Gaza: "Humanitarian Implosion"; Jewish Seminarians Shot Down; Bush Messes Up Gaza Even More

In the miserable Israeli-Palestinian Hundred Years War, there were several pieces of worse than usual news lately.

David Rose at Vanity Fair showed that the Bush administration tried to provoke a Palestinian civil war and a coup by the PLO against the elected Hamas government. Those plans went awry, leaving Hamas more powerful than ever. George W. Bush, Condi Rice and National Security Council adviser (and Iran-Contra criminal) Elliott Abrams clearly couldn’t jointly make a pancake from buckwheat flour, much less run the world. I mean, imagining making a rock-bottom bad situation even worse by devious plots that have no chance of success.

The Bush Plan for Democracy impelled the administration to strong-arm the Israelis into letting Hamas run in January, 2006. But then Bush and the Israelis refused to honor the results when Hamas won and formed a government. They cut off aid to the Palestinians (which, yes, did affect medical care and other necessities), arbitrarily kidnapped and imprisoned government ministers and representatives, and then attempted to provoke a civil war and a coup. (And the same people blame the Palestinians for not being able to keep order!)

Politics aside, Eight Human Rights organizations warned that Gaza is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since Israel occupied the territory in 1967. Israel keeps the 1.5 million Gazans stateless and under perpetual siege, denying them needed fuel and supplies, even food. Statelessness and immobilization on this scale can only be described as a form of slavery.

The full report on Gaza’s misery is here in pdf format. Highlights:

‘ Movement in and out of Gaza is all but impossible
and supplies of food and water, sewage treatment,and basic healthcare can no longer be taken for granted. As a result of the blockade and collapse of the economy, there is little money to buy food and limited food to buy. Food prices are rising and wheat, flour, baby milk, and rice, among other essential goods, are increasingly scarce. . .

. . . The Gaza economy is no longer on the brink of
collapse – it has collapsed. In the last 6 months, the majority of private businesses have shut down and 95% of Gaza’s industrial operations are suspended due to the ban on imported raw materials and the block on exports 26. Entire sectors including construction and agriculture have ground to a halt, 3,500 factories out of 3,900 have closed in the last 6 months resulting in some 75,000 job losses in the private sector as a whole . . .

The number of people living in absolute poverty in
Gaza has increased sharply. Today, 80% of families in Gaza currently rely on humanitarian aid compared to 63% in 2006 4. This decline exposes unprecedented
levels of poverty and the inability of a large majority of the population to afford basic food. . .

Unemployment in Gaza is close to 40% and is set to rise to 50% 7. The private sector – that generates 53% of all jobs in Gaza – has been devastated, businesses have been bankrupted and 75,000 out of 110,000 workers are now without a job. At present, 95% of Gaza’s industrial operations are suspended because they cannot access inputs for production nor can they export what they produce . . .

The blockade is destroying public service infrastructure in Gaza. The Israeli government prevents the repair and maintenance of the electricity and water service infrastructure in Gaza by prohibiting the import of spare parts. The impact of this is amplified by Israel’s parallel punitive restrictions on fuel and electricity to Gaza. Hospitals cannot generate electricity to keep lifesaving equipment working or to generate oxygen, while 40-50 million litres of sewage continues to pour into the sea daily 14. In September 2007, an UNRWA survey in the Gaza Strip revealed that there was a nearly 80% failure rate in schools grades four to nine, with up to 90% failure rates in Mathematics 15. In January 2008, UNICEF reported that schools in Gaza had been cancelling classes that were high on energy consumption, such as IT, science labs . . . ‘

A more personal account of the catastrophe in Gaza recently appeared at Tomdispatch.com. Note that the Israeli government lies and says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I mean, really.

But beyond the grinding human rights calamity there has been hot war recently. The Arab League postponed a new diplomatic initiative toward the conflict when the Israelis killed 120 Gazans with air strikes and ground operations. Many of those killed were innocent women and children. The attack came in response to continual small homemade rocket attacks on Sederot, an Israeli town in striking distance of the Gaza Strip, by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other similar small terror groups. One such rocket attack recently killed an innocent Israeli. But, really folks, there is such a principle in contemporary warfare of proportionate response. 120 to 1?

Then on Thursday the horrible news came that a terrorist had come into a Jewish seminary and started shooting the students, killing 8 and wounding 10. They were just 15 and 16 years old, and were studying the Bible. Teenagers. In Lebanon, Hizbullah tied the attack to a new group formed in memory of the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, the Shiite Lebanese guerrilla who had attacked Americans and had coordinated resistance to Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. Me, I doubt there is a connection to Hizbullah, the leader of which, Hassan Nasrallah, is a publicity hog.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the seminary killings saying “We condemn all attacks against civilians, be they Palestinian or Israeli . . .” Hamas, on the other hand, responded differently:

‘ “This heroic attack in Jerusalem is a normal response to the crimes of the occupier and its murder of civilians,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Another spokesman, Taher al-Nunu, blamed the attack on the Israeli government and its deadly military strikes in the impoverished territory, adding that “we have warned before about the responsibility of the escalation in Gaza and warned of Palestinian anger.” ‘

So this tableau is totally miserable and reflects poorly on human beings in general as a species. What can you say in the face of war crimes by Israel against the Gazans, and the crimes against humanity of some Palestinians who turn to terrorism?

I found the steady, clear-eyed and wise voice of Rabbi Michael Lerner on this cesspool of a war to lend some spiritual comfort.

‘Murders at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem
by Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor, Tikkun

Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives unequivocally condemn the killings of students at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem today. Just as last week we prayed for a speedy recovery of Israelis and Palestinians wounded in the fighting in Gaza and the bombings of Sderot, so today we pray for a speedy recovery for those who were injured in this ghastly attack. The wounds of two thousand years of exile and the holocaust are inevitably restimulated by this kind of attack, and tragically the price will likely be paid by Palestinian civilians, who in turn will fight back and then the price will be paid by other Israelis. Thus the seemingly endless cycle of violence will continue.

We at Tikkun feel equally grieving for the people killed by vicious and immoral terrorists at the Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav (the ultra-nationalist religious center that developed the ideology which inspired religious Zionists to believe that they had a God-given right to settle and hold on to the territories without regard to the consequences for the Palestinian people already living there) as we do for the victims of Israeli terror (which in the past week killed 120 people, many of them children, many of them sitting in their homes when Israeli troops randomly fire-bombed and murdered them, as documented by the same international human rights organizations that today condemned the attack in Jerusalem by terrorists). We understand that these killings can only be understood in the context of the 60 year old struggle between these two communities, and that nothing short of a full peace accord that will require a new open-heartedness on both sides can possibly break this horrible cycle of violence.

We similarly mourn the people in Sderot and Ashkelon terrorized by bombs from Hamas, as we did for those people who die in the Gaza and West Bank areas because the check points prevent them from getting to the doctors they need, and the many children suffering from malnutrition because of Israel’s slow starvation of the country and cutting off of supplies. Of course there is no “moral equivalency” here, because as Talmud and other religious and spiritual traditions teach, every single life lost is a unique tragedy, and no life lost can be compared to or the loss justified in terms of the life lost of others. ‘

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