jump to navigation

The Problem with Mahmoud Abbas and His Authority January 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Palestine.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Roger’s note: apart from Israel’s apologists, analysis of the Israel/Arab quagmire tends to focus on US backed Israeli atrocities and violations of international law, and rightly so.  Nevertheless, the situation cannot be understood as simply a good guy/bad guy dichotomy between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  Here we see a critical examination of the corruption that the Palestinian peoples suffer at the hands of their own leadership.

th
by RAMZY BAROUD

It was the moment many had been waiting for. On January 2, Palestine’s United Nations envoy, Riyad Mansour formally requested membership at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We are seeking justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power,” he said.

There was no explanation why Palestine’s membership of the Rome Statute (through which the ICC is governed) was delayed in the first place; of why no justice was ever sought for thousands of victims in Gaza, and many in the West Bank and Jerusalem, although such membership would have been granted much earlier.

In fact, in 2012, Palestine’s status at the UN was upgraded, from an observer entity to an ‘observer state’. The move was largely symbolic, since it was an attempt at breathing life in the two-state-solution, which was long dead. But it had one single practical benefit – the coveted membership at the ICC. Finally, Israel could be held accountable for its war crimes; finally, a measure of justice was possible.

Shifting Strategy?

Yet, for two years, the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas delayed. Not only did Abbas hesitate and carry on with the same tired charade of peace process, but he seemed keen on ensuring that Palestinian unity, even if achieved politically, remained pointless and ineffective.

But isn’t it better late than never?

Agency France Press described Abbas’ move as a “shift in strategy .. away from the US-led negotiation process.” Indeed, the US seemed peeved by the move, describing it as “counterproductive”. It will take some imagination to consider what a ‘productive’ alternative might be, considering that the US’ unhinged bias, and unconditional support of Israel had emboldened the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu into carrying out the most hideous of war crimes.

Yet this is not exactly about the killing of nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians during the 51-day Israeli war on Gaza last summer. Nor is it about the more than the 400 children who were killed then. Or even the siege on the Strip, the occupation and illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Certainly Abbas had numerous chances to admonish Israel in the past, cement unity among his people, use his leverage with Egypt to at least ease the siege on Gaza, devise a strategy that is centered around national liberation (not state-building of a state that doesn’t exist), end the ongoing theft of Palestinian resources by the PA itself, establish a system of accountability, and so on. Instead, he kept his faith in Washington, playing the wait-and-see game of Secretary of State John Kerry centered on a single premise: pleading with Netanyahu to change his ways and freeze settlement construction, which never happened.

Conventional analysis suggests that Abbas’s ICC move was the direct outcome of the expected failure of a UN Security Council resolution that was put to vote a few days earlier. The US, Israel’s main political guardian was, naturally expected to veto the resolution, which would have imposed a deadline on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories. The US used the veto, and only eight member states voted in approval. A day later, Abbas signed the application for the ICC, among others; the following day, the application was formally submitted.

But a ‘shift in strategy’ it was not.

Abbas’ Balancing Act

The current political strategy of the PA reflects the unique qualities of Abbas himself, and is a testimony to his impressive abilities to find the right political balance, ultimately aimed at assuring his survival at the helm.

If Abbas’s own political subsistence largely depends on Israel’s acquiescent and US backing, one can rarely imagine a scenario in which Netanyahu and his war generals are arraigned as war criminals before the ICC.

It is unconceivable that Abbas had finally decided to break away from the restrictive role of being an active member of the US managed club of Arab ‘moderates’.

To do so, it would mean that Abbas is ready to risk it all for the sake of his people, which would be a major departure from everything that Abbas – the ‘pragmatic’, ‘moderate’ and conveniently corrupt Arab leader – has ever stood for.

So what is Abbas up to exactly?

Since the late 1970’s, Abbas began his quest for an elusive peace with Israel, which ultimately lead to the signing of the Oslo accords in Sep 1993. It was Abbas himself that signed the accords on behalf of the PLO.

Let alone that the accords wrought disaster on Palestinians, and failed to meet a single deadline including the final status agreement, which was meant to actualize in May 1999; it introduced a bizarre culture of revolutionaries-turned-millionaires, operating within the confines of militarily occupied Palestinian territories.

Year after year, the corrupt PA maintained its privileges as Israel strengthened its occupation. It was a massive barter that seemed to suit the interests of Israel, selected Palestinians, and of course, the US itself, which, along with its allies funded the whole scheme.

Ten Years of Tragedy

Late leader Yasser Arafat was clearly not suitable for the job expected of him. Flexible at times as he was, he still had political boundaries that he would not cross. In 2003, Abbas, the ‘moderate’ was imposed on Arafat by both Israel and the US as a prime minister, a post that was invented with the sole purpose of containing Arafat’s control. Following a brief power struggle, Abbas resigned. Shortly afterwards, Arafat died from possible poisoning, and Abbas returned to power, this time unchallenged.

Abbas’ mandate, starting January 15, 2004, should have ended in early 2009. But he decided to extend it by another year, and another, and has since then ruled over the fragmented, occupied nation, with the help of Israel, without a shred of legitimacy, except what he, and his supporters bestow on him.

It has been almost exactly a decade since Abbas ruled over Palestinians. They were years of tragedy, political failure, economic crisis, disunity, and unprecedented corruption.

Yes, the 80-year-old leader has survived, partly because Israel found him the most flexible of all Palestinians (he wouldn’t end security coordination with Israel even after he himself described as the genocidal war on Gaza); the Americans too wanted him to remain in his post, for there is yet to be an alternative leader, who places US-Israeli priority ahead of his own people.

But he also survived because he used billions of dollars funneled by international donors to construct a welfare system, creating a class of Palestinian Nouveau riche, whose wealth was a result of the occupation, not despite it. While the new rich basked in their underserved wealth, the fate of millions of Palestinians were tied to pay checks, which were not the outcome of a productive economy but international handouts.

While Israel was spared the burden of looking after the welfare of the occupied Palestinians as dictated by the Geneva and other conventions, it was left with abundance of funds to expand its illegal settlements.

Somehow it all worked out for all parties involved, save the Palestinian people.

The Search for ‘Victory’

In a sense, Abbas was never really a leader of his people as he didn’t place Palestinian national priority as the prime motivator of his action. At best, he was a political manger, whose management strategy is predicated on finding political balances, and catering to those with greater power and influence.

Following the expiration of Kerry’s deadline of April 29, 2014 aimed at reaching a final status agreement, and another major Israeli war on Gaza that ignited massive anger in the West Bank, which is itself on the verge of an uprising, Abbas’s burden was too heavy to bear

To create distractions, and to deny the Gaza resistance any claim on victory, he began to hunt for his own ‘victory’, which he would then promote back in Ramallah, amid major fanfare and celebration of his supporters. With every such symbolic victory, Palestinians were inundated with new songs of Abbas’ supposed heroism, as his mouthpieces traveled the globe in a desperate attempt to reassert Abbas, and the PA’s relevance.

And after much of delay and haggle, Abbas was forced by sheer circumstance to resort to the ICC, not to criminalize Israel, but to win political leverage, and to send a message to Israel, the US and others that he still matters.

The move to join the ICC has little to do with the war crimes in Gaza, and much with Abbas’ growing unimportance among his allies, but also his own people.

The problem with Abbas, however, is bigger than Abbas himself. The ailment lies in the very political culture and class that sustained and benefited from political corruption for over 20 years.

Even when ‘President Abbas’ is shoved aside, due to old age or whatever else, the malaise will persist; that is until the Palestinians challenge the very culture that Abbas has painstakingly constructed with US money, and an Israeli nod.

Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

 

Advertisements

Change Gaza Can Believe In: Tearing Up Washington’s Middle East Playbook January 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

 

palestinian-child-in-pain1Palestinian Rawan Abu Taber, 4, wounded during the Israeli military operations, screams in pain as doctors change bandages to her severe burns.

22 January 2009,  www.truthout.org

by: Tony Karon, TomDispatch.com

Lest President Barack Obama’s opportunistic silence when Israel began the Gaza offensive that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians (more than 400 of them children) be misinterpreted, his aides pointed reporters to comments made six months earlier in the Israeli town of Sderot. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” Obama had said in reference to the missiles Hamas was firing from Gaza. “I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

    Residents of Gaza might have wondered what Obama would have done had he been unfortunate enough to be a resident of, say, Jabaliya refugee camp. What if, like the vast majority of Gazans, his grandfather had been driven from his home in what is now Israel, and barred by virtue of his ethnicity from ever returning? What if, like the majority of the residents of this refugee ghetto-by-the-sea, he had voted for Hamas, which had vowed to fight for his rights and was not corrupt like the Fatah strongmen with whom the Israelis and Americans liked to deal?

    And what if, as a result of that vote, he had found himself under an economic siege, whose explicit purpose was to inflict deprivation in order to force him to reverse his democratic choice? What might a Gazan Obama have made of the statement, soon after that election, by Dov Weissglass, a top aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that Israel’s blockade would put him and his family “on [a] diet”?

    “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner,” Weissglass had chortled, “but [they] won’t die.”

    Starting last June, the Sderot Obama would have noticed that, as a result of a truce brokered by Egypt, the rocket fire from Gaza had largely ceased. For the Jabaliya Obama, however, the “Weissglass Diet” remained in place. Even before Israel’s recent offensive, the Red Cross had reported that almost half the children under two in Gaza were anemic due to their parents’ inability to feed them properly.

    Who knows what the Jabaliya Obama would have made of the Hamas rockets that, in November, once again began flying overhead toward Israel, as Hamas sought to break the siege by creating a crisis that would lead to a new ceasefire under better terms. He might well have had misgivings, but he would also have had plenty of reason to hope for the success of the Hamas strategy.

    Ever committed to regime change in Gaza, Israel, however, showed no interest in a new ceasefire. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Fox News, “Expecting us to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like expecting you to have a ceasefire with al-Qaeda.” (Barak apparently assumed Americans would overlook the fact that he had, indeed, been party to just such a ceasefire since June 2008, and looks set to be party to another now that the Gaza operation is over.)

    A canny Sderot Obama would have been all too aware that Israel’s leaders need his vote in next month’s elections and hope to win it by showing how tough they can be on the Gazans. Then again, a Sderot Obama might not have been thinking much beyond his immediate anger and fear – and would certainly have been unlikely to try to see the regional picture through the eyes of the Jabaliya Obama.

    Nonetheless, not all Israelis were as sanguine about the Israeli offensive as the Sderot Obama appears to have been. “What luck my parents are dead,” wrote the Israeli journalist Amira Hass in Haaretz. Survivors of the Nazi concentration camps, her mother and father had long hated the Orwellian twists of language in which Israeli authorities couched their military actions against Palestinians.

“My parents despised all their everyday activities – stirring sugar into coffee, washing the dishes, standing at a crosswalk – when in their mind’s eye they saw, based on their personal experience, the terror in the eyes of children, the desperation of mothers who could not protect their young ones, the moment when a huge explosion dropped a house on top of its inhabitants and a smart bomb struck down entire families …

“Because of my parents’ history they knew what it meant to close people behind barbed-wire fences in a small area…. How lucky it is that they are not alive to see how these incarcerated people are bombarded with all the glorious military technology of Israel and the United States… My parents’ personal history led them to despise the relaxed way the news anchors reported on a curfew. How lucky they are not here and cannot hear the crowd roaring in the coliseum.”

    The passions of the crowd may have been satisfied. Or not. Certainly, Israel’s three-week-long military operation appears to have done little more than reestablish the country’s “deterrent” – quantified in the 100-1 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths.

    Hamas remains intact, as does the bulk of its fighting force. And if, as appears likely, a new truce provides for a lifting, however partial, of the economic siege of Gaza, and also for the reintegration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority – which would be a blunt repudiation of three years of U.S. and Israeli efforts – the organization will claim victory, even if the Obamas of Jabaliya refugee camp, now possibly without homes, wonder at what cost.

    If President Barack Obama is to have any positive impact on this morbid cycle of destruction and death, he must be able to understand the experience of Jabaliya just as much as he does the experience of Sderot. Curiously enough, he might be helped in that endeavor by none other than the man who directed Israel’s latest operation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Asked by a journalist during his successful 1999 campaign for prime minister what he’d have done if he’d been born Palestinian, Barak answered simply and bluntly: “I’d have joined a terrorist organization.”

    Obama’s Gaza Opportunity

    The catastrophe in Gaza has, counterintuitively enough, presented President Barack Obama with an opportunity to restart the peace process – precisely because it has demonstrated the catastrophic failure of the approach adopted by the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, the raft of domestic and economic challenges facing the 44th President may tempt Obama to keep many Bush foreign policies on autopilot for now.

    The plan brokered by the Bush administration in its last months for an American withdrawal from Iraq will, for instance, probably remain largely in effect; Obama will actually double the troop commitment to Afghanistan; and on Iran, Obama’s idea of direct talks may not prove that radical a departure from the most recent version of the Bush approach – at least if the purpose of such talks is simply to have U.S. diplomats present a warmed over version of the carrot-and-stick ultimatums on uranium enrichment that have been on offer, via the Europeans, for the past three years.

    As Gaza has clearly demonstrated, however, continuing the Bush policy on Israel and the Palestinians is untenable. The Bush administration may have talked of a Palestinian state, but it had limited itself to orchestrating a series of cozy chats between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, aimed at creating the illusion of a “process.”

    There was no real process, not in the sense that the term is commonly understood, anyway – reciprocal steps by the combatant parties to disengage and move towards a settlement that changes political boundaries and power arrangements. But the illusion of progress was a necessary part of the administration’s policy of dividing the Middle East on Cold War-type lines in a supposedly epic struggle between “moderates” and “radicals.”

    The “moderates” included Israel, Abbas, and the regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and some of the Gulf States. The radicals were Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah, intractable enemies of peace, democracy, and stability.

    Democracy?! Yes, the chutzpah of Bush and his people was legendary – after all, Hamas and Hizballah had been democratically elected, which is more than you could say for the Arab “moderates” they championed. Even Iran holds elections more competitive than any in Egypt.

    Adding to the irony, Abbas’s term of office as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has now expired, but you can bet your Obama inauguration souvenir program that he won’t be required by Washington to seek a new mandate from the voters; indeed, it’s doubtful that the Israelis would allow another Palestinian election in the West Bank, which they essentially control.

    Ongoing peace talks with Palestinian “moderates,” no matter how fruitless, provided important cover for Arab regimes who wanted to stand with the U.S. and Israel on the question of Iran’s growing power and influence. But there could, of course, be no talks with the “radicals,” even if those radicals were more representative than the “moderates.” (Sure, Egypt’s Mubarak stands with Israel against Hamas, but that’s because Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which might well trounce Mubarak if Egypt held free and fair elections.)

    Thus, Washington chose to ignore the opportunity that Hamas’s historic 2006 decision to contest the Palestinian Authority legislative election offered. The organization had previously boycotted the institutions of the PA as the illegitimate progeny of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which they had rejected. Caught off-guard when the Palestinian electorate then repudiated Washington’s chosen “moderate” regime, the U.S. responded by imposing sanctions on the new Palestinian government, while pressuring the Europeans and Arab regimes on whose funding the PA depended to do the same. These sanctions eventually grew into a siege of Gaza.

    The financial blockade would continue, the U.S. and its allies insisted, until Hamas renounced violence, recognized Israel, and bound itself to previous agreements. Exactly the same three preconditions for engaging Hamas were recently reiterated by incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearings.

    A Failed Doctrine

    The Gaza debacle has made one thing perfectly clear: any peace process that seeks to marginalize, not integrate, Hamas is doomed to fail – and with catastrophic consequences. That’s why the position outlined by Obama’s Secretary of State-designate is dysfunctional at birth, because it repeats the mistake of trying to marginalize Hamas. For its part, Hamas officials have sent a number of signals in recent years indicating the organization’s willingness to move in a pragmatic direction. Its leaders wouldn’t bother to regularly explain their views in the op-ed pages of American newspapers if they did not believe a different relationship with the U.S. – and so Israel – was possible.

    For the new Obama administration reinforcing and, as they say in Washington, incentivizing the pragmatic track in Hamas is the key to reviving the region’s prospects for peace.

    Hamas has demonstrated beyond doubt that it speaks for at least half of the Palestinian electorate. Many observers believe that, were new elections to be held tomorrow, the Islamists would probably not only win Gaza again, but take the West Bank as well. Demanding what Hamas would deem a symbolic surrender before any diplomatic conversation even begins is not an approach that will yield positive results. Renouncing violence was never a precondition for talks between South Africa and Nelson Mandela’s ANC, or Britain and the Irish Republican Army. Indeed, Israel’s talks with the PLO began long before it had publicly renounced violence.

    “Recognizing” Israel is difficult for Palestinians because, in doing so, they are also being asked to renounce the claims of refugee families to the land and homes they were forced out of in 1948 and were barred from recovering by one of the founding acts of the State of Israel. For an organization such as Hamas, such recognition could never be a precondition to negotiations, only the result of them (and then with some reciprocal recognition of the rights of the refugees).

    Hamas’s decision to engage the election process created by Oslo was, in fact, a pragmatic decision opposed by hardliners in its own ranks. Doing so bound it to engage with the Israelis and also to observe agreements under which those electoral institutions were established (as Hamas mayors on the West Bank had already learned). In fact, Hamas made clear that it was committed to good governance and consensus, and recognized Abbas as president, which also meant explicitly recognizing his right to continue negotiating with the Israelis.

    Hamas agreed to abide by any accord approved by the Palestinians in a democratic referendum. By 2007, key leaders of the organization had even begun talking of accepting a Palestinian state based on a return to 1967 borders in a swap for a generational truce with Israel.

    Hamas’s move onto the electoral track had, in fact, presented a great opportunity for any American administration inclined towards grown-up diplomacy, rather than the infantile fantasy of reengineering the region’s politics in favor of chosen “moderates.” So, in 2006, the U.S. immediately slapped sanctions on the new government, seeking to reverse the results of the Palestinian election through collective punishment of the electorate. The U.S. also blocked Saudi efforts to broker a Palestinian government of national unity by warning that Abbas would be shunned by the U.S. and Israel if he opted for rapprochement with the majority party in his legislature. Washington appears to have even backed a coup attempt by U.S.-trained, Fatah-controlled militia in Gaza, which resulted in Fatah’s bloody expulsion from there in the summer of 2007.

    The failed U.S.-Israeli strategy of trying to depose Hamas reached its nadir in the pre-inauguration bloodbath in Gaza, which not only reinforced Hamas politically, but actually weakened those anointed as “moderates” as part of a counterinsurgency strategy against Hamas and its support base.

    It is in America’s interest, and Israel’s, and the Palestinians’ that Obama intervene quickly in the Middle East, but that he do so on a dramatically different basis than that of his two immediate predecessors.

    Peace is made between the combatants of any conflict; “peace” with only chosen “moderates” is an exercise in redundancy and pointlessness. The challenge in the region is to promote moderation and pragmatism among the political forces that speak for all sides, especially the representative radicals.

    And speaking of radicals and extremists, there’s palpable denial, bordering on amnesia, when it comes to Israel’s rejectionists. Ariel Sharon explicitly rejected the Oslo peace process, declaring it null and void shortly after assuming power. Instead, he negotiated only with Washington over unilateral Israeli moves.

    Ever since, Israeli politics has been moving steadily rightward, with the winner in next month’s elections expected to be the hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. If so, he will govern in a coalition with far-right rejectionists and advocates of “ethnic cleansing.” Netanyahu even rejected Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza pullout plan, and he has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in sustaining the illusion of talks over a “final status” agreement, even with Washington’s chosen “moderates.”

    Israelis, by all accounts, have generally given up on the idea of pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians any time soon, and for the foreseeable future, no Israeli government will willingly undertake the large-scale evacuation of the West Bank settlers, essential to any two-state solution but likely to provoke an Israeli civil war.

    This political situation should serve as a warning to Obama and his people to avoid the pitfalls of the Clinton administration’s approach to brokering Middle East peace. Clinton’s basic guideline was that the pace and content of the peace process should be decided by Israel’s leaders, and that nothing should ever be put on the negotiating table that had not first been approved by them. Restricting the peace process to proposals that fall within the comfort zone only of the Israeli government is the diplomatic equivalent of allowing investment banks to regulate themselves – and we all know where that landed us.

    It is fanciful, today, to believe that, left to their own devices, Israel and the Palestinians will agree on where to set the border between them, on how to share Jerusalem, or on the fate of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements. A two-state solution, if one is to be achieved, will have to be imposed by the international community, based on a consensus that already exists in international law (UN Resolutions 242 and 338), the Arab League peace proposals, and the Taba non-paper that documented the last formal final-status talks between the two sides in January 2001.

    Had Barack Obama taken office in a moment of relative tranquility in the fraught Israeli-Palestinian relationship, he might have had the luxury of putting it on the backburner. Indeed, any move to change the Bush approach might have been challenged as unnecessarily risky and disruptive.

    In Gaza in the last few weeks, however, the Bush approach imploded, leaving Obama no choice but to initiate a new policy of his own. Hopefully, it will be one rooted in the pragmatism for which the new President is renowned.

    ——-

    Tony Karon is a senior editor at TIME.com where he analyzes the Middle East and other international conflicts. He also runs his own website, Rootless Cosmopolitan.

Party to Murder December 30, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

gazaofficer_300

The body of a Palestinian security force officer lies in the rubble after an Israeli missile strike on a building in Gaza on Sunday (AP photo/Fadi Adwan)

Chris Hedges,

www.truthdig.com, 29 December 2008 

Editor’s note: In light of the recent fighting in Gaza, Truthdig asked Chris Hedges, who covered the Mideast for The New York Times for seven years, to update a previous column on Gaza.

Can anyone who is following the Israeli air attacks on Gaza—the buildings blown to rubble, the children killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses, the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous indifference to this widespread human suffering—wonder why we are hated?

Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing. We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures. We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. “Expose thyself to what wretches feel,” King Lear said, entering the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, “and show the heavens more just.”

Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, said Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, has labeled 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’s unflinching honesty has enraged Israel. He was banned from entering the country on Dec. 14 during his attempt to visit Gaza and the West Bank.

“After being denied entry I was put in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems,” he said. “At this point I was treated not as a U.N. 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. I was separated from my two U.N. companions, who were allowed to enter Israel. At this point I was taken to the airport detention facility a mile or so away, required to put all my bags and cell phone in a room, taken to a locked, tiny room that had five other detainees, smelled of urine and filth, and was an unwelcome invitation to claustrophobia. I spent the next 15 hours so confined, which amounted to a cram course on the miseries of prison life, including dirty sheets, inedible food, and either lights that were too bright or darkness controlled from the guard office.”

The foreign press has been, like Falk, barred by Israel from entering Gaza to report on the destruction.

Israel’s stated aim of halting homemade rockets fired from Gaza into Israel remains unfulfilled. Gaza militants have fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into Israel, killing four people and wounding nearly two dozen more, since Israel unleashed its air assault. Israel has threatened to launch a ground assault and has called up 6,500 army reservists. It has massed tanks on the Gaza border and declared the area a closed military zone.

The rocket attacks by Hamas are, as Falk points out, also criminal violations of international law. But as Falk notes, “… 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 has said of the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza. “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.”

Before the air assaults, Gaza spent 12 hours a day without power, which can be a death sentence to the severely ill in hospitals. Most of Gaza is now without power. 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 of the blockade. “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 the Israeli attack, 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.

“This is a crime of survival,” Falk said of the rocket attacks by Palestinians. “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. Dozens of tunnels had been the principal means for food and goods, connecting Gaza to Egypt. Israel had permitted the tunnels to operate, most likely as part of an effort to further cut Gaza off from Israel. This ended, however, on Sunday when Israeli fighter jets bombed over 40 tunnels along Gaza’s border with Egypt. The Israeli military said that the tunnels, on the Gaza side of the border, were used for smuggling weapons, explosives and fugitives. Egypt has sealed its border and refused to let distraught Palestinians enter its territory.

“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. A family that loses a child in an airstrike 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.