Topic(s): Palestine / Israel | Comments Off on Rene — STARVING GAZA

by Chris Hedges
by Truthdig
Published on Monday, August 20, 2007
Gaza has become the Sarajevo of the Middle East. Israel, in an action
similar to that of the Serbs in Bosnia, has surrounded and cut off
nearly a million and a half Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since the
Islamic militant group Hamas took control in June. Electric fences
and watch towers manned by Israeli soldiers keep the Palestinians
trapped inside the strip. The land and sea blockade, the halting
of all but minimal humanitarian aid and the refusal to allow Gaza
to receive financial support are crushing Gaza’s industry, farming
and infrastructure.
The tactic is clear: Israel and the United States will strangle Gaza
by cutting off all money and goods, including fuel and most food,
to reduce one of the most densely populated places on the planet to
an impoverished ghetto. Hunger and anarchy, they hope, will motivate
Gazans to turn on Hamas, and the anarchy will perhaps be used to
justify a reoccupation by the Israeli military and see the return
of the quisling President Mahmoud Abbas, who was ousted after he
led an abortive coup to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas
government. He is now in the West Bank.
The Bush administration has, in an effort to bolster the credibility
of Abbas, promised to provide his government with $190 million in
aid and $80 million in security assistance. And the Israeli prime
minister has traveled to Jericho to tout Abbas as a partner for peace.
The effects of the siege are disastrous. Palestinians in Gaza are
not allowed to travel abroad. They cannot enter Israel for work. They
do not fish off the coast because Israeli gunboats open fire at any
vessels that are more than a mile offshore. Gaza has seen 75 percent
of its factories closed since June, with the loss of 68,000 jobs,
according to the World Bank. There is a 70 percent unemployment
rate, and 1.1 million of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza depend
on U.N. assistance to survive. The boycott has forced the United
Nations to suspend $93 million worth of construction projects for
homes, schools and sewage treatment in Gaza because cement and other
building supplies have run out. These U.N. projects once employed
121,000 people. About 80 percent of the Palestinians in Gaza survive
on $2 a day. Basic foodstuffs such as milk powder, baby formula,
vegetable oil and medical supplies are running out. Families, unable
to get food or find work, are living on little more than tea and bread.
The instability is compounded by the internecine violence among
Palestinian factions, gangs, clans, militias and criminals, as well as
the Israeli warplanes that bomb refugee camps in an effort to strike
at militants and Israeli patrols that make incursions into the strip
to round up suspects. It is impossible for nearly all Palestinians
to enter or leave Gaza. The only connection the trapped population
has with the outside comes through deep tunnels that Palestinians
dig across the border into Egypt. These tunnels are used to smuggle
goods, weapons and people, as a tunnel under the airport in Sarajevo
was during the war in Bosnia.
The looming humanitarian crisis, manufactured and orchestrated by the
Israeli government, in violation of international law, is a brutal
form of collective punishment. It has, however, the support of the
compliant Abbas government.
Abbas has ordered all government officials in Gaza, including the
police, to refuse to go to work and government offices to shut their
doors. Those who do go to work, he says, will no longer receive their
salaries. He suspended the Gaza Strip attorney general’s office and,
in order to keep money out of the hands of the Hamas government, led
by Ismael Haniyah, he told government-run hospitals not to collect
fees. Abbas has even threatened not to recognize high school exam
results in Gaza because the education system is being administered
by what he called an illegitimate government.
On the public relations front, Abbas, knowing what buttons to push in
Washington, has linked the Hamas government with al-Qaida and branded
its military wing “a terrorist organization.”
“Yes, through Hamas, al-Qaida has entered Gaza and through Hamas,
al-Qaida is protected,” he told Italian RAI TV in Rome on July 10.
The decision by Israel and the United States to widen the schism and
increase tensions between Hamas and Abbas is a blunder of catastrophic
proportions. The hatred for Israel and the United States, which
already runs deep among Palestinians, will only grow the longer the
siege continues. Abbas, by dancing to the tune of those seen by the
Palestinians as the enemy, is becoming a reviled, weak and discredited
figure. The schism makes a peace agreement and future cooperation only
more elusive. Hamas is an unsavory organization, but as long as it
has broad support among the Palestinians, and it does, it is going
to have to be included in any eventual settlement if civility and
peace are to be restored in Gaza and the West Bank. The ham-fisted
attempt to make Hamas go away by meting out draconian punishments on
the Palestinians in Gaza will radicalize more Palestinians and see
the civil war spill into the West Bank.
Despite all the aid Abbas gets, he may soon be battling Hamas militants
in Ramallah.
Violence begets violence. Iraq should have taught us that. The
road chosen by the Bush administration and the Israeli government
is one that failed in Iraq, failed in Lebanon and will fail in
the Palestinian territories. It will only increase the chaos,
suffering and death. Hamas is not going to vanish because of Israeli
repression. Radical organizations, on the contrary, count on this
repression to build a militant base and silence the voices of reason
within their own societies. These two apocalyptic extremes-represented
by Hamas and the Israeli right wing-need each other to further their
frightening visions.
The Israeli right wing dreams of a broken and compliant Palestinian
population living on impoverished reservations surrounded by the
Israeli military. Hamas dreams of destroying the Jewish state. Neither
dream is based on reality.
Neither dream will work. But a lot of people will suffer and die to
find this out.
Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for
nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times,
is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War
on America.”