Last month, the UN reported on the tragic and deteriorating situation in Gaza, which is under blockade from Israel, backed by the US and the EU (which of course includes us in the UK).
Here's a short summary of the key points.
"[The blockade is] having devastating consequences for the population and local economy and the livelihoods of the people of Gaza"
"[Since Israel intensified the blockade in June 2007:]
More Gazans than ever need food and direct assistance
Fuel shortages have threatened essential services and water supply
Life-saving treatments are not available in Gaza’s hospitals
Baby milk, medicines, and cooking oil are increasingly scarce
Hundreds of businesses have gone bankrupt due to ban on imports/exports"
"If the closures are not eased, the UN predicts the need for food and direct assistance will sharply rise above and beyond the current level of 80 per cent of the population."
"anything other than the most basic goods and foods [have been put] beyond the buying power of a large portion of the population"
"All sections of the population have been affected by a reduction in fuel supplies which undermines the delivery of essential services"
"[the World Food Programme] estimates that only approximately 41 per cent of humanitarian and commercial food import needs were met between 1 October and 4 November 2007"
"of the 62 per cent of households who stated a drop in spending, 93.5 per cent cut back on food buying overall"
"eight out of ten households [live] below the poverty line [compared to 63.1 per cent before Hamas came to power and the blockade began]. Of these, 66.7 per cent of Gazan households are living in deep poverty, i.e. on less than 1,837 NIS or US$474 per month"
"The standard of healthcare in the Gaza Strip is deteriorating rapidly. The majority of diagnostic laboratory equipment, for example MRI and x-ray equipment, at Ministry of Health facilities are no longer functioning"
"The Palestinian economy has been .... heading towards collapse since January 2006, following the economic restrictions imposed on the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the election of Hamas to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)."
"More than 75,000 workers out of approximately 110,000 employed by the private sector have been temporarily laid off because of the impact of the closures"
"Nearly 90 per cent of all industrial establishments (3,500 out of 3,900) have shut down since mid-June 2007, either temporarily or permanently, including the most significant factories located at Karni Industrial Zone"
"Nearly all public infrastructure and maintenance projects including foreign aid projects, private constructions and ministerial and municipal projects have been halted due to the closure of factories and the lack of building materials. The construction and maintenance of roads, water and sanitation infrastructures, medical facilities, schools and housing/re-housing projects are on hold. The combined value of UN and private sector construction projects presently at a standstill is estimated at more than US$370 million, with tens of thousands of contractual labourers put out of work"
"For the last six months, virtually no agricultural exports have been allowed out of the Gaza Strip. The sector provides permanent and temporary jobs for more than 40,000 Gazans (representing 12.7 per cent of the labour force) and generates livelihoods for a quarter of the Gazan population"
All this is the intended result of Israeli policy, backed by the US and the EU. The policy is collective punishment, a war crime under international law, as Juan Cole notes.
That is to say that when Gazan infants go without baby milk, its part of Israeli government policy. When sick Gazan children die preventable deaths due to the denial of treatment or medicine, its part of Israeli policy. When Palestinian mothers are reduced to scouring rubbish dumps to find enough food to feed their children just once a day, its part of Israeli policy. Israel is responsible for the predictable consequences of its actions.
Israel says the blockade is a response to Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. But those rockets aren't fired by children, babies, mothers, the elderly, the sick and infirm, i.e. those who are bound to suffer the most from an economic blockade. Israel knows this very well. Israel is responsible for the predictable consequences of its actions.
The UN notes that "between 1 January and 30 November 2007, 1204 Qassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, resulting in 96 Israeli injuries and two Israeli deaths." Well in just the past week the Guardian reports that "nearly 40 Palestinians have been killed ... , at least 10 of them civilians" by the Israeli military.
And setting aside Israeli violence, how many Palestinians have died, been injured or otherwise suffered serious physical consequences since January 2006 as a result of the poverty, the lack of food and medicine caused by the blockade? A blockade, lets not forget, put in place initially because of an election result - that is to say, legitimate non-violent political activity.
The killing of Israeli civilians is 100 per cent unjustifiable. But it is obscene to use those 2 deaths and 96 injuries as a rationalisation for the systematic crushing of 1.4 million people, the vast majority of whom are innocent of any crime.
Moreover, it is naive at best to suggest that these Israeli atrocities are merely a response to Palestinian behaviour. These Israeli actions fit into a long established pattern of collective violence against the Palestinian people. As the Observer notes, "Israel's policy [in response to the Hamas election victory] was summed up by Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, earlier this year ['06]. 'The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,' he said. The hunger pangs are supposed to encourage the Palestinians to force Hamas to change its attitude towards Israel or force Hamas out of government."
Yes, Palestinian babies must feel "hunger pangs" - or rather, suffer acute malnourishment - so they will know better than to have parents who vote for people that the Israeli government doesn't like. (By the way, how does the Israeli government know if the malnourished child's parents voted for Fatah?)
As for Weisglass' disingenuous suggestion that these actions were "not to make them die of hunger", it would be interesting to know what results a scientific survey into excess deaths in Gaza since the January 2006 elections might produce. According to UNICEF, almost a million Iraqis (around one in 25 of the population) were killed by sanctions in the 1990s, most of them infant children. Its hard to image that the Iraq sanctions were any more punitive in effect than the current regime imposed on Gaza. One twenty-fifth of the Gazan population equals around 56,000. Not a scientific calculation by any means, but chilling that we can even credibly consider such numbers.
One can go back further. In the 1970s, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan said that since Israeli rule over the territories is "permanent", Israel should tell the Palestinian refugees in the territories "that we have no solution, that you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave -- and we will see where this process leads". The fact is that the Palestinians have always been treated by the Israeli government as sub-human pests, complicating the grand project of a Jewish state. The current atrocities, though sickening, are hardly shocking when placed in the historical context. This is not a "response". It is standard Israeli practise.
The reason to focus on Israeli crimes is not an abstract one. When our governments back Israel in its crimes then those crimes become our crimes as well. Our first task therefore is to address our own complicity. A British government that was serious about human welfare, human rights, the rule of law in international affairs - let alone one with the remotest conception of basic standards of morality - would do the following, at a minimum:
suspend arms sales to Israel immediately;
pledge direct aid from the UK to aid agencies in Gaza. Work internationally to secure other donors;
use its position in the EU to push for a withdrawal of all support for Israel's blockade of Gaza;
summon Israel's ambassador to the Foreign Office and tell him in no uncertain terms that there will be a steady escalation of consequences in respect of downgrading trade and diplomatic links so long as these atrocities continue; and
raise the subject of Israeli atrocities immediately at the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, leading an effort of international pressure on Israel.
The siege of Gaza is one of the West's great international crimes of the moment. More needs to be done to publicise its realities and put pressure on Israel and its supporters in the West to end the blockade.
Labels: British Foreign Policy, Israel/Palestine