The Two-State Solution is Neither

The Two-State Solution is Neither

Is the Two-State Solution now the zombie of Western political-thought–an idea long dead, yet still walking the landscape, with bits of it rotting and falling off, while reason and history shoot holes in it, but it keeps staggering on, infecting the political discourse? Who can sincerely believe in it anymore?   Least of all, Israel and the Zionists, since the idea’s basic post-Madrid concept has been so thoroughly abused and violated,  perforated with holes so big you can plant a settlement in them.  The idea has been rendered  no longer materially feasible, to put it politely–well and truly screwed to pieces, not so politely– while any lingering confidence by the Palestinians in the good-faith intentions of Israel and the United States has been replaced with mistrust and despair, and the cold realization that US policy does not have any interest in a just or fair outcome for the Palestinians.   It never really has had any interest in helping the Palestinians. What killed the Two State Solution, we might ask?   The settlements killed the Two-State Solution–but NOT as an accidental by-product of Israeli “security” issues, as if the settlements were a casual, reversible mistake.  But rather they killed the Two-State Solution as part of a calculated agenda from  the very start of the Zionist project to capture, de-populate and settle Jews on ALL the land of Palestine.  Zionism’s early generation of founders always envisioned the large-scale removal of the Arab population, and the settlement of their own descendants in land belonging to others–you can read it in their diaries and letters, in their unguarded moments when they are talking among themselves.  Herschel, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, Meir–they all spoke privately of what they understood: that all of Palestine would be theirs, and that it would be a state for the Jews alone. This has not changed.  The Israeli political establishment is today far more racist and authoritarian than the original Zionists ever dreamed of being.  We see today how the orthodox right wing has taken over the official agenda entirely, with predictable results: more walls, fences, checkpoints, prisons, military forces, deadly raids by helicopters and fighter planes, and dehumanization for the occupied people.   When the Israeli Occupation Forces start getting their first shipment of drones from the US arsenal, it will only get worse. The settlements–whose population has roughly quadrupled since Madrid–were ALWAYS part of the plan historically, even though the agenda of settlement has always been directly at odds with international law, and counter to the creation of a Palestinian state, or any “peace process.”  This contradiction has stymied forty years of negotiations–and any continued talk with settlement-building part of the equation is simply contrary to common sense.

Speaking as an American, I must note for you here today that it is fundamentally difficult to understand why Americans ever believed in the Two-State Solution at all–I don’t mean the deep political establishment in my country, which is essentially pro-Zionist, strategically and sentimentally, and has used the Two State Solution as a stalling ruse to buy more time for Zionism’s plan.   But rather, I mean the thinking, commenting, “chattering class” of intellectuals, television hosts, and so on, tasked with the job of “selling” the idea over the last forty years or so, and those average Americans targeted for this deception.    Because for Americans, a fundamental cognitive dissonance has always surrounded the very idea of   Israel as an exclusive “state for the Jews”: and that is the fact that American political culture and civil polity are founded on the sacrosanct, bedrock value of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which essentially says that a democracy does not establish ANY religion as the religion of the state, and may not favor any faith over another.   We can’t claim credit for this idea–we got it from the French revolution, and from English philosophers before them.  It was a radical idea in the 18th century, but today it’s a mainstream, default concept in the West.  It’s how we do government in the West. So how did the United States become the proponent and guarantor of the zombie idea of Israel–an exclusive state which bases citizenship on membership in one religion, while reserving a degraded, second-class citizenship for those who are not Jews?    Everything about this is antithetical to the American political tradition.   It has been one of the great, triumphant acts of cynical political salesmanship in my lifetime: that the exclusive “state for the Jews” has been rendered as acceptable in polite quarters– even just and fair!–to Americans, within the context of our political discourse, even though every ten year old in American Civics class learns in school that we are a nation where all people are equal, and no religion controls, but you are free to worship as you please. Selling this idea to Americans has taken decades and lots of money and influence, operating sometimes quietly, sometimes openly. US President Harry Truman in 1947 was extremely skeptical of any “state for the Jews,” and generally objected to the Zionist plan on purely fundamental American values–that the establishment of a religious state was counter to what America stands for, and he didn’t want any part of it.  He thought he had worked out with his British counterparts a solution for partitioning Palestine that would allow 100,000 Holocaust survivors from Europe to move there, but would create a federal, democratic government with the existing majority Arab population controlling the majority of the land, in a secular state, among which the European Jews would be permitted to live.  Truman even went so far as to remind advisors that “religious wars” had ravaged Europe for centuries, and had been the very thing the American Revolution had got us all away from in 1776, and that a “Jewish State” was not an American idea.  Eventually, Truman went along with partition, but only if it awarded Palestine mostly to the Palestinians, with a small enclave for the Jews.  He expressed his doubts that any creation of a Jewish state could ever be fair to the Arabs.

But then something happened–and this is the salesmanship of Zionism–in the circle of liberal, “progressive” Democrats surrounding the Truman White House: famous men like Judge Brandeis, or the former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.  Liberals!   They pushed on behalf  of the Zionists for a Jewish state, and against the fairness doctrine that Truman wanted.  The Liberal movement in the United States helped create Israel, and in doing so, robbed the Palestinians of their homes, their villages, their farms, their cities and towns.   Always beware of the smiling, do-gooder liberals, is the lesson there. So much for the American ideal of the Establishment Clause. Next, the US Constitution enshrines the basic idea of “equality” before the law, and due process for all citizens.  As a lawyer, I can tell you that “due process” is the mechanical operating feature of the US Constitution which triggers so many of our rights as citizens–that everyone has the same access to, relationship to, and enfranchisement under the law.    The United States has fought bitterly over these issues–including its own civil war, and many rounds of social and political rights movements–but this fundamental western Enlightenment idea has held up as the core value of all our laws in the United States. The foundation of the Zionist state, of course, was a monstrous crime against the notion of “due process.”  Who among the 800,000 Palestinians stripped of their land and homes in 1948 ever received “due process” of the law?  Who among the millions of refugees today refused the right to return to where their families come from has ever received any “due process” of the law? Speaking as a lawyer, this is the most troubling aspect of any “Two State Solution”–the constant threat by the Zionists that any Palestinian assertion of the Right of Return justifies a cancellation of all other rights Palestinians possess–it is a miserable, deceitful and coercive cruelty played out over decades by the Zionists against those displaced Palestinians and their descendants who have suffered.  It is the original crime at the foundation of the Zionist state–and the Zionists continually cry for the Palestinians to renounce their human right before any other rights can be discussed.  As if the human right did not precede all other rights. This is why the Two State Solution is dead–because the Zionists cannot admit that their state is founded on a crime, and the moral contradiction of their position does not permit a way forward.  There is only blind advancement of conquest, subjugation and Apartheid. Speaking as a lawyer, I am most troubled by the failure of the Israeli people to understand the Right of Return in purely legalistic terms:  it is a property right, and the body of law dealing with property is long and deep, and originates in many cultures and languages, including, famously, the law-giving culture of the Jews.  Much of the ancient Jewish Torah and religious teachings, after all, are concerned explicitly with property, righteousness and what is fair.  The foundation of their faith is, in essence, the story of a contract between a people and God, and what happens when contracts are not honored. Even this past year, we have witnessed the vindication of property claims by Jews against banks, insurance companies, and art collections, concerning the plunder of the Nazis–where property is concerned, many Jews have vindicated their rights across many decades of troubling history, recovering bank accounts, businesses, houses and art.  Yet where are the Israelis who stand up and say, “the Right of Return is an issue of equity and property–the land belongs to someone else.” Again, the moral failure of the Israeli state, under the corruption of Zionism, blinds all who stand on stolen ground.

Yet, the “due process” concept is even more troubling for the future that is upon us now: the Apartheid state that the Zionists have built over the years since the Madrid talks can never permit even the faintest whisper of “due process” for those who must live under it. Why do Americans support this?  Do they even know what they support?  The One State of Zionist Apartheid is upon us, and that needs to be spelled out in every way to folks in the United States. Because now, as the Two-State Solution is dead, the choice for even liberal, peace-seeking Israelis (and for the Americans who would support them) is a choice between a single state from the river to the sea, in which every single person has total and equal enfranchisement before the law, with a resulting Arab majority; or it is a single state ruled by an iron fist, with two classes of citizens–the official, enfranchised class, and the subjugated, serving class, with walls and fences and Bantustan villages to keep them in their place.  Does this sound familiar?

But still, proponents push the zombie corpse of the Two State Solution forward.  I am amazed at how hollowed out this concept has become from all the abuse it has suffered–according to the Occupiers and the United States’ right wing, the future Palestinian “state” will not have control of its own borders, or ports; exclusive highways for Jews only will criss-cross its land, connecting settlements; it will not have any army or national military force; it will not be permitted armor or airplanes; it will have fences and walls, and the Israeli army and navy, surrounding all of it.   That doesn’t sound much like a state I’d like to live in!   I wouldn’t live in that state if you made me the President. Zionist phobia of a dignified Palestinian neighbor runs deep and broad–just like racism–and would provoke laughter if it were not such a sickness.  This phobia is so powerful that the Israelis and the Americans won’t even allow the Palestinians to take their place among the organizations of nations, and have access to international cultural and political resources–as witness the temper-tantrum Israel and the US State Department threw last year when the Palestinian Authority joined various United Nations organizations. It is time for the Zionists to grow up, and stop poisoning the phony discourse–either admit your agenda is conquest, or get out.  If it’s conquest, then the apartheid system shall prevail, which–as South Africa demonstrated–will lead to a protracted battle for rights by the majority population, leading to their eventual triumphant–in A ONE STATE FRAMEWORK. This is what Palestinians have to look forward to, I’m afraid!  But I have been visiting South Africa quite a lot in the past few years as a lawyer–and I can tell you, I know of no more other society so determined to find a just and equitable future together, really struggling with the legacy of injustice and working creatively to make a real nation, than I find in South Africa.  It holds out the promise that one day Palestine will be the state we are talking about, from the river to the sea. Yet the zombie of the Two State Solution still strides the land, spawning its infected army of zombie believers–most recently the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, who staggered through the region, ineffective and clueless, then made an observation back home that Israel was flirting with Apartheid.  The result?  He has paid politically in Washington, where he had to go down on bended knee and apologize publicly to the Zionist lobby, and it’s unlikely his political career has anywhere left to go now, because he dared to use the “A-word” in referring to Israel. Of course, popular cinema has taught us that to kill a zombie, you must hit it in the head, and destroy its brain.  This tells me that we must struggle now to defeat the intellectual justifications for the Two State Solution–defeat the far-flung network of bogus think-tanks and apologists who hold up Israel as a shining beacon of polite, lawful statehood, while keeping the Palestinians disenfranchised.  We must win the intellectual battle, at the same time as the fight on the ground continues–the world must learn that the American and Zionist agenda is intended to subjugate the Palestinians further, and will continue to do so until world opinion & the Palestinians themselves change that–just as happened in South Africa.

This article is adapted from an address to the “Nakba 2014” Conference in  Zurich, 15 May 2014. 

 

 

Translation   http://www.alquds.com/pdf/1539421787168777600/1539423079000/#page=10&zoom=auto,-13,1536

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A Short History of Collective Punishment: From the British Empire to Gaza

Originally published August 24, 2018 in Counterpunch

 

As old as war itself, collective punishment has long been the most damning and destructive weapon of all. Not satisfied with engaging combatants alone and directly, historically, it has fueled state reprisal against families, communities and entire populations in a drive to “win” a given conflict, military or otherwise, at all costs.

With roots that trace, literally, to the start of time, reprisal has evolved as modern warfare has became more proficient and popular resistance more prevalent. Nowhere has collective punishment proved more evident and systemic than it has in the West where it has long run the gamut from civil sanctions, to population displacement, to political penalty, to imprisonment, to outright slaughter. Of late, it has grown more subtle, yet no less pernicious, through state censorship that seeks to control the narrative of the day.

In the American Civil War, during his “march to the sea”, General Sherman ordered his troops, when faced with any resistance from guerillas, to enforce devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.” In doing so, his troops targeted non-combatants causing more than one-hundred million dollars in property damage. Today that destruction would be valued at more than one-and half billion dollars.

The strategy known as “hard war” was defined by widespread destruction of civilian supplies, infrastructure and property, which disrupted the South’s economy and transportation networks. Foragers, known as “bummers“, seized food from local farms for the Army while they destroyed railroads, manufacturing and agricultural infrastructure in the South.

As troops marched through Georgia, they took whatever horses, mules and wagons, owned by civilians, for military use. In leaving Atlanta, all buildings and structures that might have had a military “value”, including rail depots, roundhouses, arsenals and storage areas, were disassembled and burned. Although monitored, the “controlled” fires resulted in heavy damage, if not widespread destruction, to civilian homes located throughout Atlanta.

Sherman’s “scorched earth” policy was not new and was to continue after the Civil War as military forces targeted non-combatants in particular indigenous communities as an essential part of an early European colonial project.

Thus, in 1863, after a small group of miners were killed, the US military laid the blame at a band of nearby “defiant” Shoshone Indians. During the four hour onslaught that followed, 200 soldiers killed several hundred Shoshone, including at least 90 women, children and infants. They were shot, stabbed and battered to death. Others were driven into the icy river to drown or to freeze.

In1864, following an unsolved murder of a settler family not far from a reservation at Sand Creek Colorado, the territorial governor called on citizens to “kill and destroy . . . hostile natives.” Seeking the “chastisement” of the Indians, a military raid followed not long thereafter. According to one soldier, “… hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees for mercy, only to be shot and have their brains beat out.” Of the 200 defenseless Cheyenne and Arapaho that were murdered, all but 60 were women and children. The dead, women and men alike, were scalped… with their ears and genitals cut out.

Dance has always played an essential role in religious practice and ceremony among indigenous communities in North America. Following the civil war, traditional Native dance was increasingly viewed as a threat to white “settlers” as they moved further west.

Seeing religious practice as a potential flashpoint for an Indian uprising, the U.S. and Canadian governments passed laws banning cultural and religious rituals… including all forms of traditional dance. That ban was to lead to the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Early one December morning in 1890, a large contingent of heavily armed soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry surrounded several hundred Lakota Sioux at a makeshift camp along the banks of Wounded Knee Creek where some were practicing the Ghost Dance… a new and spreading ritual seen as a bridge between the living and the spirits of the dead… to bring unity to natives throughout the region. Sent to arrest the native participants for their Ghost Dance, a gunshot unleashed a barrage of fire… including a military machine gun… that slaughtered several hundred Lakota men, women and children caught in crossfire as they fled to find safety in a nearby ravine.

Half a century later, on the eve of the surrender of Germany, a series of bombing raids were carried out on the city of Dresden by 800 American and British aircraft. Known as the “Florence of the Elbe”, Dresden was a medieval city renowned for its artistic and architectural treasures. It played no role whatsoever in war-production and had no major industry.

The two days of bombing, which involved 3,400 tons of explosives, unleashed a veritable firestorm which continued burning for days. When the fire ended, the streets were littered with charred corpses… including many children. Although the exact number of those, mostly civilians, killed remains unknown it is estimated that upwards of 135,000 lost their lives and were buried in mass graves… including some within the eight square miles of the city that lay in ruins. While various rationales have been raised, the consensus is the attack was simply a mission to collectively punish the Germans and weaken their morale.

Six months later, on August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki… killing an estimated 40,000 people. Tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure in and around both cities. Already defeated before the use of the atom bombs, Japan’s Emperor surrendered a week later citing the mass destruction and punishment wrought by “a new and most cruel bomb.”

As shown by its participation in the firebombing of Dresden, the British are not at all strangers to collective punishment. Indeed, the UK often employed it during its once long reign as the world’s leading colonial power. Thus, in response to the Boston Tea Party the “Intolerable Acts” were enacted by the British Parliament. These acts closed the Port of Boston, revoked the Massachusetts Charter and, thus, home rule, moved the trials of accused outside North America and required the colonies to quarter the King’s troops, thereby, imposing mass punishment upon much of the colonies for the acts of a few.

During the Second Boer War of 1899-1902 the British rounded up more than a hundred thousand of the Boer civilian population, mostly women and children, and detained them in camps. Overcrowded, with little nourishment, and prone to outbreaks of disease, some twenty-seven thousand Boers and an unknown number of black Africans died.

In April of 1919 peaceful protestors defied a government ban and demonstrated against British Colonial rule in India. Blocked inside a walled off garden, they were fired upon by Gurkha soldiers who kept shooting until they ran out of ammunition. After 10 minutes, the firing stopped… leaving upwards of a thousand protestors dead and another 1,100 injured.

Although precise figures are unknown, it is estimated that between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation while under the control of the British Empire… as millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain even while famine raged throughout India.

In 1943, up to four million Bengalis starved to death when Winston Churchill diverted food to British soldiers and countries such as Greece while a deadly famine swept through Bengal. When asked about the famine Churchill said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits”

In 1956, in Cyprus, Britain evicted families from their homes and closed shops in neighborhoods where British soldiers and police had been attacked, purportedly to obtain information about the attackers.

During the so-called Mau Mau uprisings in “British” Kenya, Kikuyu tenants who lost their land to white settlers were detained, en masse, in camps known as “British gulags” where many suffered from torture and sexual assault. It is estimated that during 1951-1960 between 20k and 100k Kikuyu lost their lives.

In 1935-36, Italian troops carried out mass reprisals following their invasion and occupation of Ethiopia. Among other atrocities, fascists used mustard gas against civilian communities, bombed Red Cross hospitals and ambulances, destroyed monasteries and shot “witch-doctors” who foretold the end of Italian rule. Following a partisan grenade attack that wounded the Italian viceroy, some 19,000 civilians were murdered in Addis Ababa during a three day rampage carried out by local fascist militias, colonial troops and Italian soldiers. Victims were shot, hanged, burned to death, beaten with clubs and shovels and drowned… being thrown down wells or into the river.

The German Punishment

During World War II, collective punishment was very much the norm in Europe and Asia as German and Japanese troops engaged in targeted reprisals against persons and communities as revenge for the acts of the few or for purposes of population control.

Following attacks by the Serbian resistance in October of 1941 German soldiers raided the town of Kragujevac in Yugoslavia seizing some ten-thousand civilians… including high school students while in class. Beginning the next day, people were executed in groups of four hundred at a time. When the massacre ended over 5,000 civilians, including women and children, were dead.

To understand where collective punishment would eventually lead, at the hands of Nazi Germany, one must look to its activity well before World War II. Thus, in the early 1930’s, it began to target its civil population by virtue of nothing more than their trade union and political activities and beliefs or religion. Soon after the election of May 2, 1933, the SA (Nazi paramilitary) and SS (initially Hitler’s bodyguards) began to attack all forms of political opposition… beginning with raids on trade unions offices whose leaders were arrested and imprisoned. Later that year, they raided offices of political opposition parties… destroying equipment, confiscating funds and arresting their leaders. By the middle of that year, Nazis had banned all opposition parties.

In May 1933, the first book burnings under the Nazis occurred outside of the University of Berlin with university students leading the torch lit parade. In 1817, over 100 years earlier, students had initiated book burning with the goal of unifying the patchwork Germany of the time. Among the first works thrown into the fire in 1933 were those of Sigmund Freud’s. In what was clearly prophetic, German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine had written, one-hundred years earlier, “any people that burn books, will one day burn people.”

As Hitler consolidated power, thousands of communists, socialists, church leaders and anyone else who might oppose the Nazis were rounded up. Initially, these prisoners were held in local prisons and police stations. There were so many prisoners that makeshift buildings were converted to house them. Eventually, the Nazis solution to the inefficiency of the buildings was found in establishing large, purpose-built camps to hold these prisoners. These they called concentration camps. The first camp was established on 1 April 1933 at Dachau.

Between 1933 and the end of the war, some dozen years later, many thousands of people resisted the Nazis using both violent and non-violent means. Among the earliest opponents were Communists, Socialists, and trade union leaders. As punishment against this movement thousands were executed including German theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who opposed the regime.

As millions of Jews, Communists, Socialists, Gypsies, gays and political opposition were murdered in concentration camps throughout Germany and Europe, resistance continued to grow in Nazi-occupied areas outside of Germany.

In France, Denmark, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece and Poland, guerilla fighters engaged in anti-Nazi sabotage. After Czech agents assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi governor of Bohemia and Moravia, the Nazis shot all of the men in the Czech village of Lidice none of whom had any involvement in the assassination.

Warsaw was, perhaps, the most legendary of all uprisings by an urban population in German-occupied territory. On April 19, 1943 an armed revolt was begun by a group of Warsaw ghetto dwellers. The Jewish Fighter Organization (ZOB) led the insurgency and battled, for a month, using weapons smuggled into the ghetto. The Nazis responded by bringing in tanks and machine guns. In massive collective punishment, the Nazis burned blocks of buildings and destroyed the ghetto in its entirety. Ultimately, many of the 60,000 remaining residents, most of whom had nothing to do with the uprising, were executed or lost their lives as buildings were bombed or set aflame.

In 1942 German troops destroyed the village of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, executing 340 civilians as reprisal for an earlier commando raid by partisans. In the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane more than 600 men, women and children were murdered as collective punishment for acts of the resistance. Similar reprisals occurred in the Dutch village of Putten, the Italian village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and the Soviet village of Kortelisky.

The Japanese Punishment

Beginning long before the onset of World War II, during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, Japan made widespread use of biological and chemical weapons, created in the infamous Unit 731 labs, in their drive to reduce and control China’s population through weapons of mass destruction.

From 1931 through 1945, Japan employed thousands of biological and chemical weapons throughout China. Hunan, Jiangsu, Jilin, Kwangtung and Zhejiang provinces were a few of the targets of many such attacks. The biological weapons attacks in Zhejiang province offer a chilling view of Japan’s routine use of biological or germ warfare as a weapon of collective punishment against a civilian population.

Thus, on October 4, 1940, a Japanese airplane dropped plague-infected fleas (causing bubonic and other plagues) over Quzhou, a small town in western Zhejiang Province. Within days the first victims died. Within a year more than a two- thousand others died.

In September of 1941 the plague was carried to another village causing the death of an additional one thousand persons. In 1942 Japan unleashed a series of anthrax and glanders (a rare infectious disease) attacks on numerous villages throughout Zhejiang Province leading to the painful deaths of some three thousand villagers soon after the onset of the infection.

Population displacement has also been a mainstay of prohibited collective punishment. Though the world map has long been artificially reconfigured to reflect changing political winds, two displacements, in particular, provide insight into how political priorities and retribution have directed the forced movement of people in contravention of international law.

In 1944, Stalin deported the entire population of the North Caucasus… more than half a million people from the republics of Ingushetia, Chechnya, and North Ossetia… to the Soviet republics of Central Asia based on an assumption they were “collaborating” with the Nazis.

The forced displacement was accomplished through crowded cattle-cars which simply dropped the displaced in a barren wilderness without any means of survival. In an earlier period of forced displacement it is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 more than three-million Russian Poles and Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. It is estimated almost half of those resettled died of various diseases and malnutrition.

As a result of an agreement among the victorious parties in World War II, between 1945-1950 upwards of 14 million German speaking civilians… most of whom were women, the elderly and children… were forcibly expelled from their homes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Poland and sent to the rubble of Allied-occupied Germany. Along the way perhaps half a million lost their lives to starvation, disease, attacks and executions. Tens of thousands of others died of ill treatment in forced labor camps as so much “reparations.” Many of these camps were once German concentration camps which remained in operations for years after the cessation of hostilities.

The Israeli Punishment

Collective punishment is the alluring call of the desperate tyrant. It is a shameless group stab that targets communities when a despot’s aim, at the few, falls short of their coveted mark. To them, how much easier it is to break a people’s step by spreading anguish among all… the young, the old, those waiting to take their turn.

Collective punishment comes in many shapes. Some short, explosive and deadly. Others the kind that hang heavy like an amorphous throb that just never seems to go away… an ache always there to remind that there’s something about your race, religion or heritage that panics tyranny. And, then, there is the kind that confronts every breath you take, every step you make… day in and out… generation after generation. The sort that demands you walk or run off into the past and never return to a future that is yours to claim. No tomorrow. No vision. No voice. No hope.

That is the collective punishment begun by European Zionists decades before the United Nations ripped Palestine from Palestine… when they unleashed a spree of death, dispossession and destruction that has continued unabated for more than ninety years. No modern collective punishment has been as long, as public or as perversely proud.

Though the Nakba began on May 14, 1948, it unfolded decades before when Balfour issued an open invitation to terrorists such as the Irgun, Palmach or Lehi (the Stern Gang) to commence a deadly colonial project that came to know no bounds.

For years, Palestinians were targeted in their homes, businesses, and marketplaces for no reason but their easy mark. Men, women and children were butchered by bombs or slain by shots… not as armed opposition but as civilians swept up in a pogrom of collective punishment.

No one can erase the terrorist blast of the King David Hotel ,by the Irgun in1946, that took ninety-one lives including some four dozen Palestinians. Nor can the massacres at Deir Yassin and Ein al-Zeitun, by the Irgun or Lehi in April and May of 1948, be apologized away as the unfortunate loss from competitive battle. Hundreds of executed civilians, many tethered and shot, others mutilated and raped, is not warfare but collective punishment of the worst kind… the type designed to spread mass terror through a despicable feed upon the most vulnerable in two defenseless, age-old, rural villages.

If these were to be the explosive benchmarks of early shared punishment, for more than a decade before, thousands of Palestinians were murdered or injured in a rampage of non-stop terrorism that determined life and death by little more than mere happenstance.

Crowded Souqs (marketplaces) in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa were a particular favorite for collective punishment as bombs exploded… some hidden on donkeys or under fruit stands, others tossed into crowds of shoppers from passing vehicles. Many were shot and killed in random drive-bys. Small lodges, town halls, political headquarters, cinemas and trains were the scene of repeated carnage caused by explosives or ambush. More than once, the Damascus Gate of the Old City was attacked by barrel bombs or strafed by gun fire. In Jaffa, more than one hundred homes were burned to the ground as part of a coordinated bombing attack. And in a precursor of what was to come, soon, en masse, on the night of December 31, 1947- January 1, 1948, the village of Balad al-Shaykh was attacked by paramilitary forces who proceeded to blow up homes and execute 70 Palestinians as retaliation for an earlier battle elsewhere between Zionist and Palestinian fighters.

With the establishment of Israel, over night, collective punishment took on a new, more odious, meaning as mass displacement became a prime weapon of choice throughout Palestine. Fearing advancing Israeli troops or another Deir Yassin massacre by marauding militias, some eight hundred thousand Palestinians fled, or were expelled, from their age-old homes, to become stateless refugees strewn throughout the Middle East.

In the days that followed, between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were sacked… reduced to little more than rubble. As panic spread, Israeli troops patrolled urban centers using vans and loudspeakers to order terrified inhabitants to evacuate their homes. (O’Ballance, Edgar). As mass flight took hold it became clear to international observers and journalists, alike, that cleansing Palestine of its civil population had become a formal Israeli policy. Not long thereafter, a series of laws were passed by Israel which prevented Palestinians from returning to their homes.

It sealed the fate of millions of Palestinians who 70 years later continue to suffer from an unprecedented formalized state policy of mass collective punishment and exile.

The IDF began to attack civilian targets, including population centers, with the goal of causing the residents to understand the price of escalation and placing Hamas in a problematic situation.” With these words, a recent newspaper article in the Hebrew-language version of Haaretz confirmed what informed observers had long known: that Israel sees itself above international law in its use of collective punishment as an essential element of its drive to complete its goal of ethnic cleansing throughout Palestine.

To understand the contemporary reality of collective punishment in Palestine, for context one need only look back some thirteen years to the electoral victory of Hamas in Gaza. In the years since, the Israeli government has targeted its two million civilians for direct and unremitting punishment for little more than their electoral will and political determination. Parallel to this attack has been a simultaneous one, of a different nature, on the Palestinian civil population throughout the Occupied West Bank.

Even before the on-going bloodbath in the Great Return March, few can deny Israel’s frequent use of collective punishment on non-combatants in the Gaza strip. Predictably, each time, it has blamed “terrorists” within the civil society itself for the unfortunate and substantial casualties and widespread destruction of infrastructure, buildings and homes that ensued.

On January 3, 2009, Israel began a ground offensive in Gaza. When it ended some two weeks later more than eight-hundred civilians lay dead, including those who lost their lives seeking shelter in U.N. compounds that were targeted by Israel. In one such attack 43 were killed by an Israeli shelling on January 6.

In what was to become the rai·son d’ê·tre of future assaults, Israel destroyed homes, university and apartment buildings, schools, factories and infrastructure describing them as part of the Hamas “support network.” Damage estimated in excess of $3 billion further strained the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza leaving 46,000 displaced persons in UNRWA shelters.

Less than three years later, on November 14, 2012 ,Israel once again attacked Gaza using planes, mortar fire and tanks throughout the embattled enclave. According to a report by the UNHCR, during the onslaught 174 Palestinians were killed including 33 children, 13 women and three journalists by air strikes on their cars. Hundreds of others were wounded, among them at least 88 under the age of five. On November 19, 2012, an Israeli airstrike killed ten members of the Dalu family, including five children and two neighbors.

In what can only be described as an all-out attack on civil society, Al Mezan, reported that, in just one week, the Israeli army destroyed 124 homes and damaged more than 2000 others while targeting numerous residential communities and apartment blocks.

When the attack ended , 52 places of worship, 25 NGO’s, 97 schools, 15 health institutions, 14 journalist offices and 16 government buildings lay in ruins. Fifteen factories and 192 trade shops, twelve water wells and large agricultural tracts were damaged or destroyed… as was the main bridge connecting Gaza City with the rest of the enclave.

In 2014, Israel undertook its most recent coordinated military assault on Gaza as it once again targeted its two millions civilians with massive disproportionate force. According to a United Nations report “the scale of the devastation was unprecedented… tallying more than 6,000 airstrikes, 14,500 tank shells and 45,000 artillery shells unleashed between July 7 and Aug. 26.”

Many of these explosive devices, in particular artillery and mortars, were used in densely populated areas and designed to have a “wide-area” impact to ensure that anyone or anything within the contact area would likely be killed, injured or damaged due to their explosive power and imprecision. By design the haphazard use of these weapons destroyed entire neighborhoods.

When the carnage ended, 2310 Palestinians were killed… the majority of them civilians including 551 children and 299 women. More than 11,000 others were wounded, a third of them children, with over 1,000 left permanently disabled. Many of the killed or maimed had sought refuge in various shelters including U.N. schools which were hit despite the fact their coordinates had been provided to Israel in advance of the attack. [Excerpt from “Building For Sale, All Bids Considered: The UN And The Middle East” May 1, 2018 Counterpunch Stanley Cohen]

The collective punishment unleashed on Gaza during the attack of 2014 was meant to cause lasting devastation on a civil community already overwhelmed by poverty and still reeling from the last assault on its infrastructure just a few years earlier.

During the 50 day attack, Israel struck more than 5,200 targets including thousands of homes that were destroyed or severely damaged. Hundreds of factories, dairy farms (with livestock) and orange groves were destroyed, as were the lone power station and major sewage pipe in Gaza, serving 500,000 residents.138 schools and 10 out of 26 hospitals were damaged or destroyed along with 203 mosques and two of Gaza’s three Christian churches. [Excerpt from “Building For Sale, All Bids Considered: The UN And The Middle East” May 1, 2018 Counterpunch Stanley Cohen]

For those in need of a painful primer on what explosive collective punishment looks and feels like today, these deadly mass attacks upon the civil society, indeed life, of Gaza leave nothing to the imagination. Each assault caused substantial casualties among non combatants and crippled essential infrastructure and support services for the health, welfare and safety of some two million men, women and children.

Make no mistake about it, carpet bombing is not an isolated military misstep. It is a determined, strategic call. Repeat targeted attacks upon residential neighborhoods and schools, shelters and hospitals by “wide area” impact weapons are not intended to minimize civilian suffer but, rather, to serve as triggers for horrific collective punishment.

Yet, military assault is but one deadly adjunct to a systematic choke upon Gaza, now in its thirteenth year of Israeli occupation, that has denied its civil population sufficient food, water, clothing, medicines, fuel, shelter, bedding, hospital equipment and freedom of movement. Recognized as guaranteed humanitarian rights, these are not mere commodities of privilege or luxuries of life. To be sure, their absence is the core distinction between victims of collective punishment and those who impose it.

Completely surrounded by walls and fences, years of Israeli attacks and a suffocating embargo on produce and supplies have left Gaza reeling from an absence of an infrastructure capable of meeting the needs of its people. Whether its electricity, clean water, healthcare, or sewage treatment and waste management, it is undergoing a humanitarian crisis now entering its second decade.

In Gaza, abject poverty is rampant. At 41.1 percent, the unemployment rate is the highest in the world. Its youth unemployment is 64 percent.

Although thousands of homes damaged or destroyed during Israel’s attacks remain in need of repair, the construction sector is idle. More than a hundred thousand live in cramped shelters or remain homeless. Sixty per cent of Gaza lives under the poverty line. According to UNICEF a third of Gaza’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies that can stunt development and affect overall health. [Excerpted from “Parallel Worlds: Gaza and Israel” December 29, 2017 Counterpunch Stanley Cohen”]

According to the WHO, power cuts and fuel shortages have created constant crises for Gaza’s 14 public hospitals; threatening the closure of essential health services leaving thousands of people without access to life-saving medical care. For well over a year electricity for Gaza has dropped to a total of just three hours daily. At any given time, power loss threatens the lives of hundreds of new-borns and adults in neonatal and intensive care units.

Only three percent of the entire water supply in Gaza is fit for human consumption with the rest contaminated and dangerous because of untreated sewage, agricultural chemicals and a large concentration of chloride.

With the shortage of clean water looms the fear of a deadly cholera epidemic particularly in a community with a young population with increasing numbers showing signs of acute malnutrition and severe wasting. [Excerpted from “Parallel Worlds: Gaza and Israel” December 29, 2017 Counterpunch Stanley Cohen”]

According to the World Bank, 56 % of all Palestinians have no access to “reasonable and customary” healthcare in Gaza. Dozens of basic drugs are unavailable. Currently, more than eight thousand chemotherapy patients including hundreds of children are unable to obtain life saving treatment due to the absence of drugs needed to sustain them.

According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI), the public health system is not able to provide specialized treatments for complex medical problems in a variety of fields including neonatal care, cardiology, orthopedics and oncology.

So far this year, 30 patients have died after their exit permits to obtain treatment were either denied or not granted in time. Not long ago three seriously ill babies died after permits to grant them treatment in Israel were denied. Earlier this year, 2 children died while waiting permission from Israel to leave for external treatment.

The Seeds of Collective Punishment

In November of 1998, the Yasser Arafat Airport, located between Rafah and Dahaniya, was opened with much fanfare. Capable of handling some 700,000 passengers per year, it was seen as an important step forward in the establishment of Palestinian statehood as it provided the only transit into and out of Gaza beyond the control of Israel. In 2001, Israel destroyed its radar station and control tower, in a bombing attack, after the start of the Al Aqsa Intifada in the occupied West Bank. Never again would the airport be used.

After 38 years of internal occupation in southern Gaza, the Israeli army and 21 “settlements” with almost ten-thousand settlers were, in 2005, driven from the coastal enclave. Though Israel has long claimed it was a voluntary “withdrawal” for security reasons, it is clear that increasing confrontations and resistance by Palestinian fighters in Gaza was the cause of the evacuation.

Not long after the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, Israel declared the Gaza strip “hostile territory.” Soon thereafter it imposed a series of political, economic and military sanctions to isolate and destroy Hamas and to punish Gaza’s population for the exercise of its political will.

In its thirst for collective punishment, Israel imposed a naval blockade which limited offshore fishing zones and initiated a siege that resulted in the closure of border crossings, for people, goods and services. It also implemented a “buffer zone” within the territory.

These measures have had a devastating impact on the living standards and life of all of Gaza and destroyed any prospect of economic development or independence. They have created a grave and protracted humanitarian crisis that has only been exacerbated by three unwarranted and excessive military onslaughts that have killed thousands of Palestinians and laid waste to Gaza’s infrastructure.

Thirteen years later, Israel controls Gaza’s air and maritime space, and six of its seven land crossings; Egypt rules the seventh. It controls Gaza’s population registry and arbitrarily decides who comes into and out of the world’s largest open air prison. Gaza remains dependent on Israel for its water, electricity, telecommunications, and other utilities.

And what of that buffer zone? As shown by the Great Return March, it’s proved deadly… as Israeli snipers decide who will live and who will die from the safety of their mounds for the daring of Gaza’s voice.

The Law of Collective Punishment

Throughout history, during times of armed conflict and occupation, military forces have repeatedly used acts of collective punishment on groups of persons without regard to whether or not they bore personal responsibility for the very acts, it was claimed, that required a response. The use of collective punishments and infliction of cruel punitive measures upon civil populations is not new. For many years, belligerent reprisals have been little more than illegal means of repression or intimidation often imposed under the guise of legitimate law enforcement.

Unable to locate insurgents responsible for so-called hostile acts, invading armies and occupation powers have long used collective punishment in the hopes of suppressing resistance and ensuring willful obedience. Ultimately, the goal of deterrence is little more than a pretext for tyranny.

International law has responded to this military ritual by increasingly restricting and outlawing the practice of collective punishment

Of the many prohibitions set forth under international law, the one most frequently ignored, yet, clearly defined, is the ban on collective punishment. The prohibition of collective punishment in international humanitarian law is based on one of the oldest, and most basic, tenets of criminal law… the principle of individual responsibility. Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Section 1 Art. 33 provides that: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”

This convention codifies the Hague Regulations of 1899 which provide “No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, can be inflicted on the population on account of the acts of individuals for which it cannot be regarded as collectively responsible” The Hague Resolution of 1907 Section 3 Art 50 affirmed this rule with only a slight modification amending “collective responsible” to “jointly and severally responsible.”

Article 4, par. 2(b), of Protocol II of the Convention further defines collective punishment as “penalties of any kind inflicted on persons or entire groups of persons in defiance of the most elementary principles of humanity, for acts that these persons have not committed.” The Commentary on Protocol II emphasizes that collective punishment should be given the widest possible application and includes any kind of sanction.

Under International law, the law of wars (humanitarian law) is no less applicable to conflicts between non-international combatants than it is fighting among international forces. Accordingly, although political debate may arise over whether which category the decades old conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories may fall, for purposes of humanitarian law it is difference without a distinction.

Both Israel and the resistance forces of Palestine are obligated to observe article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 (“common article 3”), the Second Additional Protocol of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions (Protocol II), applicable to non-international armed conflicts, and relevant customary international law.

In relevant part, humanitarian law forbids deliberately harming civilians and other persons no longer taking part in the hostilities, including wounded. It also establishes specific rules on the conduct of hostilities to minimize unnecessary suffering.

These provisions prohibit violations of the right to life, torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unfair trials. They also provide for the rights to the protection of the home and family, and particularized protection of children in times of armed conflict.

Persons under the control of government in an internal armed conflict must, in all cases, be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law, which incorporates important human rights standards. (The UN Human Rights Committee, the expert international committee that monitors state compliance with the ICCPR, has stated that “the Covenant applies also in situations of armed conflict to which the rules of international humanitarian law are applicable. While, in respect of certain Covenant rights, more specific rules of international humanitarian law may be specially relevant for the purposes of the interpretation of Covenant rights, both spheres of law are complementary, not mutually exclusive.”

Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law provide for personal criminal liability for those individuals found in breach of their prohibition. Human rights abuses committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population are crimes against humanity.

In sum, international human rights laws prohibit the arbitrary deprivation of life and, at all times, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. (See ICCPR, articles 5 and 7; Convention against Torture, articles 1 and 16.)

At their core, a fundamental principle of international humanitarian law is that parties to a conflict must distinguish between combatants and civilians, and may not deliberately target civilians or civilian objects.

Protocol II states, in no uncertain terms, “civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against the dangers arising from military operations.” They are not to be the object of attack and all acts or threats of violence with the primary purpose to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.

Customary international humanitarian law prohibits attacks directed against civilian objects, such as homes and places of worship. (See ICRC, Customary IHL, rule 7) Protocol II specifically bans attacks, destruction, or removal of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population including food-stuffs, agricultural areas, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works. Pillage (or plunder) – the forcible taking of private property – is also prohibited.

Collective punishments are prohibited under international humanitarian law in all circumstances. The prohibition on collective punishments applies to criminal sanctions against persons for actions for which they do not bear individual criminal responsibility, but also to “all sanctions and harassment of any sort, administrative, by police action or otherwise.”

Article 4 of Protocol II also sets out the fundamental guarantees of humane treatment, which explicitly includes a prohibition on collective punishments, acts of terrorism, and pillage. Commentaries of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Protocol II and customary international law make clear that these articles leave no room for reprisals in non-international armed conflict.

With respect to individual responsibility, serious violations of international humanitarian law include the mistreatment of persons in custody and deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian property, when committed with criminal intent amount to war crimes.

Criminal intent requires purposeful or reckless action. Individuals may also be held criminally liable for attempting to commit a war crime, as well as assisting in, facilitating, aiding or abetting a war crime. Responsibility may also fall on persons ordering, planning, or instigating the commission of a war crime. Commanders and civilian leaders may be prosecuted for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility when they knew or should have known about the commission of war crimes and took insufficient measures to prevent them or punish those responsible.

A “systematic” attack indicates “a pattern or methodical plan.” (Tadic, para. 648). International courts have considered to what extent a systematic attack requires a policy or plan. For instance, such a plan need not be adopted formally as a policy of the state. (Akayesu, para. 580.)

The use of collective punishments and infliction of cruel punitive measures upon civil populations is not new. For many years belligerent reprisals have been little more than illegal means of repression or intimidation, often imposed under the guise of legitimate law enforcement.

Unable to locate insurgents responsible for so-called hostile acts, invading armies and occupation powers have long used collective punishment in the hopes of suppressing resistance and ensuring willful obedience. Ultimately the goal of deterrence is little more than a pretext for tyranny.

The Israeli Punishment… Continued

In Palestine the use of collective punishment began long ago through a rampage of indiscriminate bombings, kidnappings, arson and random shootings that targeted civil society. After the establishment of Israel, population displacement and exile turned upwards of eighty percent of the indigenous community into stateless refugees. Ethnic cleansing was then well underway.

In the years since the Irgun became the IDF, collective punishment has become very much the norm as the Israeli military has routinely embraced mass murder and reprisal as a strategic weapon of choice in Gaza. Wholesale destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, houses of worship and essential infrastructure has become very much the wretched political norm in Israel.

At the same time, Israel has imposed an embargo on the import of necessary food, medicine, water, and reconstruction materials and placed a stranglehold on a once flourishing maritime industry while reducing movement in and out of Gaza to a trickle. Beginning more than a decade ago, these steps were imposed against the entire civil society of Gaza as punishment for its political will and for the lawful resistance acts of the few.

Although qualitatively different, collective punishment in the occupied West Bank is no less pernicious, every bit as illegal and, beyond question, another conscious step by Israel to strip millions of occupied people of their indigenous identity and rights in violation of international law.

As in Gaza, there is no shortage of evidence of Israel’s decade’s old systematic attack upon the civil society and institutions of the occupied West Bank. As in Gaza, ultimately, all Israeli policies there are driven by the subterfuge of necessity.

Whether it is forced population displacement or the ever present dividing walls and checkpoints or a dozen other illegal military sanctions, Israel punishes some two and a half-million civilians for the drive of their political will or the legitimate military resistance of the relatively few.

Simply put collective punishment at its worst.

Thus, since the occupation began in 1967 mass incarceration has become the norm with more than 800,000 Palestinians from the West Bank imprisoned. Almost all have been denied any modicum of due process and were prosecuted, tried and convicted by military tribunals. Jews living in the Occupied Territory are, of course, prosecuted in civil courts and receive the full panoply of their civil criminal rights.

Most of the 800,000 were charged on the basis of unreliable secret evidence. Using the talisman of “security,” those imprisoned over the years include many tens of thousands prosecuted for little more than their politics beliefs, or their speech, association or movement.

Prisons come in many forms. There are those with cellblocks and bunks and others with walls and checkpoints which keep those at liberty nonetheless prisoner to their plight. Throughout the West Bank these walls and checkpoints not only limit movement and illegally divide families into crafted segregated communities, but deny students equal education and the frail and infirm quality medical care.

Throughout the occupation mass displacement of indigenous communities, including those of Bedouin families and neighborhoods, in East Jerusalem that date back millennium, have been undertaken or razed to accommodate illegal settlements.

To date, more than 800,000 settlers reside in the West bank with much of it now annexed in clear violation of international law. Often Muslims, and increasingly Christian Palestinians, are denied the right to exercise their religious beliefs due to their age, through embargoes on travel or closure of Mosques or churches due to “security” … including the Al Aqsa Mosque and compound. It has become common place for settlers or Israeli soldiers or police to attack Al Aqsa causing damage to the third holiest site in Islam or casualties, including death, to those in prayer.

During other periods, East Jerusalem has been hard hit by Israeli “security” steps… including the military setting up dozens of checkpoints and concrete roadblocks at entrances to various neighborhoods and internal community roads causing great disruption to the lives of several hundred thousand Palestinian residents.

Typically, as an adjunct to such neighborhood closures, policing operations are undertaken in which thousands of residents, of all ages, are stopped, searched and questioned for nothing more than living on a given street. More than a few reported abusive encounters with Israeli police and soldiers… including sexual harassment either by comments or physical contact.

These measures, which arbitrarily targeted large segments of the East Jerusalem population, bear no nexus to the commission of attacks that had occurred earlier, elsewhere, in East Jerusalem. As a result tens of thousands of Palestinians had their rights to freedom of movement, access to healthcare and to maintain their standard of living unreasonably disrupted.

While many of these restrictions have been lifted, some neighborhoods continue to suffer from on-going and severe access restrictions as well as abusive policing operations. Overall, these arbitrary security measures have adversely impacted the local and whole Palestinian economies and reduced employment opportunities to a community already suffering from high rates of joblessness.

Elsewhere, on occasions, entire villages or towns have been sealed off in the West Bank because of military operations, once again unrelated to local acts of violence, thereby disrupting the lives and livelihoods of their residents. These measures constitute prohibited collective punishment.

Elsewhere, other Palestinians have not been so “fortunate” as to merely suffer from checkpoint harassment on their way back home. Punitive home demolitions have long been a mainstay of the Israeli military targeting the families and relatives of Palestinians allegedly involved in attacks, even in the absence of any evidence that the families had any prior knowledge of, or participated in, them. Although intermittent, these demolitions have destroyed dozens of homes leaving several hundred Palestinians homeless… including almost one-hundred children.

Punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes also violate a number of core human rights including the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to family life, the right to freedom of movement and physical and mental health.

Although the practice eventually reached the Israeli High Court, it was upheld on the basis that the destruction was necessary on “deterrence and security grounds.” It was not the first time the Court ignored well-settled international prohibitions against collective punishment and if history is, indeed, the guidepost of what is yet to come… it will not be the last.

What greater crime can there be than to steal a child’s smile… to snatch their hope, health and happiness. Yet, today, that heartless theft has become so much the norm throughout the world. Neither warrior, nor foe, they have become the soft side of hard hearts that embrace collective punishment as the sure path to conquest.

In the last three months alone, 23 Palestinian children have been murdered by Israeli snipers; their crime… the audacity to march for a dream. Just last week, in Yemen, 40 children lost their future to a bomb dropped on a school bus by a Saudi Jet supplied by a US company. Last year 50,000 Yemini children lost their lives to a measured more twisted death, one caused by starvation or disease through an embargo that has long denied its civil population food, medicine and water. In Syria it is estimated children are one out of every four who have lost their lives to bombing campaigns of the United States and Russia. Tens of thousands of others have been killed by guns and ground explosives. Greater than four hundred thousand Rohingya children now live in refugee camps in Bangladesh, fleeing genocide in Myanmar. Thousands are orphans… many of them work in the sprawling sex trade having been greeted in their flight by utter poverty and rape.

This is the face of collective punishment in all its horror. Our collective future lost to our failed past.

Battered and bruised, more than a hundred and fifty years ago, some in the community of nations began to ponder the madness that had long consumed non combatants for the folly of a fight that was not theirs to pick.

In the midst of the mayhem that was the US Civil War, the nascent Red Cross began to speak of humanitarian relief. In Europe, others stunned by seeming decades of on-going, widespread conflict began to explore the plight of the wounded.

From this discussion grew the Geneva Convention of 1864. Other conventions and protocols were soon to follow ultimately extending to the protection of civilians in enemy and occupied territories. Known simply as a ban on collective punishment, it was to be the wishful panacea that would protect most of the world from the ravage of the few. It has failed.

To walk down these roads from afar is a painful journey as so much a witness to events and places that have unfolded with tragic eyes before us, but not nearly as difficult and destructive as it has been for those who have lived it.

We of exceptional position, whether born of race, opportunity or mere providence, are witness today to an unprecedented attack on the most vulnerable among us… millions lost to the callous crosshairs of dispute and despair, some age-old, others of recent vintage.

Long ago, at the opening of the war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg, a simple question was posed that remains no less probative or powerful today than it was more than seventy years ago:

Under the law of all civilized peoples, it has been a crime for one man with his bare knuckles to assault another. How did it come that multiplying this crime by a mil#lion, and adding fire arms to bare knuckles, makes it a legally innocent act?”

Prohibition of collective punishment is the long settled law of the international community. Yet it remains very much but a tease… a sanction without a herald.

It is a message lost to the powerful. But as we approach the midnight of our shared fate there is still time for it to become our collective call.

If not… we are all doomed, deserving victims to our own indifference.

The Peace Deal That is All Israel

The Peace Deal That is All Israel

Honor, like integrity, is not a commodity,  like a gilded condominium in New York City for sale to the highest bidder. Nor does it license a messenger to whisper through a backdoor that which cannot be said through the front because it’s been closed for want of fairness and respect.

Yet, having been rebuked by Palestinian leadership due to the shameful move of the US Embassy to the capital of Palestine that is precisely what Jared Kushner has tried to do with his deceitful appeal to the Palestinian people in his recent interview with Al Quds.

It would be far too easy to dismiss Kushner as a mere partisan novice who, with his family, has spent a lifetime extolling the primacy of the Jewish state in the chase of personal greed, framed as religious principle. To them, like other Zionists, Palestine is but an impediment in a supremacist reach that began with the blessings of the United States well before the onset of the Nakba.

Jared Kushner, the Kushner family, and its Kushner Companies holdings are deeply tied to the financing of Israeli occupation in Palestine and the exploitation of Palestinians.

Jared Kushner has been a regular visitor to Israel since his childhood. As a 16-year-old, he and thousands of other Jewish teenagers were led on a tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Benjamin Netanyahu, himself, waving Israeli flags along the way. At the end, they flew to Israel as part of their “Zionist rebirth.”

The Kushners consider Netanyahu part of the family, and it is often told of how the future Prime Minister was, during Jared’s boyhood, a frequent overnight guest in the Kushner New Jersey home and even slept in his room.

The elder, Charles Kushner, has given steadily to Israeli projects including schools and the IDF, and even to Likud Party campaign coffers.  Kushner Companies use Israeli financing extensively… including tens of millions from Israeli banks, insurance firm investment funds, and private Israeli investors… to fund its empire of real estate debt. These financial ties continue to the present day and are inextricably woven through the operations and maintenance of Jared Kushner’s sizable fortune.   Kushner cements his family’s long commitment to Zionism in charitable contributions to West Bank settlers (including the notorious, radical settlement Bet-El, built on land confiscated by the IDF in the 1970s from impoverished Palestinian farmers driven off at gunpoint), and even to the IDF itself.

With foreseeable ease, Kushner, in his interview in Al Quds, embraces the standard Zionist blame game which reduces Palestinians to mindless observers of a history over which they have no personal interest, input or participation. To him, it is all about “bad leadership” and not, at all, a 70 year old colonial project long supported and funded by the United States. It continues unabated to date.

Nowhere is this more vivid than in his simple minded… almost childlike… view of life and death in Gaza.  To Kushner, two million people are hostage not to the calculated systematic state terror of Israel, but rather to the PA and Hamas who choose, of their own volition, to exploit other Palestinians as mere “pawns [in] a narrative of “victimhood” so as to garner a “feel good” moment of sympathetic press while they bury their own sons and daughters.

That Kushner would speak of headlines in lieu of substance should come as no surprise. He is, after all, the anointed mouthpiece of an administration consumed not with deeds of enlightened, meaningful concern and consequence, but rather the cheap banner of the moment or the mindless tweet of the day.

Nowhere in Kushner’s peek at Gaza does Israel bear any responsibility, whatsoever, for the world’s largest outdoor concentration camp which has grown exponentially more and more sadistic day by day and year by year under its complete occupation.

Predictably, Kushner sees the collective suffer that is Gaza as not the result of Israeli destruction and embargo but, rather, an economy that has been held hostage to a handful of tunnels and some defensive “rockets” that have caused no harm, at all, but to pierce Israel’s geopolitical veneer of invincibility.

Indeed, to speak, as he does, of long term investment and economic growth as the linchpin of Gaza’s immediate need and survival is to blink the reality of its daily anguish. Dramatically absent in his sophomoric cause and effect analysis is any acknowledgment by Kushner of Israel’s complete and punitive check over the flow of food, water, medicine and movement in and out of Gaza.

True to form, he is wholly silent about the Jewish state’s calculated control over Gaza’s broken infrastructure intended to punish and manipulate the fundamental right of Palestinians to obtain clean water and energy to power their homes, hospitals and schools. To argue that these core human rights are somehow contingent upon investment and reconstruction opportunities a decade down the road is little more than a selective rewrite fueled by Kushner’s own feel good denial.

In the partisan preach of the White House, all Gaza need do is to surrender its political will and basic right to self determination and, like the fractured nuclear treaty with Iran and the newly prettied détente with North Korea, all will be well overnight, as if by magic. Elsewhere, the well crafted message of Kushner ranges from sheer naiveté to utter falsehood.

Thus, while he is quick to cast the humanitarian crises in Gaza upon the political winds of prior administrations alone, at the very moment Kushner spoke at the opening pomp at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, thousands of defenseless Palestinian men, women and children were mowed down for the temerity of exercising their right to demonstrate in Gaza. And while Israeli snipers may have worn a uniform that day, decorated with the crest of the Star of David, there can be no doubt that, inside, the label itself said made in America.

Even before Donald Trump took office, his son-in-law was busy trying to illegally intervene on behalf of Israel as he tried to get member states of the UN Security Council to stop a vote on a resolution critical of Israel’s illegal settlement policy.

Following his inauguration, among his first acts, Trump froze the transfer of $221m in discretionary USAID funds for emergency humanitarian aid for Gaza. At other times, he has shown unprecedented unilateral support for Israel ranging from threats to close the PLO office in Washington to freezing $65 million in US funds to UNRWA for critical services for Palestinian refugees . . . to a threat to suspend all money for Palestine “…  unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Recently, the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for international protective measures for the people of Gaza that won the backing from 10 of its other member states. Earlier, the U.S. vetoed a resolution that stated “… any decisions and actions which purport to have altered… the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.” Just last week the U.S. withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council citing the group’s “political bias” against Israel.

The United States has, for decades, posed as a neutral interlocutor in the so-called “peace process” … claiming to broker a just peace for Palestinians even as it armed Israel and abetted its steady expansion into Palestinian lands.  To maintain the fiction of its “referee” role, successive White House administrations of both parties have typically deployed well-meaning, eminent envoys with deep diplomatic pedigree and the appearance of fairness… even sincerity… all the while blocking any international action against Israel’s illegal settlements and bank-rolling the IDF with billions from U.S. taxpayers.

This charade held sway over forty years of the true U.S. Policy… to build its client state, Israel, into a fortress and regional military power capable of furthering American interests… as the Israelis pursued their agenda of dispossessing Palestinians, stealing their land and imprisoning or killing them.  It should be clear, now, that the U.S. never intended to support any Palestinian statehood. American bad faith suffuses the wreckage of the two-state solution with the stench of betrayal and death.

Today, there is no longer any need for the charade or even for any diplomats.  Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jewish real estate developer, arrives, now, as the latest American Mideast envoy… a man so thoroughly vested in the success of Zionism that no one can seriously accept him as anything but a rank salesman for the Israeli dream.

In this respect, he fits the Trumpian mold of “trolling” the opposition: appoint the most objectionable person to the role for which he is least suited, and watch your enemies foam at the mouth in outrage.   Kushner’s job here is to disrupt and shatter the genteel tradition of “middle east peace”… a polite Western-powers parlor game… and finish it.  Trump’s intent is to pull American interests completely and irrevocably to Israel’s side and render any future American negotiator position impossible. After Trump, there will be no more “peace process”… just as there will be no American credibility in international relations.

The U.S. State Department is gutted and staffed by amateurs as Trump plays a one-man-band when it comes to his catastrophic style of diplomacy.  Why would any Palestinian listen to Jared Kushner?  Even if he promised the world with a side of falafel, his father-in-law can, and will, take it away with a single tweet the following day.

Kushner, in his interview, insults Palestinians and offers only economic vassalage in his vision of a high-tech, economic empowerment zone… Silicon Valley on the Med.  Palestinians, stripped of sovereignty, civil and human rights, and any political future, can only serve Israelis as a captive labor force with no agency or control.   This is the “deal” America’s latest envoy offers… accept plantation slavery or cease to exist.  The Trump agenda has succeeded in burying the two-state solution.  Palestinians will return to the barricades and prepare for resistance.

To walk down memory lane from Oslo is to take a sure path of broken promises and empty tease accompanied not by good faith but the wail of endless funerals where martyred young women and men have been laid to rest for little more than the courage of their Palestinian voice.

The notion the United States can or will play a role as a fair and honest broker in seeing that justice be had for Palestinians is so much doctored myth and little else.

It is mocked by its own silence as Israel has illegally annexed much of the occupied West Bank since Oslo and imprisoned well over a hundred thousand Palestinians who have simply dared to seek justice and equality. Many hundreds of others have lost their lives to settler violence or at the hands of the IDF. During the same period tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or injured by repeated onslaughts on Gaza.

Like his father-in-law, Jared Kushner is very much the burglar who would break into your home to steal your most precious belongings and then promise to return them in exchange for your child. Filled with hollow promise and little more, make no mistake about it Kushner speaks to Palestine not just as a delivery boy for Donald Trump, but as a rubber stamp for Netanyahu and his age old colonial project. To the lot, the “grand” deal has nothing to do with the ends of justice but is all about personal partisan profit.

Parallel Worlds: Gaza and Israel

Parallel Worlds: Gaza and Israel

 

History is inexplicable.  It has a way of seizing the chosen few to deliver a commanding message that transcends the tapered, often rote, confines of time, place and journey.

Like the mystery of magic, defining moments seem to find powerful launch through the flash of a sudden second and echo through the voice of those destined to become iconic well beyond the rhyme of powerful lyric alone.

To them, theirs is a journey of the ages. For those fortunate enough to witness such passage it is a transcendent reminder that greatness is measured not through acquired wealth or power but by the prompt of the principle, courage and sacrifice of the few.

Who can forget Faris Odeh, 15 years old when he stared down a tank with little more than a stone in his hand, murdered by Israel in Gaza?  Or 23 year old Rachel Corrie, on that mist covered morning, armed with a bullhorn as she faced off against a bulldozer to save a home, murdered by Israel in Gaza.

And now legend has taken 29 year old Ibrahim Abu Thuraya from us.  Disabled but not disarmed, he had the boldness to stand his ground clutching his weapon, the flag he loved… murdered by Israel in Gaza.

What is there about a tiny enclave known as Gaza that so offends, so alarms, so intimidates Israel? It would be far too easy to say nothing and simply reduce it to Tel Aviv’s voracious chase of its off-shore gas reserves or its potential as a Mediterranean tourist coastline …once cleansed of its native population and the destruction which bears the marked Star of David.

No. Gaza terrorizes Israel not by force of arms but through the endless resound of its resilience and the muscle of its inspiration.

To millions of Palestinians under siege in Palestine, or those forcibly exiled by a Diaspora now 70 years of age, and to its chorus of supporters worldwide, Gaza stands as a shining beacon of resistance and hope.  Yet, to romanticize Gaza is to lend excuse to Israel and no such apologia will be offered here.

50 miles from the destruction that is Gaza sits Tel Aviv… as so much a marker of grotesque Israeli indifference.

Indeed, not a day passes without a new tease from the “third hottest city” in the world and “party capitol of the middle east” whether it’s the pristine Mediterranean seashore, cosmopolitan restaurants, coffeehouses, and galleries or hip after hour dance and bar scene of the “City that Never Sleeps.”

Ranked as the 25th most important financial center in the world, Tel Aviv has the third-largest economy of any city in the Middle East and draws well over a million international visitors annually to its numerous upscale hotels. Home to Israel’s only stock exchange, it has some 70 skyscrapers as tall as an American football field and includes one with 80 floors topped by a spire 150 feet in height.

Described as a “miniature Los Angeles,” Tel Aviv has been called one of the 10 most technologically influential cities in the world. Serving as home to numerous venture-capital firms and scientific research institutes, it has hundreds of startup companies, textile plants and food manufacturers.

Israel’s second largest municipality, Tel Aviv never wants for “culture” and entertainment. Its population of almost half a million, with an unemployment rate of approximately 4% and income 20% above the national average, can choose from eighteen of Israel’s 35 major centers for the performing arts. The Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center is home of the Israeli Opera and the Cameri Theatre. The Heichal HaTarbut is Tel Aviv’s largest theatre and home to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

But an hour’s drive, yet worlds away, sits Gaza; home to two million Palestinians.

Once known, in polite social circles, as the earth’s largest open air prison, it long ago moved on from jail to Israeli administered death camp. Whether by embargo or bombs, it is simply impossible to watch the life and death of the coastal enclave without seeing Israel’s criminal plan unfold.

With the first blush of sunrise, the streets of Gaza City fill rapidly with those who’ve survived its ritual night of darkness illuminated solely by bursts of another Israeli bombing run.  For them, with each passing hour, the taste of daylight portends a constant race against what little time remains to shop at empty markets, rush for medicines long gone, or dangerously dated, search for missing bottled water, or attend to the needs of family too paralyzed or ill to join the chase.

While Tel Aviv remains a constant tease of new ventures, glorious dining and enrapt theater going, Gaza lives a repetition of bare survival… at least for the lucky.

For others, it’s an endless wail of mourn as infants are laid to rest with lungs once barely filled with the breath of life. Alongside them sleep the young who, traumatized by the unbearable pain of living, tragically surrendered to the calm of willing death. Next to them lie the “elderly” who grew old and ill far too soon while their generation is coming of age and power everywhere else.

By now, it seems some have grown inured, indeed, comfortable with the visible suffer that is uniquely Gaza. Unlike an explosive genocide that unfolds overnight, impossible for many to ignore, Gaza has long simmered out of sight…out of mind.

Entering its second decade of complete isolation and embargo, Gaza periodically, inevitably, explodes from mindless rage in which Israel seeks to “mow the lawn” for little more than the embattled enclave’s determined resilience.

In late 2008 through early 2009, Israel unleashed an all out military attack on the defenseless population of Gaza. When the toxic white phosphorous cleared, some 1,417, mostly civilians, lay dead along with 13 Israeli soldiers… 4 from friendly fire.

In 2014, Israel undertook a 50 day all-out assault on Gaza as it once again targeted the entire enclave with massive disproportionate force.

Although some debate continues over the exact results, according to most estimates up to 2,310 were killed of whom 1,492 were civilians, including 551 children and 299 women. Another 10,895 were wounded including 3,374 children of whom 1,000 were left permanently disabled. 

Among the infrastructure leveled were 220 factories, dairy farms with livestock and the orange groves of Beit Hanoun.  138 schools and 26 health facilities were damaged and thousands of homes totally destroyed or severely damaged. The lone power station in Gaza and its transmission lines was targeted and severely damaged.  Sewage pumps and a major sewage pipe serving 500,000 inhabitants were destroyed. 10 out of 26 hospitals were damaged or destroyed along with several TV stations. 203 mosques were damaged, with 73 destroyed … along with two of Gaza’s three Christian churches.

Israel lost 66 soldiers and 5 civilians, including one child. 469 Israeli soldiers and 261 civilians were injured.

Four years later, conditions have only worsened in Gaza. Where once the UN announced it would be uninhabitable by 2020, for all intents and purposes, that day has come and gone. Yet the determination of its people continues on.

Gaza Today

Today, years of Israeli attacks and siege, have left Gaza reeling from an absence of a basic infrastructure capable of meeting even the minimal needs of its two million people.

Whether its electricity, clean water, healthcare, or sewage treatment and waste management, Gaza is undergoing a very public humanitarian crisis now entering its second decade.

In Gaza, abject poverty is rampant. At 41.1 percent, the unemployment rate is the highest in the world. Its youth unemployment is 64 percent. Currently there are 50,000 young women and men with university and graduate degrees unable to find work in their chosen fields… or any other. That figure grows each year by some 17,000 to 18,000. While once the industrial and production sectors offered more than 120,000 job opportunities per year, now less than 7,000 such positions become available.

Although thousands of homes damaged or destroyed during Israel’s attack in 2014 are still in need of repair, the construction sector is practically idle and essentially out of business. It used to contribute to about 22 percent of local production and offered some 70,000 job opportunities.

Sixty per cent of Gaza lives under the poverty line. Over a fifth of it lives in “deep poverty.” According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), “over 80 percent of the people in Gaza depend on humanitarian assistance.”

Another report by UNOCHA found that over 80 percent of its displaced families have borrowed money to get by in the past year, over 85 percent purchased most of their food on credit, and over 40 percent have decreased their consumption of food.

According to UNICEF a third of Gaza’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies that can stunt development and affect overall health.

In other, less visible, ways, the residual impact of years of Israeli attacks and a decade long siege have produced a palpable and deleterious psychological impact on the people in Gaza.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack OCHA estimated that at least 373,000 children required psychosocial support. Today the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme has found that Gazans are experiencing increasingly higher levels of stress and distress. The World Health Organization (WHO) has found Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to be widespread with studies indicating that upwards of 54% of Gaza’s children, teens and adults either symptomatic, or suffering from its full-on effects.

According to WHO between 10 and 20 percent of the population suffer from severe mental illness. Because of isolation, community pressure or lack of treatment opportunities the figure is likely much higher. Once unheard of, suicide has now becoming a familiar occurrence in Gaza clearly suggesting that the coping skills of Palestinians are being exhausted. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor reported at least 95 people tried to commit suicide in the Gaza Strip in the first quarter of 2016, a nearly 40 percent increase from previous years.

Life in Darkness

For nearly a decade, Tel Aviv has held a yearly blackout in support of Earth Hour. Meanwhile, millions of nearby Palestinians struggle to eke out a life of bare existence with twenty-one hours of darkness each and every day.

Indeed, while Tel Aviv has converted an idle power station named “Gan HaHashmal” (Electricity Park) into a public park, recently OCHA published new data that shows electricity for Gaza has dropped to a total of just three hours daily and at times that vary from day to day. Lacking any advance notice as to when the electricity will go on, or off, the most rudimentary of life’s work is left largely to little more than blind wish leaving familial, educational, employment and health tasks either undone or incomplete.

According to the WHO, power cuts and fuel shortages have created constant crises for Gaza’s 14 public hospitals; threatening the closure of essential health services leaving thousands of people without access to life-saving medical care.

In Shifa hospital, tiny premature babies, some with multiple infections or congenital diseases, lie crammed in incubators fighting for life as lights sputter. With electricity virtually cut off, their life support is entirely powered by a generator with unpredictable current.

At any given time, power loss threatens the lives of hundreds of the new-born and adults in neonatal and intensive care units and some 658 patients requiring bi-weekly haemodialysis, including 23 children. Refrigeration systems for blood and vaccine storage are also at risk.

With adversity often the mother of invention, many in Gaza have struggled to keep pace with the needs of energy through use of poorly vented generator systems and candle light when available. According to Al Mezan, 29 people including 24 children have died since 2010 from fire or suffocation incidents related to attempts to overcome power outage. In one such tragedy, three siblings were killed after their home caught fire from the candles being used during the power outage.

Water Crises in Gaza

While Tel Aviv holds a yearly contest with an award of free parking to the family that has consumed the least amount of water, in Gaza it would be a competition without a challenge.

As a result of repeated attacks that have targeted Gaza’s water infrastructure… and a 10 year embargo on materials necessary for its repair, a crises in the making has now reached one of epic proportions unmatched anywhere else in the world.

For two million people, it is estimated that 3% of the water of Gaza remains fit for human consumption. In particular, it poses grave risks to its children.

As a result of untreated sewage dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, agricultural chemicals and unfiltered seawater, the rest of Gaza’s water is dangerous; 68% of it biologically contaminated during storage or transportation to Gaza’s households. Indeed, recent studies have shown Gaza’s water contains a large concentration of chloride… as well, nitrate rates two to eight times higher than the WHO recommends.

Recently the UN warned its underground water aquifer, upon which the territory is almost entirely dependent, will soon be completely contaminated; stripping Gaza of access to all its water.

With the shortage of clean water comes the well based fear of a deadly cholera epidemic… particularly in a community with an unusually young population.  This is all the more likely where signs of acute malnutrition and severe wasting are an increasing phenomenon among the young children in Gaza.

Healthcare Dying

Cancer rates are exploding in Gaza. A decade of Israeli wars has poisoned its soil and water, leaving depleted uranium in their wake. Daily spray of insecticides used by Israel to clear border areas, have exacerbated what is becoming a deadly environmental disaster to a community long under siege through every means possible.

According to the head of oncology at Shifa Hospital, today Gaza produces 90 cases of cancer per 100,000 people compared with 65 in 2010. These statistics are particularly ominous given the unusually young population of Gaza with 60% of its residents under 25. Due to a lack of early diagnosis and treatment options in Gaza, women with breast cancer are dying at rates two to three times those receiving first world care.

On top of its energy crises, Gaza suffers from a chronic shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and specialist physicians.

Treatment for an estimated 6,000 cerebral palsy patients is particularly problematic with many families unable to cover the cost of its specialized care. Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for Gaza’s Health Ministry notes:

The poor financial conditions of families (means they) cannot take responsibility for their children who suffer from cerebral palsy or provide them with medical care such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy.

According to the World Bank, 56 % of all Palestinians have no access to “reasonable and customary” healthcare. For those few, in Gaza, with the financial ability to obtain necessary health care, a lack of embargoed “sensitive” medications has created a “very very dangerous” situation with dozens of drugs unavailable… including antibiotic skin ointment and medicines to treat infants born with hypoglycemia and to counteract venomous snake bites. The UN reports that 34% of essential life preserving drugs at the Central Drug Store in Gaza are completely out of stock.

According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel  (PHRI), the public health system is not able to provide specialized treatments for complex medical problems in a variety of fields including neonatal care, cardiology, orthopedics and oncology. Moreover, nearly 50 percent of Gaza’s medical equipment is outdated and the average wait for spare parts is approximately six months. With few functioning mammography machines and the unavailability of radiation treatment, lumpectomies and plastic surgery, women with breast cancer routinely receive mastectomies as the only option.

The energy crisis has shed light on the huge rise in babies born with congenital, and other, disabilities who are waiting to leave Gaza for specialist treatment in Israel or elsewhere. For many, the wait for the much sought after exit permit can prove too long to survive.

Recently, three seriously ill babies died after permits to grant the children treatment in Israel were denied by the Palestinian Authority.  Earlier this year, a 5 year old girl with cerebral palsy died while waiting permission from Israel to leave for external treatment.  Not long thereafter, another 5 year old boy and 22 year old man died waiting permission to obtain treatment outside of Gaza.

Ka’enat Mustafa Ja’arour, 42, died of uterine cancer while awaiting a response to her permit request for treatment at a hospital in Jerusalem.  In May, 52-year-old Talat Mahmoud Sulaiman al-Shawi, a resident of Rafah, died after being denied entry to Israel to treat a kidney tumor. In August, Fatin Nader Ahmed, 26, died in hospital, while awaiting a travel permit for treatment for her brain cancer.

So far this year, 20 patients have died after their exit permits were either denied or not granted in time. Physicians report that another 10 who, in July, died of cancer but could have been saved if they had been transferred elsewhere for treatment.

A short distance from Gaza, Israeli patients receive the benefit of complex medical treatment from some of the finest and most specialized hospital and emergency care centers in the world.

The Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center has been selected as one of the world’s top 10 medical destinations specializes in adult and pediatric neurosurgery, orthopedic and surgical oncology, kidney-pancreas transplants, liver transplants, micro neurosurgery and trauma.

The Assuta Hospital, in Tel Aviv, is part of Israel’s largest private medical service and offers surgeries and diagnostic procedures in all fields of medicine; including cardiology, oncology, gynecology and urology.

The Wolfson Medical Center, on the southern border of Tel Aviv, addresses a wide range of health conditions from malaria to diabetes and heart conditions and specialty care in ENT, orthopedics, infectious diseases, pediatrics, OB/GYN, family medicine and psychiatry.

Meanwhile, back in Gaza, Yara Bakheet, age 4, and Aya Abu Mutalq, age 5, are laid to rest… denied access to basic medical treatment that would have saved their lives but for Israel’s delay in granting an exit visa for treatment.

Gaza Lives

In the light of this nightmare, some wonder what can drive hundreds, at times, thousands of young women and men to the edge of steel barricades and barbed wire that make their home a prison built of walls but not of silence.  Yet they struggle on as they toss stones at soldiers hundreds of yards away and ignite fires that pose no threat but speak loudly of freedom.

Ultimately, it’s the indefatigable spirit of these 140 square miles of self-determination that threatens the myth, indeed, puts the lie to the grand sale of an all powerful and democratic Israel.

What little mark Israel has built and, ultimately, will leave behind in the assembled home it seized has been erected not by the call of principled purpose but the drive to become but another mini-empire in a region long known for despots that have placed economic and political profit before people.

At day’s end, it’s a legacy that knows no home, or welcome, but that of brute force.

For empires large and small, real or sham, history is but a predictable march of gaudy pretense.  Gilded shacks built of shallow stilts and tattered shrines, theirs is homage to little more than empty tease. It’s who and what they are… it’s what they do… at least until they crash. And sooner or later they all crash.

Be assured, Israel will not be the exception.

Yes, empires come and go like so much a cheap, but deadly, chase for a call in eternity that welcomes no such guest.  For the learned, it’s a lesson of history acquired not by 140 characters but by keen informed observation. For far too many, empty sound bites have, today, become a defining vision without a view.

Yet, there are crossroads in history where an image, a single glance, depicts more powerfully than the finest of poetic verse, a statement of principle, determination and sacrifice which inspires the winds of time for evermore.

Somewhere, right now Faris Odeh, Rachel Corrie and Ibrahim Abu Thuraya smile down upon us as history’s hope and eternity’s message.

Building For Sale, All Bids Considered: the UN and the Middle East

Originally published at al Jazeera, highly edited in 2 parts the week of April 29, 2018 as “Israel and the Loss of Collective Hope”  The unedited original was published May 1, 2018 in CounterPunch. The below is the unedited version.

 

Building For Sale… All Bids Considered.

It sits on First Avenue, just off of 41st Street, overlooking the East River in New York City. It opened to great applause and expectation. A wishful answer to the madness that had become a world unleashed with the scent of blood and the all too customary wail of mourn.

It was to be our collective hope. A grand oath by which, together, the world could find answers to the greed and arrogance of states long unbound in their historical feed upon those less powerful. It has not worked.

Founded in San Francisco on October 24, 1945, the United Nations opened with endless promise. As proclaimed in its lofty preamble, the original 51 member states committed themselves to saving “ succeeding generations from the scourge of war… [reaffirmed]… faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights… of nation’s large and small… to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from… international law [could] be maintained… to ensure… that armed force [would] not be used, save in the common interest.”

With all too comfortable ease, 73 years later, these passionate words of humanity have once again proven themselves to be little more than idle gossip in which the powerful not only craft the tone of the debate but set about to ensure its content reflects their unique and predatory vision of the rule of law.

For those who have come of age to the U.N. promise, we’ve long been witness to state terrorism that has become the international norm whether carried out by imperial fiat, proxy march or by the U.N. itself. After all, was it not the United Nations failure to act decisively against the unlawful U.S. led invasion in Iraq that essentially provided a papal-like blessing to its destruction?

Loud on bark, little on bite, the U.N. has long served as the world’s most impressive moot court… debating whether commas or semi colons should punctuate its impressive pronouncements before the predictable veto sends the Security Council home for dinner and the resolution to the scrap heap of rhetorical history.

In what has become a political art form of pain and punishment, with repeated rerun a handful of powers have used their veto to ensure that the Security Council is long on vent but short on action.

In first place stands Russia/Soviet Union which has used its veto 123 times... more than any other permanent member of the Security Council. Most recently, on April 10,, 2018 Russia blocked a resolution to identify who was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma in Syria. This follows a similar veto by Russia on February 28, 2017 regarding sanctions on chemical weapons use in Syria and then another, on November 17, 2017, when it vetoed efforts for a 30-day renewal of a commission investigating chemical weapons attacks within Syria. To date since the conflict began in 2011 Russia has used its veto 12 times regarding Syria on issues which include condemnation of the bombing of Aleppo and ceasefires. Earlier it vetoed a Security Council condemnation of its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In second place stands the United States. It has exercised its veto power some 79 times since the U.N. opened its doors to the facade of justice. Since 1972, it has neutered Security Council action more than any other permanent member and, since 1982, the grand protector of Israel has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of it… more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.

Most recently, it vetoed a resolution proposed by Kuwait condemning Israeli attacks upon thousands of Palestinians during the Great March of Return that called for an independent investigation into mass killings and injuries that have ensued. On December 18, 2017 it vetoed a draft resolution approved by 14 of the 15 members of the Security Council urging countries to refrain from establishing embassies in Jerusalem. So predictable was this veto, rumor has it the UN press office prepared news of its use long before the actual vote.

In its most basic form, the veto power ensures that permanent members of the Security Council can, as they choose, prevent any collective UN action whether a diplomatic or armed response to an international crises… thus sacrificing the will of the world community to their own narrow geo-political program.

U.N. inaction, or sanctioned violence, has long betrayed any meaningful effort to serve as the world’s neutral arbiter to ensure equal and just application of international law and the pursuit of world peace.

While examples of meaningless, indeed failed, political debate abound, two in particular … one of recent vintage, the other as old as the body itself… expose the U.N. as little more than an excuse for yearly September get-togethers of world leaders. In between, career politicians, ensconced in Manhattan high rise splendor, debate, ad nauseum, issues of life and death as the refugee and body counts swell.

Yemen

Recently, the U.N. Security Council issued a stinging rebuke of Houthis, in Yemen, for their alleged launch of a number of missiles fired at the capital city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. It also chastised those that are apparently ignoring the U.N.’s one sided arms embargo directed only at Houthi leaders.

Meanwhile, for more than three years, the United States, the UK and other U.N. power brokers have provided military advisors, weapons, training and intelligence to Saudi Arabia in its cruel and indiscriminate attacks upon a largely civilian population constituting the most impoverished state in the Arab world.

With more than a thousand such documented air raids, Saudi Arabia has apparently looked to Israel for moral inspiration as it has unleashed a relentless campaign to destroy Yemen’s essential infrastructure leveling more than 70 health facilities. Many of these have been public health hospitals staffed by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). These attacks on medical facilities constitute a clear violation of internationally recognized Rules of Law.

In one such attack, on the Abs Hospital in Northern Yemen, 19 were killed and dozens injured. At the time the Saudi bomb exploded in the hospital compound, its maternity ward was filled with 25 women there to give birth.

Just this past week the Saudi-led coalition carried out multiple airstrikes on a wedding in Northwest Yemen. It has been reported that at least 33 were killed and 55 injured by an American made bomb including the bride. Most of the victims were women and children.

In a country heavily dependent on its fishing industry, hundreds of fishing boats have been destroyed, and fishermen killed, by warships and helicopters in the Red Sea… manned by Saudi coalition partners. As of September 2017, the Yemen Data Project has recorded 356 air raids targeting farms, 174 targeting market places and 61 air raids targeting food storage sites.

Like the “security” embargo in Gaza, a blockade of Yemen’s ports ensures that millions of Yemenis live under threat of mass starvation and disease… denied the most basic foodstuffs and medical supplies. Under international law these steps constitute a war crime or crime against humanity.

Since Saudi Arabia began its military intervention in Yemen, in March of 2015, more than 10,000 civilians have died and three million others have been displaced.

It has been estimated that 19.3 million Yemenis… more than two-thirds of the population … do not have access to clean water and sanitation.

The charity, Save the Children, estimated hunger and disease would kill at least 50,000 Yemeni children in 2017, alone.

The World Health Organization has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases of cholera in Yemen and, so far, approximately 2,500 deaths. About 4,000 suspected cases are being reported daily… more than half of which are among children under 18. Children under five account for a quarter of all such cases.

Described by U.N. officials as the world’s “largest man-made crises”, the international body dedicated to stave off the scourge of war and to ensure human and equal rights for all, has done nothing of consequence to end the suffering, indeed, full on genocide now underway in Yemen.

Despite its grand rhetorical preach, the United Nations has imposed no sanctions on any of its architects nor has it passed any measures against those supplying arms or other material aid or consult to the Saudi-led coalition.

Palestine

Stolen from age-old Palestinian villages, no state has offended, with such brazen regularity and uniform betrayal, the core principles of the United Nations than has Israel. Since literally its first day, when the U.N. announced to the world that Palestine was relegated to history and Israel crafted as a Middle East extension of Europe, Israel has flaunted international law in its march of ethnic cleanse.

With mayhem its mantra even before its artificial declaration of statehood, Israel’s Zionist framers never blinked at the use of unbridled terror to obtain their goal. The bombing of the King David Hotel, in 1946, by the Irgun… a UK designated terrorist organization… took the life of 91 mostly civilians. While this massacre and the assassination of UN mediator Folke Bernadotte, in Jerusalem in 1948, by the group Lehi, momentarily captured the eye of the world, for well over a decade Palestinians and British, alike, were victimized by the horror of a non-stop drive by Zionists in their chase of statehood.

During this period, hundreds of British police and military personal were injured or assassinated by explosives, snipers or lynching. Jewish terrorists attacked the British and Palestinian infrastructure, en masse, as they robbed banks and bombed military and police installations, government offices, and ships. They sabotaged railways, bridges, and oil installations using booby traps, ambushes and vehicle blasts with the kind of cold detached execution that the world would once again see just this past week… not from the Irgun, but by its heirs in the Israeli military.

There is no need to recast, in full, the nightmare that has befallen tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators over the last several weeks in Gaza…leaving 39 dead and at least 2900 wounded… many critical. By now, the massacre has been well recorded.

Suffice it to say, Israel, ever-more the victim, would have us believe it has acted in self defense against a horde of dangerous activists including women and children flag bearers and those engaged in prayer. Rampaging protestors who inexplicably threw themselves into harm’s way and thousands of rounds of incoming Israeli sniper fire… just because.

Not surprisingly, most killed or injured suffered gunshot wounds to the rear of their heads or backs. In the parlance of forensic science, these entry wounds are consistent not with attack but flight.

Civilian massacres are, of course, very much an essential part of the Israeli historical narrative. A walk down its memory lane shows an unbroken pattern of carnage perpetrated upon the most vulnerable of its enemies… real or imagined.

Operation Protective Edge”

In 2014, Israel undertook a cruel assault on Gaza as it once again targeted its two millions civilians with massive disproportionate force. According to a United Nations report “the scale of the devastation was unprecedented… tallying more than 6,000 airstrikes, 14,500 tank shells and 45,000 artillery shells unleashed between July 7 and Aug. 26.”

Many of these explosive devices, in particular artillery and mortars, were used in densely populated areas and designed to have a “wide-area” impact to ensure that anyone or anything within the contact area would likely be killed, injured or damaged due to their explosive power and imprecision.

One non-governmental organization reported a 533% increase in the use of highly explosive artillery shells in comparison to those used in Israel’s earlier attacks on Gaza in 2008 and 2009.

As noted by the U. N., haphazard strikes in densely populated neighborhoods, on residential buildings, the use of explosives with wide-area affects and the destruction of entire neighborhoods in Gaza likely constituted a violation of the prohibitions of indiscriminate attacks against civilians and was therefore a war crime.

When Israel’s thirst for retribution was at last satisfied, 2310 Palestinians were killed… the majority of them civilians. Among them, 551 children and 299 women lay dead. More than 11,000 others were wounded, a third of them children, with over 1,000 left permanently disabled.

Many of those killed or maimed were targeted while seeking refuge in various shelters including U.N. schools. Twenty civilians lost their lives and dozens more injured in an overnight attack on the Jabaliya elementary school where more than 3,000 displaced civilians had sought refuge.

In another such attack, 16 people were killed and more than 200 wounded when a U.N. shelter in northern Gaza was bombed. These strikes were but two of six upon U.N.-run schools or shelters during Operation “Protective Edge.” Of significance, the coordinates of the U.N. sites had been provided to Israel, some repeatedly, well in advance of their attack.

Criminal not just for the loss of life, the concentrated Israeli onslaught was designed to cause lasting devastation on a community already overwhelmed by poverty and still reeling from the last major assault on its infrastructure just a few years earlier.

Among the infrastructure leveled were hundreds of factories, dairy farms with livestock and orange groves. 138 schools and 26 health facilities were damaged and thousands of homes totally destroyed or severely damaged. The lone power station and major sewage pipe in Gaza, serving 500,000 inhabitants, were destroyed. 10 out of 26 hospitals were damaged or destroyed. 203 mosques were damaged, 73 destroyed… along with two of Gaza’s three Christian churches.

Approximately six weeks after it began, the Human Rights Council of the U.N. held an emergency session regarding the bloodbath in Gaza.

In the strongest of terms, a resolution was passed which, in relevant part, condemned “the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from… the latest Israeli military assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, by air, land and sea, which has involved disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian properties in collective punishment contrary to international law and other actions, including the targeting of medical and humanitarian personnel, that may amount to international crimes.”

Though the resolution called for an immediate ceasefire, predictably, it was ignored by Israel. Only one country voted against the resolution… the United States.

Although an investigation into the massacre of 2014 is currently underway at the International Criminal Court, to date, the United Nations itself has undertaken no affirmative steps nor imposed any sanctions against Israel for its 50 day slaughter in Gaza.

Operation Cast Lead”

In 2008-2009, during “Operation Cast Lead”, Israel dropped more than 100 tons of explosives on Gaza during its first 9 hours. In the days to come, tens of thousands of its civilians were exposed to white phosphorous shells fired into crowded residential areas… not as incidental cover to otherwise legitimate use of force, but rather as a primary weapon of war in violation of international law. Almost a dozen such shells struck the main Gaza City compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) where some 700 civilians had taken shelter, causing numerous deaths and injuries. {pg 93}

On the day before the hostilities ended, three phosphorous shells landed in another clearly marked U.N. facility. One landed in a classroom setting it on fire and killing two brothers as they slept, severely injuring their mother and a cousin, and wounding a dozen others who had sought refuge there. As with all other U.N. facilities, Israel had advance notice of its coordinates.

Burning white phosphorus produces a hot, dense, white smoke consisting mostly of phosphorus pentoxide which produces horrific burns. It sticks to the skin of its victims, penetrating their bodies… resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage and, in some cases, multiple organ failure… thus creating a greater risk of death than other burns. These weapons are particularly dangerous because white phosphorus burns unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely exhausted.

Throughout the attack, Israel made broad use of a dual-purpose improved “conventional” artillery shell designed to avoid international prohibitions against the use of traditional cluster bombs.

Intended as an anti-armor and antipersonnel weapon, each artillery shell separates into 24 sub-munitions, containing more than 1,200 fragments that explode to create a wide and dense area of coverage within a 350-foot radius killing and wounding indiscriminately. One example of their destructive potential was an attack on an UNRWA school being used as a shelter in Jabaliya, on 6 January, which killed 43 Palestinians. On that occasion, Israel acknowledged the use of the shells.

Defense News estimates that Israel fired 7,000 artillery rounds of this type during its attack on Gaza in 2008-2009.

The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict ruled that these attacks constituted violations of international human rights and humanitarian law as well as possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. 1394 Palestinian men and women were killed, including 345 children.

South African Jurist Richard Goldstone, a former international war crimes prosecutor and member of the U.N. team that issued the report, described the Israeli conduct as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

With the Obama administration taking the lead in defense of Israel, the U. N. took no steps to hold it accountable for repeated violations of international law during the massacre.

Lebanon

Not one to limit its breach of international law and the law of war to its attacks in Gaza and the West Bank alone, Israel has a long and well documented history of human rights violations and war crimes during its not infrequent assaults on Lebanon.

Here, too, the United Nations has watched largely in silence as Israel has targeted civilian communities and U.N. facilities, made us of prohibited weapons of war and participated in massacres against defenseless women and children.

In July of 2006, the Israeli Air Force (IAF), some ten to fifteen minutes apart, dropped two bombs, at least one of which was precision guided, on a private three story residence in the small South Lebanese village of Qana. 28 civilians were killed. 16 were children.

Video broadcast by Arab TV showed the bloodied bodies of women and children, recovered from the rubble, who appeared to be wearing nightclothes. The dead, who ranged in age from nine months to 75 years, had sought refuge in the building during a period of conflict with Hezbollah.

While the Security Council expressed the United Nations’ “extreme shock and distress” at the bombing and offered its condolences for the deaths, it took no further action against Israel for this atrocity.

On August 7, 2006, two missiles fired by an Israeli jet destroyed three apartment buildings in the Chiyah suburb in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. At least 50 corpses were recovered from the rubble. Later that same day, the IAF struck another building in the Lebanese city of Ghaziyeh. 16 civilians lost their lives in this attack.

The next day, Israel once again struck Ghaziyeh firing 5 missiles into three buildings… killing up to 14 civilians and wounding 33 others. As with the attacks in Qana and Chiyah, the U.N. expressed its condolences but did little else.

Ten years earlier, on April 18, 1996, the IAF targeted a U.N. compound in Qana where some 800 civilians had sought shelter from Israeli bombardments during its sixteen day battle with Hezbollah. Suddenly, with no warning, Israel began to attack the clearly marked compound with a mix of high-explosive artillery rounds that included deadly anti-personnel shells. When the massacre ended, 106 civilians had been killed and another 116 injured.

Like the attack on Qana a decade later, the U.N. expressed its condolences for civilian losses. However, it took no further steps against Israel despite a finding that the attack reflected a “callous disregard for civilian lives and a breach of the laws of war on directly or indiscriminately targeting civilians.”

This is not to suggest that the United Nations was completely indifferent to the shelling of its compound as the General Assembly, by a vote of 66 to 2 with 59 abstentions, passed a resolution demanding that Israel reimburse it to the tune of 1.7 million dollars for the cost of repairs to its compound.

Predictably, the United States and Israel voted against the resolution. Not surprisingly, Israel ignored the bill. The U.N. took no subsequent steps against Israel for its refusal.

The Invasion of 1982

In 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon to stop attacks from the PLO that, at the time, was using South Lebanon as a home base. Already deep in the midst of a civil war, internal Lebanese fighting provided convenient cover for Israeli violence often directed at Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, alike. For three years, Israel occupied Beirut unleashing massive and indiscriminate attacks on communities it identified as home to Palestinian and Lebanese enemies.

While the full scope of Israeli violence will never be known, some of its own soldiers described the wholesale use of prohibited weapons of war against civilian populations as “… insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.”.

According to a rocket unit commander during one period, they fired around 1,800 cluster bombs containing over 1.2 million bomblets. When Israel ran out of cluster bombs, it asked the United States for an emergency shipment of 1,200 replacements. Surprisingly, it refused. Other soldiers described the wholesale use of long prohibited phosphorous weapons as primary weapons of war.

During its 10 week siege on the PLO, Israel hit five U.N. buildings, 134 embassies or diplomatic residences, six hospitals or clinics, one mental institute, the Central Bank, five hotels, the Red Cross, Lebanese and foreign media outlets, and countless private residences.

It is estimated by some that during the Israeli onslaught, about seventeen thousand Lebanese and Palestinians diedOther estimates are much higher… most were civilians. Tens of thousands of others were wounded. Lebanese officials claimed that a quarter of them were under fifteen years of age.

While much of the world watched the Israeli use of weapons of mass destruction with horror, little action was undertaken to intervene. When one commanding officer was asked how Israel could have consciously inflicted such widespread pain and suffering directed at a largely civilian population he tersely replied “We’re a special case, as is commonly known. We’re allowed to do anything. Why? Because we can.”.

It was this arrogance of power… a sermon of almost divine designation… which led Israel to participate in one of the most appalling massacres of the day. Yet as history has proven, time and time again, it stands not alone.

Sabra-Shatila

Located in West Beirut, today, the refugee camps of Sabra-Shatila remain home to tens of thousands of Palestinians. While some were driven out of Palestine as youngsters in 1948, most are direct descendants of those who fled the first wave of full-on Israeli ethnic cleansing to seek safe-harbor in Lebanon.

While the full extent of the carnage remains little more than dark chronicle, between September 16-18 of 1982, some 3,500 Palestinian civilians, mostly women, children and elderly were raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered, in Sabra-Shatila, by Israel’s allies… Christian Phalangists.

During the coordinated bloodbath, Israeli troops surrounded camp perimeters preventing anyone from escaping the slaughter or moving to intervene. Against the echo of repeated gunshots and endless shrieks, Israeli soldiers did nothing but wait their turn.

After the butchery concluded and Israeli troops withdrew, journalists and observers from the Multinational Peacekeeping Force entered Sabra-Shatila.

In a letter to her husband, Janet Lee Stevens, an American journalist wrote,

I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall; children with their throats slit; a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles.”

Late in 1982, the U.N. General Assembly declared the carnage an act of genocide… condemning Israel in the “strongest terms for the large-scale massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.” However, neither the U.N nor any other international body ever took action against Israel or its proxies for the massacre.

Conclusion

This travel has been a painful journey. Perhaps most difficult of all is the certainty that none of these atrocities are isolated in time and place as so much an historical anomaly. It is very much who we are and what we have become.

Long before Sabra-Shatila, Israel drove a million Palestinians from their ancestral homeland through a conscious determined ransack fueled by rape, murder and arson. The history of Deir Yassin, Ramleh and Lydda is well known and documented. These villages were a small but deadly part of the ethnic cleansing begun by Zionist para-military forces in the days leading up to the declaration of Israeli statehood.

Not much has changed in the decades since, as Israeli regulars have added Qibya, Rafah, Jenin, Beit Hanoun and other Palestinian communities to the ranks of those etched among the annals of uncharged and unprosecuted war crimes.

Elsewhere, today, in Rohingya, Syria, Kashmir and other war zones throughout Africa and Southeast Asia, rape, torture, forced displacement, carpet bombing, and prohibited chemicals continue to be the preferred weapons of war… with civilians the prime targets.

The International Committee of the Red Cross notes that, in 1859, one protracted war caused 40,000 military casualties but only one civilian death.

Since that time, we have seen the expansion of the Law of War and the passage of the Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded in Time of War which serves as the precursor to the Geneva Conventions.

Both hallmarks of international law were designed to safeguard people and property that did not contribute to warfare… and to protect civilians and civilian communities from unnecessary destruction and hardship. Yet, despite evolving principles and efforts to insulate non-combatants from the horrors of war, now more than ever, they have become the prime victims of its intended death and destruction.

At one time wars were fought by armies” said a U.N. report entitled “The State of the World’s Children.” Today, however, civilians bear the brunt of modern conflict.

Indeed, according to UNICEF, during this century, the proportion of civilian to military casualties has increased from 5 percent in World War I to 50 percent in World War II to 90 percent in the conflicts over the last few decades. Most civilian casualties are children and women.

Can it be mere coincidence that the dramatic increase in violence and civilian casualties parallel the establishment and growth of the United Nations as constituted?

Does the fact that 5 permanent members of the Security Council ultimately dictate where and when the U.N. acts with independence and certainty all but guarantee that it will never be more than a political playground dominated by the few as they pursue their own unique partisan agenda?

In 2018, it is simply not enough to issue press releases or pound the speaker’s podium from on high exalting lofty U.N. ideals to those foolish enough to buy the sale. Toothless resolutions condemning war crimes, crimes against humanity or violations of any of the other hundreds of UN covenants and prohibitions remain but a tease unless and until that world body acts with resolve to ensure international promise and equal application of law becomes reality.

It is long past time to permit a world body to be shared equally by a world community.

For more than seven decades, the hallways of the United Nations have served as exciting field trips for young students and world visitors. I know… I was one.

Awed by the majesty of the General Assembly, with its impressive French murals, green marble desks, matching lecterns and UN emblem on gold backdrop, tourists escape the reality of the moment with an inspiring recorded narrative of its accomplishments.

Yet, in real time, in real places, hundreds of millions of the worlds poorest, most frail, and vulnerable pay the price daily for the hollow promise that is the UN.

The Attack on Al Jazeera

Originally published July7, 2017 in CounterPunch

 

The Attack on Al Jazeera


Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple, who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free open encounter?

—John Milton, Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing

The march from fake news to no news is as straight and unbroken as the runway from Washington D.C. to Riyadh.

Tyranny knows no truth… just unbridled power and a drive to extinguish it whether by mob appeal or the slam of a prison gate. Today, we are witness to a unity of drive and purpose, in both West and East, where full scale attacks on debate and dissent have become very much the norm… with news outlets shuttered, journalists jailed and thinkers shamed.

Whether it is the most recent royal family in Washington, the perpetual caste in KSA or the wannabe one in Cairo, diversity of thought, identity and purpose is under siege in ways not seen since Galileo dared to suggest that a central tenet of Christian cosmology… the Earth lies at the center of the universe… was factually untrue. Charged with heresy, Galileo was forced to recount and abjure.

Today, in many places, the channel of peeling truth from cosmetic reality has moved well beyond the mere papal process of 16th century Europe to the full-on embrace of singularity of thought… be it coerced by force, banishment or closure.

Nowhere is this more painfully evident than it is, today, in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) where a coalition of states, along with an assist from the African state of Egypt,  have challenged Qatar’s independence by a subterfuge checklist that, in reality, boils down to their fear of Al-Jazeera and what it represents.

Since its genesis, Al-Jazeera has served as much more than a mere signpost of speech or thought… popular or otherwise. Its existence, alone, stands as a safety valve against those closed societies that embrace repression as so much a check against the light of day of which they fear.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has no autonomous media, nor does it endure political parties, unions or human rights groups.  The government treats online journalists, writing for state approved news outlets, the same as it does print and broadcast journalists… subjecting them to exacting regulation and content based intimidation.

The internet, alone, is the sole means, within KSA, by which a relatively robust exchange of information, from within and without the state, can circulate. However, its closely monitored “citizen-journalists” are subject to strict filtering mechanisms that scrutinize and, often, block their internet content.

Indeed, authorities regularly monitor websites, blogs and chat rooms, as well as the content of e-mail and mobile-phone text messages.

Sites that contain “harmful”, illegal, anti-Islamic, or offensive material are blocked… as are those that carry criticism of Saudi Arabia, the royal family, or the other Gulf States.

So, too, sites that call for political reform or are critical of the current political and social landscape are blocked, as are human rights websites (“Country Profile: Saudi Arabia” August 6, 2009) making the country one of the world’s most repressive with respect to freedom of expression whether online or in print.

For those whose print and internet communications, or blogs, cross the rigid and narrow divide of government criticism, they run the risk of swift state reprisal… often arrest and detainment, without specific charges, for critical or controversial remarks. Others have been accused of blasphemy, inciting chaos and defaming the king and state which can bring punishments that can run into years of imprisonment and, at times, include flogging.

Several cases speak volumes about a Saudi state that, very much the norm, seeks to silence dialogue with ruthless punishment meted out against those who dare to dissent.

For example, Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 on a charge of “insulting Islam through electronic channels.”  Subsequently he was prosecuted for apostasy and criticizing the regime on his blog… which included material critical of “senior religious figures” and  suggested  that Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University had become “a den for terrorists.

For pure speech, and nothing else, Badawi was convicted on several charges, in 2013, and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In 2014 his sentence was increased to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes, and a fine. The first 50 lashes were administered on January 9, 2015 with the remainder postponed more than a dozen times since.

Following his arrest, Amnesty International designated Badawi a prisoner of conscience, “detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.” Human Rights Watch has noted: “The charges against him, based solely to Badawi’s involvement in setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures, violate his right to freedom of expression”.

Meanwhile, Badawi’s attorney, Waleed Abu al-Khair, himself a prominent human rights activist, continues to serve a 15 year sentence on charges imposed on him in 2014 stemming solely from his criticism of human rights abuses in KSA. Among other things, Waleed was found guilty by a security court of:

… Disobeying the ruler and seeking to remove his legitimacy

… Insulting the judiciary and questioning the integrity of judges

… Setting up an unlicensed organization

… Harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organisations

… Preparing, storing, and sending information that harms public order.

In March of 2016, Saudi Arabia sentenced journalist, Alaa Brinji, to five years in prison plus an eight year travel ban for tweets in which he criticized religious authorities and voiced support for the right of women to drive and for jailed human rights activists.

KSA is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in Reporters without Borders (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Bahrain

Bahrain, an island Kingdom located off of the eastern coastline of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, is no more respectful of speech and press freedoms.  It was listed 164th in the most recent RSF world rankings.  It sees independent and vigorous journalism as an ever-present danger to its ability to control the state’s domestic narrative and to maintain political power.

Infamous for jailing large numbers of journalists… in particular photographers and cameramen… Bahrain has a recent history of targeting political dissidents, as well. Their crimes are typically little more than the will to challenge blanket restrictions upon assembly and prohibited speech.

Journalists and dissidents convicted of charges that include unlawful demonstrations and supporting “terrorism” typically receive long sentences. Often mistreated in detention, many have been imprisoned for life. Others have been sentenced to death.

Not long ago, a raid by Bahrain security forces left five people dead and hundreds detained. Recently, a court sentenced two young anti-regime protesters to death; two others were imprisoned for life and eight received sentences of 3 to 10 years. Nine of the pro-democracy activists saw their nationality revoked.

Just this past month, Al-Wasat, the island’s sole independent newspaper, was closed in yet another government effort to control the free flow of information among its population of a bit more than one-million.

Describing it as a temporary suspension “until further notice”, the government accused this highly respected newspaper of “dissemination of information that affects national unity and the kingdom’s relationship with other countries.”

Egypt

When it comes to state repression of media freedom, Egypt stands alone. As we say in the law, it’s “sui generis”… one of a kind.

Since the revolution of 2011, and the subsequent military coup of 2013, more than a dozen journalists have been killed. None have been the subject of proper and thorough investigation. No one has been held accountable.  Countless others have been injured, many tortured, by security officials after having been swept up for little more than covering demonstrations.

Although precise figures are difficult to obtain, it has been estimated by various human rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), that, today, hundreds of journalists, bloggers and social media activists are entombed in maximum security prisons throughout Egypt. Many will spend years in detention… uncharged and untried. Others face long jail terms, including life sentences, in political witch hunts   targeting those seen as enemies of the state… often subjected to mass trials, by the hundreds, denied even a modicum of due process. In 2015 alone some 600 activists were sentenced to death in show trials of pro-democracy campaigners.

Under a terrorism law adopted in August 2015, journalists are obliged to report only the official version of “terrorist” attacks. Failure to do so renders the offender subject to punishments ranging from a loss of government license to fines and imprisonment.

In the summer of 2015, three privately owned newspapers were prevented from printing, articles that were critical of the Egyptian President.

Earlier this year, the government banned circulation of an edition of an Egyptian weekly newspaper with an image, on its cover, of famed ex-football player Mohamed Aboutrika and his mother.  Designated a “terrorist” for his support of the presidential bid of the Muslim Brotherhood‘s Mohamed Morsi in 2012, today, Aboutrika lives in Qatar where he works as a sports analyst.

Recently, Egyptian authorities suspended two issues of a privately owned newspaper after it published a front-page editorial blaming the interior ministry for the Palm Sunday church bombings,

In December of 2016, Egypt’s president ratified a new law regulating media outlets which extended his control over them. The law creates three regulatory bodies… two to oversee state-owned press and media organizations and a Higher Council for Media Regulation to “regulate” all of Egypt’s media outlets… whether public or private. It has the authority to fine, or suspend, publications and broadcasters, and to issue or revoke foreign media permits.

To understand the full nature and extent of Egypt’s current effort to control what is reported, and how, one need only consider who has been targeted, and for what, since the military coup that brought al-Sisi to power.

In 2016, the head of Egypt’s Journalists’ Union and two board members stood trial in Cairo… charged largely with spreading “false news.” Described as  an “effort to muzzle the media,” after a seven month trial the three were convicted of harboring two journalists who wrote for a website critical of the government and sentenced to two years in prison and fined $650.00.

Other prominent journalists have been swept up in what has been described as little more than a government effort to create a “state of fear.” According to CPJ, photojournalist Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, known as “Shawkan”, has been imprisoned since 2013, along with 700 others, for covering the dispersal of a pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in.  Recipient of the CPJ International Press Freedom Awards in 2016, “Shawkan” remains imprisoned and untried despite deteriorating health.

Others, on a CPJ list of detained Egyptian journalists, include Mahmoud Abdel Naby, a correspondent for Rassd News Network (an alternative media network based in Cairo), who has been imprisoned since 2013. Also arrested, in 2013, were RASSD executive director, Abdullah Al-Fakharany, co-founder, Samhy Mostafa and Amgad TV presenter Mohamed al-Adly.

According to CPJ, the trio was charged with “spreading chaos” during the government dispersal of the sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya.

CPJ has also adopted as human rights cases the matters of Abdallah Shousha from Amgad TV, Omar Abdel Maqsoud from Misr al-Arabia, Sabry Anwar from El Badil, Mohamed El-Battawy from Akhbar Al-Youm, Abdelrahman Abdelsalam Yaqot  from the Karmoz website and Hisham Gaafar, director of the Mada Foundation for Media Development

Others held include freelance journalists Hassan El-Kabbani and Ismail Alexandrani, detained for several years without trial, and well-known human rights activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, who is serving a five-year prison term based upon protest charges alone.

Egypt is ranked 161 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

The GCC Attack on Al-Jazeera

According to the Egyptian human rights group, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and news reports between May24 and June 12, 2017, state authorities blocked access to at least 64 websites… including dozens of alternative news sources. The number was considerably higher than the 21 sites security officials announced had been censored for “spreading lies” and “supporting terrorism.”

The information blackout came in the wake of similar moves by GCC members, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, which blocked access to websites, in their respective countries, run by the Qatari-funded network Al-Jazeera.

Although the GCC claimed the block was necessitated by an alleged hack of Al-Jazeera and an ensuing fake news report, it proved to be the first information broadside in a coordinated effort to control an independent narrative available to several hundred million viewers in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

In the days to come, what began with a move to control website access quickly escalated to a complete break in diplomatic relations in which the GCC and Egypt demanded of Qatar that it close the international network, Al-Jazeera, and defund  various other news sources including Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, Middle East Eye, Arabi21 and Egypt’s Rassd News Agency.

Although other demands were made of Qatar, it is clear that a prime focus of GCC and Egypt, in the staged diplomatic crises, is a desire to once again limit access to independent news sources by the region’s restive populations.

Indeed, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Saudi Arabia controlled almost all of the public dialogue through the purchase of most of the popular Arabic newspapers employing  many of the region’s most respected journalists of the day. Although the government permitted some diversity of thought and expanded coverage of Arab and international issues, no critical discussion of Saudi Arabia and its royal family, direct or otherwise, was permitted.

To some degree, this standard was relaxed by virtue of a joint venture between the Saudi controlled Orbit Communications Company and BBC which introduced the Arabic language television station to the region.  It proved, however, to be short-lived… closing less than two years later because of growing censorship demands, by the Saudi Government, which included refusal to permit the station to air prominent dissident viewpoints.

That was to soon change. In 1996 Al-Jazeera opened, staffed largely by those same dissenting voices that lost their jobs with the Saudi closure of the Arabic-language BBC news service. Though funded by the Qatari government, the new network was empowered, like no other, with broad editorial discretion.

From the beginning, Al-Jazeera was controversial… broadcasting dissenting opinions on important issues, including from opposition figures silenced domestically in their own nations, at a level unheard of in the region.

Al-Jazeera’s availability throughout the Middle East changed its information landscape  . . . introducing a level of freedom of speech, on TV, that was previously unheard of in the region.

In just five years, it became the most widely viewed Arab television station for news. Within ten years, three-quarters of Arabs looked to it as their primary source of information.

Al-Jazeera became an instant counter-force to the tailored news of Saudi and Egyptian controlled media in particular. It presented controversial viewpoints regarding the governments of many Arab states on the Persian Gulf… including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and, even, Qatar. It also aired particularly contentious views about Egypt and its judiciary.

From its start there was a backlash against Al-Jazeera which manifested itself in a variety of ways and intensified over time. Thus, in May of 2002, Bahrain banned Al-Jazeera’s broadcasts from within its borders… due to the channel’s comments about Bahrain’s municipal elections… labeling it as “serving Zionism”. Saudi Arabia soon jumped on this row and reportedly pressured advertisers to avoid the channel almost from the day it opened its doors.

Most contentious of all, however, was its coverage of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions during the Arab Spring. Criticized by some for its “pro-democracy” bent, Al-Jazeera was, all at once, greeted with tremendous support by people in the streets yet disparaged by autocratic states in the region which feared the reach of the democratic movement to their own capitals.

Of all the states in the region, none has been more fearful or punitive towards Al-Jazeera than Egypt… which has long targeted it in a transparent drive to maintain government control of information for this nation of ninety million having seen both a revolution and military coup in this decade, alone.

Indeed, Egypt’s recent decision with the GCC to use Al-Jazeera as a handy pretext to divert attention from internal political repression and failure is by no means of recent vintage. Since the military coup of 2013, the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has proven resilient, and arguably desperate, in looking elsewhere to craft convenient foils in its own political and economic missteps.

To look toward Egypt, as a veritable primer in state repression of free speech and information, is a perverse understatement. Thus, not long after the coup, charges were filed against legendary Al-Jazeera television host, Ahmed Mansour, an Egyptian national, who was tried, in absentia, on allegations dating back to Tahrir Square in the final days of the successful 2011 revolution.

Tried in secret, without notice, counsel, or an opportunity to be heard, Mr. Mansour’s persecution, like so many others in Egypt, are routinely rejected by the broader world community as so much a sham… a political vendetta lacking independence and reliability.

Indeed, when Egypt sought Mansour’s extradition from Germany to face a fifteen year sentence, it refused the request taking note that “Egypt’s judicial system is politically motivated.” Not long before, the African Union, of which Egypt is a member, concurred…, holding that the Egyptian judiciary is politically controlled and corrupt.

On other occasions the al-Sisi government has purposely targeted Al-Jazeera journalists.  In 2013, ten of its employees were accused of spreading “false news” while covering public demonstrations against the military coup that removed President Mohammed Morsi. Ultimately, only three… Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste… were detained.  Greste was held in prison for over a year, while Mohamed and Fahmy spent 437 days in detention before being released.

This past December, Al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, an Egyptian national, was detained upon arrival at Cairo’s airport. Not long thereafter, Egypt’s interior ministry accused Hussein of “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation.” Six months later he remains in custody.

In May, a Cairo court sentenced a former editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera Arabic, Ibrahim Helal, to death, charging him, in absentia, with endangering national security.

Information Control

Make no mistake about it, the demand that Al-Jazeera close its door, as so much the price of regional “peace”, is nothing short of a desperate autocratic drive to strip the human spirit of its thirst for knowledge and its innate right to grow.  It will not happen.

For time immemorial, those in power… whether by force of arms, royal edicts or the shade of a ballot box too small to effect meaningful change… have sought to control the dialogue as a desperate effort to hang on to power that is not theirs to own. It will not happen.

The marketplace of ideas transcends time and place. It is a community that knows no wealth, authority or limits. It is a boundless souk that welcomes all… no matter race, religion or gender.

From the time of Plato to Avicenna to de Beauvoir to Marx, women and men of principle and courage have struggled in pursuit of truth. Many have paid the ultimate price, in their search for it, while others have fled it… sated with the fleeting comfort born of fame or fortune and little else.

Al-Jazeera is one voice of many.  It competes with a crescendo of other information partisans who seek to influence today’s vision and tomorrow’s journey. This competition of ideas demands the freedom that is untempered speech… if it is to work, and work well.

At times, Al-Jazeera is surely right… at others, mistaken. Ultimately, it matters not. Al- Jazeera is a much needed voice… and a welcome space for the freedom of voices in agreement and opposition.

Voices bring thought. Thought brings information. Information is knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Parallel Worlds: Gaza and Israel

Originally published December 29, 2017 in CounterPunch

 

Parallel Worlds: Gaza and Israel

History is inexplicable.  It has a way of seizing the chosen few to deliver a commanding message that transcends the tapered, often rote, confines of time, place and journey.

Like the mystery of magic, defining moments seem to find powerful launch through the flash of a sudden second and echo through the voice of those destined to become iconic well beyond the rhyme of powerful lyric alone.

To them, theirs is a journey of the ages. For those fortunate enough to witness such passage it is a transcendent reminder that greatness is measured not through acquired wealth or power but by the prompt of the principle, courage and sacrifice of the few.

Who can forget Faris Odeh, 15 years old when he stared down a tank with little more than a stone in his hand, murdered by Israel in Gaza?  Or 23 year old Rachel Corrie, on that mist covered morning, armed with a bullhorn as she faced off against a bulldozer to save a home, murdered by Israel in Gaza.

And now legend has taken 29 year old Ibrahim Abu Thuraya from us.  Disabled but not disarmed, he had the boldness to stand his ground clutching his weapon, the flag he loved… murdered by Israel in Gaza.

What is there about a tiny enclave known as Gaza that so offends, so alarms, so intimidates Israel? It would be far too easy to say nothing and simply reduce it to Tel Aviv’s voracious chase of its off-shore gas reserves or its potential as a Mediterranean tourist coastline …once cleansed of its native population and the destruction which bears the marked Star of David.

No. Gaza terrorizes Israel not by force of arms but through the endless resound of its resilience and the muscle of its inspiration.

To millions of Palestinians under siege in Palestine, or those forcibly exiled by a Diaspora now 70 years of age, and to its chorus of supporters worldwide, Gaza stands as a shining beacon of resistance and hope.  Yet, to romanticize Gaza is to lend excuse to Israel and no such apologia will be offered here.

50 miles from the destruction that is Gaza sits Tel Aviv… as so much a marker of grotesque Israeli indifference.

Indeed, not a day passes without a new tease from the “third hottest city” in the world and “party capitol of the middle east” whether it’s the pristine Mediterranean seashore, cosmopolitan restaurants, coffeehouses, and galleries or hip after hour dance and bar scene of the “City that Never Sleeps.”

Ranked as the 25th most important financial center in the world, Tel Aviv has the third-largest economy of any city in the Middle East and draws well over a million international visitors annually to its numerous upscale hotels. Home to Israel’s only stock exchange, it has some 70 skyscrapers as tall as an American football field and includes one with 80 floors topped by a spire 150 feet in height.

Described as a “miniature Los Angeles,” Tel Aviv has been called one of the 10 most technologically influential cities in the world. Serving as home to numerous venture-capital firms and scientific research institutes, it has hundreds of startup companies, textile plants and food manufacturers.

Israel’s second largest municipality, Tel Aviv never wants for “culture” and entertainment. Its population of almost half a million, with an unemployment rate of approximately 4% and income 20% above the national average, can choose from eighteen of Israel’s 35 major centers for the performing arts. The Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center is home of the Israeli Opera and the Cameri Theatre. The Heichal HaTarbut is Tel Aviv’s largest theatre and home to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

But an hour’s drive, yet worlds away, sits Gaza; home to two million Palestinians.

Once known, in polite social circles, as the earth’s largest open air prison, it long ago moved on from jail to Israeli administered death camp. Whether by embargo or bombs, it is simply impossible to watch the life and death of the coastal enclave without seeing Israel’s criminal plan unfold.

With the first blush of sunrise, the streets of Gaza City fill rapidly with those who’ve survived its ritual night of darkness illuminated solely by bursts of another Israeli bombing run.  For them, with each passing hour, the taste of daylight portends a constant race against what little time remains to shop at empty markets, rush for medicines long gone, or dangerously dated, search for missing bottled water, or attend to the needs of family too paralyzed or ill to join the chase.

While Tel Aviv remains a constant tease of new ventures, glorious dining and enrapt theater going, Gaza lives a repetition of bare survival… at least for the lucky.

For others, it’s an endless wail of mourn as infants are laid to rest with lungs once barely filled with the breath of life. Alongside them sleep the young who, traumatized by the unbearable pain of living, tragically surrendered to the calm of willing death. Next to them lie the “elderly” who grew old and ill far too soon while their generation is coming of age and power everywhere else.

By now, it seems some have grown inured, indeed, comfortable with the visible suffer that is uniquely Gaza. Unlike an explosive genocide that unfolds overnight, impossible for many to ignore, Gaza has long simmered out of sight…out of mind.

Entering its second decade of complete isolation and embargo, Gaza periodically, inevitably, explodes from mindless rage in which Israel seeks to “mow the lawn” for little more than the embattled enclave’s determined resilience.

In late 2008 through early 2009, Israel unleashed an all out military attack on the defenseless population of Gaza. When the toxic white phosphorous cleared, some 1,417, mostly civilians, lay dead along with 13 Israeli soldiers… 4 from friendly fire.

In 2014, Israel undertook a 50 day all-out assault on Gaza as it once again targeted the entire enclave with massive disproportionate force.

Although some debate continues over the exact results, according to most estimates up to 2,310 were killed of whom 1,492 were civilians, including 551 children and 299 women. Another 10,895 were wounded including 3,374 children of whom 1,000 were left permanently disabled. 

Among the infrastructure leveled were 220 factories, dairy farms with livestock and the orange groves of Beit Hanoun.  138 schools and 26 health facilities were damaged and thousands of homes totally destroyed or severely damaged. The lone power station in Gaza and its transmission lines was targeted and severely damaged.  Sewage pumps and a major sewage pipe serving 500,000 inhabitants were destroyed. 10 out of 26 hospitals were damaged or destroyed along with several TV stations. 203 mosques were damaged, with 73 destroyed … along with two of Gaza’s three Christian churches.

Israel lost 66 soldiers and 5 civilians, including one child. 469 Israeli soldiers and 261 civilians were injured.

Four years later, conditions have only worsened in Gaza. Where once the UN announced it would be uninhabitable by 2020, for all intents and purposes, that day has come and gone. Yet the determination of its people continues on.

Gaza Today

Today, years of Israeli attacks and siege, have left Gaza reeling from an absence of a basic infrastructure capable of meeting even the minimal needs of its two million people.

Whether its electricity, clean water, healthcare, or sewage treatment and waste management, Gaza is undergoing a very public humanitarian crisis now entering its second decade.

In Gaza, abject poverty is rampant. At 41.1 percent, the unemployment rate is the highest in the world. Its youth unemployment is 64 percent. Currently there are 50,000 young women and men with university and graduate degrees unable to find work in their chosen fields… or any other. That figure grows each year by some 17,000 to 18,000. While once the industrial and production sectors offered more than 120,000 job opportunities per year, now less than 7,000 such positions become available.

Although thousands of homes damaged or destroyed during Israel’s attack in 2014 are still in need of repair, the construction sector is practically idle and essentially out of business. It used to contribute to about 22 percent of local production and offered some 70,000 job opportunities.

Sixty per cent of Gaza lives under the poverty line. Over a fifth of it lives in “deep poverty.” According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), “over 80 percent of the people in Gaza depend on humanitarian assistance.”

Another report by UNOCHA found that over 80 percent of its displaced families have borrowed money to get by in the past year, over 85 percent purchased most of their food on credit, and over 40 percent have decreased their consumption of food.

According to UNICEF a third of Gaza’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies that can stunt development and affect overall health.

In other, less visible, ways, the residual impact of years of Israeli attacks and a decade long siege have produced a palpable and deleterious psychological impact on the people in Gaza.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack OCHA estimated that at least 373,000 children required psychosocial support. Today the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme has found that Gazans are experiencing increasingly higher levels of stress and distress. The World Health Organization (WHO) has found Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to be widespread with studies indicating that upwards of 54% of Gaza’s children, teens and adults either symptomatic, or suffering from its full-on effects.

According to WHO between 10 and 20 percent of the population suffer from severe mental illness. Because of isolation, community pressure or lack of treatment opportunities the figure is likely much higher. Once unheard of, suicide has now becoming a familiar occurrence in Gaza clearly suggesting that the coping skills of Palestinians are being exhausted. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor reported at least 95 people tried to commit suicide in the Gaza Strip in the first quarter of 2016, a nearly 40 percent increase from previous years.

Life in Darkness

For nearly a decade, Tel Aviv has held a yearly blackout in support of Earth Hour. Meanwhile, millions of nearby Palestinians struggle to eke out a life of bare existence with twenty-one hours of darkness each and every day.

Indeed, while Tel Aviv has converted an idle power station named “Gan HaHashmal” (Electricity Park) into a public park, recently OCHA published new data that shows electricity for Gaza has dropped to a total of just three hours daily and at times that vary from day to day. Lacking any advance notice as to when the electricity will go on, or off, the most rudimentary of life’s work is left largely to little more than blind wish leaving familial, educational, employment and health tasks either undone or incomplete.

According to the WHO, power cuts and fuel shortages have created constant crises for Gaza’s 14 public hospitals; threatening the closure of essential health services leaving thousands of people without access to life-saving medical care.

In Shifa hospital, tiny premature babies, some with multiple infections or congenital diseases, lie crammed in incubators fighting for life as lights sputter. With electricity virtually cut off, their life support is entirely powered by a generator with unpredictable current.

At any given time, power loss threatens the lives of hundreds of the new-born and adults in neonatal and intensive care units and some 658 patients requiring bi-weekly haemodialysis, including 23 children. Refrigeration systems for blood and vaccine storage are also at risk.

With adversity often the mother of invention, many in Gaza have struggled to keep pace with the needs of energy through use of poorly vented generator systems and candle light when available. According to Al Mezan, 29 people including 24 children have died since 2010 from fire or suffocation incidents related to attempts to overcome power outage. In one such tragedy, three siblings were killed after their home caught fire from the candles being used during the power outage.

Water Crises in Gaza

While Tel Aviv holds a yearly contest with an award of free parking to the family that has consumed the least amount of water, in Gaza it would be a competition without a challenge.

As a result of repeated attacks that have targeted Gaza’s water infrastructure… and a 10 year embargo on materials necessary for its repair, a crises in the making has now reached one of epic proportions unmatched anywhere else in the world.

For two million people, it is estimated that 3% of the water of Gaza remains fit for human consumption. In particular, it poses grave risks to its children.

As a result of untreated sewage dumped into the Mediterranean Sea, agricultural chemicals and unfiltered seawater, the rest of Gaza’s water is dangerous; 68% of it biologically contaminated during storage or transportation to Gaza’s households. Indeed, recent studies have shown Gaza’s water contains a large concentration of chloride… as well, nitrate rates two to eight times higher than the WHO recommends.

Recently the UN warned its underground water aquifer, upon which the territory is almost entirely dependent, will soon be completely contaminated; stripping Gaza of access to all its water.

With the shortage of clean water comes the well based fear of a deadly cholera epidemic… particularly in a community with an unusually young population.  This is all the more likely where signs of acute malnutrition and severe wasting are an increasing phenomenon among the young children in Gaza.

Healthcare Dying

Cancer rates are exploding in Gaza. A decade of Israeli wars has poisoned its soil and water, leaving depleted uranium in their wake. Daily spray of insecticides used by Israel to clear border areas, have exacerbated what is becoming a deadly environmental disaster to a community long under siege through every means possible.

According to the head of oncology at Shifa Hospital, today Gaza produces 90 cases of cancer per 100,000 people compared with 65 in 2010. These statistics are particularly ominous given the unusually young population of Gaza with 60% of its residents under 25. Due to a lack of early diagnosis and treatment options in Gaza, women with breast cancer are dying at rates two to three times those receiving first world care.

On top of its energy crises, Gaza suffers from a chronic shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and specialist physicians.

Treatment for an estimated 6,000 cerebral palsy patients is particularly problematic with many families unable to cover the cost of its specialized care. Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for Gaza’s Health Ministry notes:

The poor financial conditions of families (means they) cannot take responsibility for their children who suffer from cerebral palsy or provide them with medical care such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy.

According to the World Bank, 56 % of all Palestinians have no access to “reasonable and customary” healthcare. For those few, in Gaza, with the financial ability to obtain necessary health care, a lack of embargoed “sensitive” medications has created a “very very dangerous” situation with dozens of drugs unavailable… including antibiotic skin ointment and medicines to treat infants born with hypoglycemia and to counteract venomous snake bites. The UN reports that 34% of essential life preserving drugs at the Central Drug Store in Gaza are completely out of stock.

According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel  (PHRI), the public health system is not able to provide specialized treatments for complex medical problems in a variety of fields including neonatal care, cardiology, orthopedics and oncology. Moreover, nearly 50 percent of Gaza’s medical equipment is outdated and the average wait for spare parts is approximately six months. With few functioning mammography machines and the unavailability of radiation treatment, lumpectomies and plastic surgery, women with breast cancer routinely receive mastectomies as the only option.

The energy crisis has shed light on the huge rise in babies born with congenital, and other, disabilities who are waiting to leave Gaza for specialist treatment in Israel or elsewhere. For many, the wait for the much sought after exit permit can prove too long to survive.

Recently, three seriously ill babies died after permits to grant the children treatment in Israel were denied by the Palestinian Authority.  Earlier this year, a 5 year old girl with cerebral palsy died while waiting permission from Israel to leave for external treatment.  Not long thereafter, another 5 year old boy and 22 year old man died waiting permission to obtain treatment outside of Gaza.

Ka’enat Mustafa Ja’arour, 42, died of uterine cancer while awaiting a response to her permit request for treatment at a hospital in Jerusalem.  In May, 52-year-old Talat Mahmoud Sulaiman al-Shawi, a resident of Rafah, died after being denied entry to Israel to treat a kidney tumor. In August, Fatin Nader Ahmed, 26, died in hospital, while awaiting a travel permit for treatment for her brain cancer.

So far this year, 20 patients have died after their exit permits were either denied or not granted in time. Physicians report that another 10 who, in July, died of cancer but could have been saved if they had been transferred elsewhere for treatment.

A short distance from Gaza, Israeli patients receive the benefit of complex medical treatment from some of the finest and most specialized hospital and emergency care centers in the world.

The Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center has been selected as one of the world’s top 10 medical destinations specializes in adult and pediatric neurosurgery, orthopedic and surgical oncology, kidney-pancreas transplants, liver transplants, micro neurosurgery and trauma.

The Assuta Hospital, in Tel Aviv, is part of Israel’s largest private medical service and offers surgeries and diagnostic procedures in all fields of medicine; including cardiology, oncology, gynecology and urology.

The Wolfson Medical Center, on the southern border of Tel Aviv, addresses a wide range of health conditions from malaria to diabetes and heart conditions and specialty care in ENT, orthopedics, infectious diseases, pediatrics, OB/GYN, family medicine and psychiatry.

Meanwhile, back in Gaza, Yara Bakheet, age 4, and Aya Abu Mutalq, age 5, are laid to rest… denied access to basic medical treatment that would have saved their lives but for Israel’s delay in granting an exit visa for treatment.

Gaza Lives

In the light of this nightmare, some wonder what can drive hundreds, at times, thousands of young women and men to the edge of steel barricades and barbed wire that make their home a prison built of walls but not of silence.  Yet they struggle on as they toss stones at soldiers hundreds of yards away and ignite fires that pose no threat but speak loudly of freedom.

Ultimately, it’s the indefatigable spirit of these 140 square miles of self-determination that threatens the myth, indeed, puts the lie to the grand sale of an all powerful and democratic Israel.

What little mark Israel has built and, ultimately, will leave behind in the assembled home it seized has been erected not by the call of principled purpose but the drive to become but another mini-empire in a region long known for despots that have placed economic and political profit before people.

At day’s end, it’s a legacy that knows no home, or welcome, but that of brute force.

For empires large and small, real or sham, history is but a predictable march of gaudy pretense.  Gilded shacks built of shallow stilts and tattered shrines, theirs is homage to little more than empty tease. It’s who and what they are… it’s what they do… at least until they crash. And sooner or later they all crash.

Be assured, Israel will not be the exception.

Yes, empires come and go like so much a cheap, but deadly, chase for a call in eternity that welcomes no such guest.  For the learned, it’s a lesson of history acquired not by 140 characters but by keen informed observation. For far too many, empty sound bites have, today, become a defining vision without a view.

Yet, there are crossroads in history where an image, a single glance, depicts more powerfully than the finest of poetic verse, a statement of principle, determination and sacrifice which inspires the winds of time for evermore.

Somewhere, right now Faris Odeh, Rachel Corrie and Ibrahim Abu Thuraya smile down upon us as history’s hope and eternity’s message.