerusalem seminary, one where theology has been used as a prop for justifying illegal settlements on the West Bank. Based on the ratio of revenge deaths uncovered in his research by Milne, that means the blood of near 375 Palestinians will be demanded by Israel to compensate for the eight students. In the streets outside the seminary, yeshiva students and residents chanted "death to Arabs!"

Before this latest violence, Milne, responding to a question about what could be done about the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, said,
The answer could not be more obvious: end the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and negotiate a just settlement for the Palestinian refugees, ethnically cleansed 60 years ago - who, with their families, make up the majority of Gaza’s 1.5 million people. All the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, accept that as the basis for a permanent settlement or indefinite end of armed conflict. In the meantime, agree on a truce, exchange prisoners and lift the blockade.
If not, he wrote, it is likely that "a lot more blood is going to have to flow" before the U.S. and Israel come to their senses.

All of this just confirms my belief that religious states are inherently undemocratic and dangerous (that of course goes for Muslim religious states as well). The only solution for the Middle East (and the Palestine conflict is at the base of anti-western "terrorism") is to democratize Israel by dismantling the Jewish state. Many secular Jews would support this. But of course America under Bush is also a religious state, following the agenda of the religious right since Ronald Reagan declared himself a believer in the Apocalypse (which requires conflict in the Middle East). If Obama and Clinton cannot free themselves from the financial power of the (well-documented -- I'm not being anti-Semitic here) Jewish Lobby, there will be no change, no peace in the Middle East (which includes Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, not to mention Iran) and the bloodshed will continue.

It is the Israelis who are "eyeless in Gaza." Perhaps it is their very strength (funding by the US.) that will bring the religious state down, like the blind Samson's destruction of the Philistines.

I'm not very hopeful.

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