Washington Okays Attack on Unarmed U.S. Ship June 30, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: alice walker, audacity of hope, free gaza, gaza, gaza blockade, gaza flotilla, gaza strip, hillary clinton, International law, israel, israeli military, non-violent resistance, Palestine, Palestinians, roger hollander, stephen zunes
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The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla carrying peace and human rights activists — including a vessel with 50 Americans on board — bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. At a press conference on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”
Clinton did not explain why a country had “the right to defend themselves” against ships which are clearly no threat. Not only have organizers of the flotilla gone to great steps to ensure are there no weapons on board, the only cargo bound for Gaza on the U.S. ship are letters of solidarity to the Palestinians in that besieged enclave who have suffered under devastating Israeli bombardments, a crippling blockade, and a right-wing Islamist government. Nor did Clinton explain why the State Department suddenly considers the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the port of Gaza to be “Israeli waters,” when the entire international community recognizes Israeli territorial waters as being well to the northeast of the ships’ intended route.
The risk of an Israeli attack on the flotilla is real. Israeli commandoes illegally assaulted a similar flotilla in international waters on May 31 of last year, killing nine people on board one of the vessels, including Furkan Dogan, a 19-year old U.S. citizen. Scores of others, including a number of Americans, were brutally beaten and more than a dozen others were shot but survived their wounds. According to a UN investigation, based on eyewitness testimony and analysis by a forensic pathologist and ballistic expert, Dogan was initially shot while filming the assault and then murdered while lying face down with a bullet shot at close range in the back of the head. The United States was the only one of the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council to vote against the adoption of the report. The Obama administration never filed a complaint with the Israeli government, demonstrating its willingness to allow the armed forces of U.S. allies to murder U.S. citizens on the high seas.
As indicated by Clinton’s statement of last week, the administration appears to be willing to let it happen again.
Last year, 329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter that referred to Israel’s attack that killed Dogan and the others as an act of “self-defense” which they “strongly support.” A Senate letter — signed by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record “fully” supporting what it called “Israel’s right to self-defense,” claiming that the effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a “clever tactical and diplomatic ploy” by “Israel’s opponents” to “challenge its international standing.”
But not everyone in Congress believes the assaulting and killing human rights activists on the high seas is legitimate. Last week, on June 24, six members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary Clinton requesting that she “do everything in her power to work with the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens on board.” As of this writing, they have not received a response.
Earlier in the week, the State Department issued a public statement to discourage Americans from taking part in the second Gaza flotilla because they might be attacked by Israeli forces. Yet thus far neither the State Department nor the White House has issued a public statement demanding that Israel not attack Americans legally traveling in international waters. Indeed, on Friday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland implied that the United States would blame those taking part in the flotilla rather than the rightist Israeli government should anything happen to them. Like those in the early 1960s who claimed civil rights protesters were responsible for the attacks by white racist mobs because they had “provoked them,” Nuland stated, “Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers.” Again, The Obama administration didn’t offer even one word encouraging caution or restraint by the Israeli government, nor did it mention that the International Red Cross and other advocates of international humanitarian law recognize that the Israeli blockade is illegal.
Who’s On Board
Passengers of the U.S. boat, christened The Audacity of Hope, include celebrated novelist Alice Walker, holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, veteran foreign service officer and retired lieutenant colonel Ann Wright, Israeli-American linguistics professor Hagit Borer, and prominent peace and human rights activists like Medea Benjamin, Robert Naiman, Steve Fake, and Kathy Kelly. Ten other boats are carrying hundreds of other civilians from dozens of other countries, along with nearly three thousand tons of aid. Those on board include members of national parliaments and other prominent political figures, writers, artists, clergy from various faith traditions, journalists, and athletes.
Fifteen ships have previously sailed or attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the Free Gaza Campaign. None was found to contain any weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes. The current flotilla organizers have stated that their cargoes are “open to international inspection.” Despite this, however, the Obama State Department insists that the Israelis have the right to intercept the ships due to the “vital importance to Israel’s security of ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for illegal arms and dual-use materials.”
Though the flotilla organizers have made clear that the U.S. boat is only carrying letters of support for the people of Gaza, the State Department has also threatened participants with “fines and incarceration” if they attempt to provide “material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas.”
As with many actions supporting Palestinian rights, the coalition of groups endorsing the flotilla includes pro-Palestinian groups as well as peace, human rights, religious, pacifist and liberal organizations, including Progressive Democrats of America, Pax Christi, Peace Action, Nonviolence International, Jewish Voice for Peace, War Resisters League, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Despite this, Brad Sherman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has claimed that organizers of the flotilla have “clear terrorist ties” and has called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute U.S. citizens involved with the flotilla and ban foreign participants from ever entering the United States.
Largely as a result of last year’s flotilla, Israel has somewhat relaxed its draconian siege on the territory, which had resulted in a major public health crisis. The State Department has gone to some lengths to praise Israel for allowing some construction material into the Gaza Strip to make possible the rebuilding of some of the thousands of homes, businesses and public facilities destroyed in Israel’s devastating U.S.-backed 2008-2009 military offensive, which resulted in the deaths of over 800 civilians. At no point, however, has the Obama administration ever criticized Israel for destroying those civilian structures in the first place.
As with many potentially confrontational nonviolent direct actions, there are genuine differences within the peace and human rights community regarding the timing, the nature, and other aspects of the forthcoming flotilla. However, the response to the Obama administration’s position on the flotilla has been overwhelmingly negative. Many among his progressive base, already disappointed at his failure to take a tougher line against the rightist Israeli government as well as his reluctance to embrace human rights and international law as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace, feel increasingly alienated from the president.
More significantly, the Obama administration’s response may signal a return to the Reagan administration’s policies of defending the killing of U.S. human rights workers in order to discourage grassroots acts of international solidarity, as when Reagan officials sought to blame the victims and exonerate the perpetrators for the murder of four American churchwomen by the El Salvadoran junta and the murder of American engineer Ben Linder by the Nicaraguan Contras. Perhaps the Obama administration hopes that giving a green light to an Israeli attack on the U.S. ship and other vessels in the flotilla will serve as a warning. Perhaps they hope that Americans volunteering for groups like Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Christian Peacemaker Teams, International Solidarity Movement, and other groups operating in conflict zones like Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Nepal, Indonesia and elsewhere will think twice, knowing that the U.S. government will not live up to its obligations to try to protect nonviolent U.S. activists from violence perpetrated by allied governments.
Indeed, nothing frightens a militaristic state more than the power of nonviolent action.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a contributing editor of Tikkun. His most recent book, co-authored with Jacob Mundy, is Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010.)
Tags: audacity of hope, collective punishment, dr. king, gaza, gaza blockade, gaza flotilla, gaza freedom, gaza strip, geneva convention, hamas, israel, israeli military, mavi marmara, medea benjamin, mlk, Palestine, palestinian refugees, Palestinians, roger hollander
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“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him,” said Dr. Martin Luther King as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. These words will guide me and other passengers aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a fleet of nine boats scheduled to set sail for Gaza on June 25 from various Mediterranean ports. While the Israelis try to label us provocateurs, terrorists and Hamas supporters, we are simply nonviolent advocates following the teachings of Dr. King. We refuse to sit at the docks of history and watch the people of Gaza suffer.
The U.S. boat, which will carry 50 Americans, is called The Audacity of Hope. It is named after Obama’s bestselling political autobiography in which he lauds our collective audacity of striving to become a better nation. But I prefer to think of our boat as part of Dr. King’s legacy. He, too, talked about audacity, about his audacious faith in the future. “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him,” Dr. King said.
Our intrepid group has its moral compass aimed at the way things ought to be. Our cargo is not humanitarian aid, as some of the other ships are carrying, but thousands of letters from the U.S. people, letters of compassion, solidarity and hope written to people living in the Gaza Strip. We travel with what Dr. King called “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”
We focus on Gaza because since 2007 the Israeli government has enforced a crippling blockade on its 1.5 million residents. Inflicting collective punishment on civilians is morally wrong and is a gross violation of international humanitarian law under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet the world’s democracies do nothing to stop Israel’s extraordinarily cruel behavior, and in fact did nothing for 22 days in 2009 while the Israel military unleashed a tidal wave of carnage that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. They continue to sit by while the people of Gaza remain isolated and unable to secure access to building materials and basic living supplies, and while Israeli soldiers shoot at Gaza’s farmers trying to till their land along the border and attack fisherman trying to make a living in waters off their shore. And in the case of the United States, our government is not simply sitting by, but supporting the Israeli military with $3 billion in military aid a year.
The Palestinians’ plea for help has been ignored by world governments, but it has pricked the conscience of civil society. Caravans have crisscrossed Europe and Africa, carrying tons of aid. Boats have braved Israeli war ships and tried to dock in Gaza’s ports. Over 1,000 people joined the Gaza Freedom March, an attempt to break the siege that was brutally stopped by Egyptian police during the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
In May, 2010, seven ships and nearly 700 passengers carrying humanitarian aid tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade. The Israeli military violently intercepted the ships, killing nine passengers aboard the Turkish boat, including a 19-year-old American citizen. The rest of passengers were roughed up, arrested, thrown in Israeli prisons, and deported.
For a brief moment, this tragedy in international waters focused the world spotlight on Gaza. Israel said it would ease the draconian siege, allowing more goods to enter the beleaguered strip. But just this month, the health authorities in Gaza proclaimed a state of emergency due to an acute shortage of vital medicines and also this month, a report from the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA, found unemployment in Gaza at a staggering 45.2 percent, among the highest in the world. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the number of abject poor living on just over one dollar a day has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed in 2007. “It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” Gunness said.
Hopes inside Gaza were buoyed by the Egyptian revolution. A groundswell of grassroots solidarity by Egyptians pushed the new government to announce that it would open its border with Gaza. But that promise remains elusive, asthousands are still blocked from crossing, and all imports and exports must still pass through the Israeli side. Israel remains the warden for the world’s largest open-air prison. It continues to decide what goods can enter, what exports can come out, and which people can get exit visas. It continues to control Gaza’s electricity, water supply, airspace and access to the Mediterranean.
Although the Israelis know that our boats will not carry arms and we, the passengers, are committed to nonviolence, they have nonetheless vowed to stop us with a dizzying array of force—water cannons, commandos, border police, snipers, and attack dogs from the military’s canine unit.
Equally astonishing is the U.S. government’s reaction. Instead of demanding safe passage for unarmed U.S. citizens participating in what passenger and writer Alice Walker calls the Freedom Ride of our era,” the State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner has labeled our actions “irresponsible and provocative” and the U.S. government has joined Israel in strong-arming countries in the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing.
This pressure is having an impact. At the urging of the Turkish government, our flagship, the Mavi Marmara, the same ship that was so violently attacked last year, recently announced that it will not be joining the flotilla. The Mavi Marmara was going to carry 500 people; its absence cuts our numbers in half. And there may be more ships forced to drop out.
All this bullying, however, only strengthens our resolve. We may be fewer boats, we may have fewer passengers, we may be threatened with violence, but we will sail. And if the Israelis intercept our boats, we call on people around the world to gather at Israeli embassies and consulates to express their outrage.
Like the inexorable rhythm of the ocean, the Palestinians will continue to lap at the shores of injustice. They will keep coming back, wave after wave, demanding the right to rebuild their tattered communities, the right to live in dignity. Shoring them up will be the international community, including activists like us who join their nonviolent resistance. The real question is: How long will the Israelis, with U.S. backing, continue to swim against the tide?
Medea Benjamin (email@example.com) is cofounder of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepinkalert.org). She is author of Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart.
During War There Are No Civilians September 9, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: doron almog, gaza, gaza strip, idf, israel, israel military, israeli military, nora barrows-friedman, Palestinians, rachel corrie, roger hollander, war
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Sitting in on the Rachel Corrie trial alarmingly reveals an open Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians.
by Nora Barrows-Friedman
“During War there are no civilians,” that’s what “Yossi,” an Israeli military (IDF) training unit leader simply stated during a round of questioning on day two of the Rachel Corrie trials, held in Haifa’s District Court earlier this week. “When you write a [protocol] manual, that manual is for war,” he added.
For the human rights activists and friends and family of Rachel Corrie sitting in the courtroom, this open admission of an Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians — Palestinian or foreign — created an audible gasp. Yet, put into context, this policy comes as no surprise. The Israeli military’s track record of insouciance towards the killings of Palestinians, from the 1948 massacre of Deir Yassin in Jerusalem to the 2008-2009 attacks on Gaza that killed upwards of 1400 men, women and children, has illustrated that not only is this an entrenched operational framework but rarely has it been challenged until recently.
Rachel Corrie, the young American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer, as she and other members of the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement attempted to protect a Palestinian home from imminent demolition on March 16, 2003 in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Corrie has since become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity as her family continues to fight for justice in her name.
Her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, filed a civil lawsuit against the State of Israel for Rachel’s unlawful killing — what they allege was an intentional act — and this round of testimonies called by the State’s defense team follows the Corries’ witness testimonies last March. The Corries’ lawsuit charges the State with recklessness and a failure to take appropriate measures to protect human life, actions that violate both Israeli and international laws.
Witnesses insisted that the bulldozer driver couldn’t see Rachel Corrie from his perch. The State attorneys called three witnesses to the stand on Sunday and Monday to prove that the killing was unintentional and took place in an area designated as a “closed military zone.” Falling under the definition of an Act of War, their argument sought to absolve the soldiers of liability under Israeli law. The Rachel Corrie trials focus on one incident, one moment, one death, one family’s grief. However it’s important to include the context within which the Israeli military operated on that day in March of 2003 in order to properly understand the gravity of the trial and the reverberations seven and a half years later.
Yossi, the military training leader, described the area where Corrie was killed as an “active war zone.” The State’s defense argues the same. Yet what was happening in Rafah that was so important to Corrie that she confronted a 4-meter high armored bulldozer in the first place?
According to statistics from Human Rights Watch, Israel had been expanding its so-called “buffer zone” at the southern Gaza border after the breakout of the second Palestinian intifada in late 2000. “By late 2002,” reports HRW, “after the destruction of several hundred houses in Rafah, the IDF began building an eight meter high metal wall along the border.”
The area that Israel designates as its buffer zone has since enveloped nearly 35% of agricultural land, according to an August 2010 report published by the United Nation’s Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA says that this policy has affected 113,000 Palestinians inside the Gaza strip over the last ten years as their farms, homes, and villages were intentionally erased from the map.
Rachel Corrie’s nonviolent action — standing in front of the bulldozer in direct confrontation to this project — cost her her life.
The home Rachel Corrie died trying to protect was razed, along with hundreds of others. The Gaza Strip remains a sealed ghetto. And countless Palestinian families have not seen justice waged in their favor after the deaths of their loved ones.
In 2005, an arrest warrant was issued against Major General Doron Almog — a senior soldier in charge of Israel’s Southern Command — by a British court related to the destruction of 59 homes in Rafah in 2002 under his authority. He was warned before boarding a flight to the UK that he could be arrested upon arrival, and canceled his trip.
Related to the Rachel Corrie case, Maj. Almog gave a direct order to the team of internal investigators to cut the investigations short, according to Israeli army documents obtained by Israeli daily Haaretz.
This indicates that the impunity of Israeli soldiers and policy-makers can — and will — be challenged in a court of law. And when the trials continue next month, the Corries will be back in the courtroom in anticipation of a long-sought justice for their daughter.
© 2010 aljazeera.net
Holocaust Survivor Hedy Epstein and others begin hunger strike to pressure Egypt on Gaza December 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: adam horowitz, elie wiesel, freedom march, gaza, gaza freedom, gaza seige, gaza solidarity, gaza strip, hedy epstein, holocaust, holocaust survivor, hunger strike, roger hollander
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by Adam Horowitz on December 28, 2009
Hedy Epstein in Cairo with school supplies for Gaza (Photo: Ali Abunimah)
About two weeks ago we posted on Hedy Epstein’s challenge to Elie Wiesel to travel to Gaza. She is now in Cairo trying to get into Gaza, and has embarked on a hunger strike to pressure the Egyptian government to let the Gaza Freedom March enter the occupied territories. Epstein explains, “It is important to let the besieged Gazan people know they are not alone. I want to tell the people I meet in Gaza that I am a representative of many people in my city and in other places in the US who are outraged at what the US, Israeli and European governments are doing to the Palestinians and that our numbers are growing.”
An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was among a group of grandmothers who began a hunger strike in Cairo on Monday to protest against Egypt’s refusal to allow a Gaza solidarity march to proceed.
American activist Hedy Epstein and other grandmothers participating in the Gaza Freedom March began a hunger strike at 1000 GMT.
“I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how my body will react, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” Epstein told AFP, sitting on a chair surrounded by hundreds of protesters outside the United Nations building in Cairo.
Israeli Government: Learned Its Lesson Well (from the Nazis?) January 2, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: benjamin Netanyahu, blitz, blitzkrieg, gaza strip, hamas, israel, israeli, likud, nazis, Palestine, palestinian, resistance, roger hollander
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This will be brief. When I think of the current situation in the Gaza Strip, two images come to mind:
1) Israeli troops poised to invade inovoke the term: BLITZKRIEG.
2) When the Resistance killed a Nazi soldier, the Nazis would retaliate by murdering by ratio: ten, fifteen, fifty, what have you, to the one Nazi killed. There were times, I believe, when they wiped out entire towns in retaliation for one Nazi soldier kiled. The Palestinian to Israeli killed ratio in the current “conflict” is somewhere around 200 to 1. And that is not to mention the deaths caused by the blockade or the thousands seriously wounded.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: “So now the international community has a question, and I turn it back to the—to our critics, and I say you have to take a stand today. You have to tell the terrorists that this is an illegitimate operation. You cannot say both Israel and Hamas are symmetrically to blame. They’re not. One side is to blame, the side that targets civilians and hides behind civilians. That’s Hamas. The other side represents the rest of humanity. Now choose.”
Netanyahu, the head of the Likud Party and favorite to win the Israeli presidency, reminds us that Hamas “targets civilians and hide behind civilians.” He might add, “but don’t worry, we — the side that represents the rest of humanity — have no compunction about killing those civilians behind which they hide.”
One might also wonder how it can be considered “hiding” to reside in your own community.
Please note that I am of Jewish heritage and have been a life-long opponent of anti-Semitism. I do not support Hamas or their firing rockets into Israeli territory. All lives have equal value. I mourn every death.
Israel’s ‘Crime Against Humanity’ December 15, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: crime against humanity, egypt, gaza, gaza strip, gazan children, geneva convention, hamas, humanitarian catastrophe, International law, israel, israeli blockade, jerusalem, jewish settlements, Palestine, Richard Falk, roger hollander, warsaw ghetto, west bank
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Dec 15, 2008
|AP photo / Hatem Moussa|
By Chris Hedges
Israel’s siege of Gaza, largely unseen by the outside world because of Jerusalem’s refusal to allow humanitarian aid workers, reporters and photographers access to Gaza, rivals the most egregious crimes carried out at the height of apartheid by the South African regime. It comes close to the horrors visited on Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serbs. It has disturbing echoes of the Nazi ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw.
“This is a stain on what is left of Israeli morality,” I was told by Richard N. Veits, the former U.S. ambassador to Jordan who led a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations to Gaza to meet Hamas leaders this past summer. “I am almost breathless discussing this subject. It is so myopic. Washington, of course, is a handmaiden to all this. The Israeli manipulation of a population in this manner is comparable to some of the crimes that took place against civilian populations fifty years ago.”
The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, calls what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity.” Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” He has asked for “the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.”
Falk, while condemning the rocket attacks by the militant group Hamas, which he points out are also criminal violations of international law, goes on to say that “such Palestinian behavior does not legalize Israel’s imposition of a collective punishment of a life- and health-threatening character on the people of Gaza, and should not distract the U.N. or international society from discharging their fundamental moral and legal duty to render protection to the Palestinian people.”
“It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health,” Falk said when I reached him by phone in California shortly before he left for Israel. “This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that 46 percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live.”
Gaza now spends 12 hours a day without power, which can be a death sentence to the severely ill in hospitals. There are few drugs and little medicine, including no cancer or cystic fibrosis medication. Hospitals have generators but often lack fuel. Medical equipment, including one of Gaza’s three CT scanners, has been destroyed by power surges and fluctuations. Medical staff cannot control the temperature of incubators for newborns. And Israel has revoked most exit visas, meaning some of those who need specialized care, including cancer patients and those in need of kidney dialysis, have died. Of the 230 Gazans estimated to have died last year because they were denied proper medical care, several spent their final hours at Israeli crossing points where they were refused entry into Israel. The statistics gathered on children—half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 17—are increasingly grim. About 45 percent of children in Gaza have iron deficiency from a lack of fruit and vegetables, and 18 percent have stunted growth.
“It is macabre,” Falk said. “I don’t know of anything that exactly fits this situation. People have been referring to the Warsaw ghetto as the nearest analog in modern times.”
“There is no structure of an occupation that endured for decades and involved this kind of oppressive circumstances,” the rapporteur added. “The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the impact on the health, lives and survival and the overall conditions warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity. This occupation is the direct intention by the Israeli military and civilian authorities. They are responsible and should be held accountable.”
The point of this Israeli siege, ostensibly, is to break Hamas, the radical Islamic group that was elected to power in 2007. But Hamas has repeatedly proposed long-term truces with Israel and offered to negotiate a permanent truce. During the last cease-fire, established through Egyptian intermediaries in July, Hamas upheld the truce although Israel refused to ease the blockade. It was Israel that, on Nov. 4, initiated an armed attack that violated the truce and killed six Palestinians. It was only then that Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel. Palestinians have launched more than 200 rockets on Israel since the latest round of violence began. There have been no Israeli casualties.
“This is a crime of survival,” Falk said of the rocket attacks. “Israel has put the Gazans in a set of circumstances where they either have to accept whatever is imposed on them or resist in any way available to them. That is a horrible dilemma to impose upon a people. This does not alleviate the Palestinians, and Gazans in particular, for accountability for doing these acts involving rocket fire, but it also imposes some responsibility on Israel for creating these circumstances.”
Israel seeks to break the will of the Palestinians to resist. The Israeli government has demonstrated little interest in diplomacy or a peaceful solution. The rapid expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank is an effort to thwart the possibility of a two-state solution by gobbling up vast tracts of Palestinian real estate. Israel also appears to want to thrust the impoverished Gaza Strip onto Egypt. There are now dozens of tunnels, the principal means for food and goods, connecting Gaza to Egypt. Israel permits the tunnels to operate, most likely as part of an effort to further cut Gaza off from Israel.
“Israel, all along, has not been prepared to enter into diplomatic process that gives the Palestinians a viable state,” Falk said. “They [the Israelis] feel time is on their side. They feel they can create enough facts on the ground so people will come to the conclusion a viable state cannot emerge.”
The use of terror and hunger to break a hostile population is one of the oldest forms of warfare. I watched the Bosnian Serbs employ the same tactic in Sarajevo. Those who orchestrate such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation, indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of family members do not forget. This rage becomes a virus within those who, eventually, stumble out into the daylight. Is it any wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza recently said they wanted to be a “martyr”?
The Israelis in Gaza, like the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, are foolishly breeding the next generation of militants and Islamic radicals. Jihadists, enraged by the injustices done by Israel and the United States, seek to carry out reciprocal acts of savagery, even at the cost of their own lives. The violence unleashed on Palestinian children will, one day, be the violence unleashed on Israeli children. This is the tragedy of Gaza. This is the tragedy of Israel.