Lior Sternfeld writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
Israel has embarked, with its Gaza attack, on the all-too-well-known elections routine. Before the 2009 elections, the defense minister, Ehud Barak, who then led the Labor party, saw his party performing poorly in the national polls. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert needed some public support as well, and they launched operation “Cast Lead.” It was during Hannukah, and the chosen name provoked famous holiday children song, and an awful name of a vastly used material (lead).
With the 2013 elections just months away, Barak sees polls for his now rapidly vanishing party sending him to early retirement, and just like in Hanukkah 2008, Israel decided to break a ceasefire and assassin the Hamas senior military persona, Ahmad Jaberi. Hamas, as expected, responded with firing rockets on Israel’s southern regions, and to the great satisfaction of both Hamas and Israel, a full-scale war is being evolved.
Netanyahu knows his constituency very well. He knows that the way to ensure his victory in the upcoming elections will be by diverting the public discourse from demands of social justice to existential threats imposed on Israel by the bogeyman- Hamas, And the cost of imperiling a third of Israel’s population seems reasonable enough for him. When virtually no opposition seen in miles, Netanyahu cemented his dreadful leadership for the next four years. It is not that Netanyahu faced a serious challenge in the Israeli political arena.
A short time ago Netanyahu’s Likud party merged with Avigdor Lieberman’s “Israel Our House” extreme right party, creating the Knesset’s biggest party. Across from them one should hope to see a vital opposition fighting for the votes of the public, especially against a government that failed to deliver social reforms, contributed to growing sectarianism, invested heavily in the occupied territories, and persecuted African shelter-seeking refugees.
Alas, one would find a line of the alleged opposition party leaders waiting for their turn to pair with Netanyahu after the elections, and struggling only on the seniority in his next cabinet. Shelly Yehimovich, Labor party leader announced last week that blaming the Labor for being a leftist party is misleading at best. The critical reader would probably agree, but for the first time a Labor leader makes it clear that this party poses no alternative. Moreover, after the military operation started, Yehimovich rushed in to congratulate Netanyahu for the operation, and backed up the government in this fight. The only protest from within the Zionist camp was voiced by the small leftist “MERETZ” party, left alone to condemn this escalation.
Israel’s leadership has proven once again that fear production is the best way to secure the public support. It is much easier to disseminate, cheaper and far less demanding than social and economic reforms, and of course, self perpetuating, thus much more sustainable than hope, for say.
Lior Sternfeld is pursuing a Ph.D. in History at the University of Texas, Austin.
World-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and MIT professor Noam Chomsky joins us to discuss his recent trip to the Gaza Strip, where he publicly called on Israel to put an end to the blockade on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. "[Gaza] is a lesson for people from the West," Chomsky says. "If they can struggle on under really harsh and brutal conditions, it tells us we ought to be doing a lot more." Chomsky also comments on President Obama’s re-election, saying: "There are two good things: one, the worst did not happen, and it might have. The second is, it is over. We can put it behind us and get back to work." [Transcript to come. Check back soon.]
In 2007, Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid created a firestorm of controversy. Brandeis University initially said it would only allow Carter to speak on the book on campus if he would debate gadfly apologist Alan Dershowitz. Carter stood his ground and eventually did speak on campus, but many in this audience were distinctly cool to him.
Netanyahu’s sudden air campaigns against Gaza may be part of the same strategy, intended to stir up Israeli nationalist feeling ahead of January polls.
About a third of Jewish Israelis want to denaturalize Israeli Arabs, depriving them of the right to vote. Nearly half (47%) want some of these Israeli citizens to be ethnically cleansed from Israel and ‘transferred’ to the West Bank, though, confusingly, 38% want to annex the West Bank to Israel altogether. If that happened, though, 69% say that they would oppose giving citizenship to the 2.5 million Palestinians who live there.
Residential segregation is a big part of Apartheid. Some 42 percent of Jewish Israelis would not want to live in the same building with Israelis of Arab heritage. The same percentage doesn’t want to see their children in the same class with Israeli children who are ethnically Arab.
About half want the Israeli state to treat Jewish citizens better than it does Arabs, and 59% want majority-affirmative-action, i.e. preferences for Jews over Arabs in hiring.
74 percent of Jewish Israelis want separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.
With the end of the plausibility of a two-state solution, there clearly will only be one way for Palestinians to escape statelessness, which is in a single state. that state in turn can be a normal democracy or an Apartheid one dedicated to institutionalizing difference. It is the latter that the Israelis are likely to end up with.
Morsi was careful to say that Revolutionary Egypt continues to respect all its treaties and international obligations, reassuring Washington and Tel Aviv that Egypt will maintain the peace treaty with Israel and has no intention of initiating hostilities.
At the same time, he said that revolutionary Egypt cannot stand idly by, silent, while Palestinians are attacked. He did not say what Egypt might do other than protest publicly.
Morsi’s speech is the first such severe criticism of Israeli Gaza policy in a long time. The Hosni Mubarak regime was more or less complicit in the repression of the Palestinians.
The Israeli authorities have imposed a blockade on the civilian Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip. Although the blockade does still block some key imports, its major impact comes from Israel’s refusal to allow most goods produced in Gaza to be exported or to allow its population freely to travel out of the Strip. The blockade has produced massive unemployment and poverty, lack of potable water, widespread food insecurity, startlingly high levels of anemia, and the stunting of poorer childrens’ growth. Since Israel is recognized by the UN as the Occupying authority in Gaza, for it to subject the non-combatant population of 1.7 million to this blockade is illegal in international law and contravenes the 1949 Geneva convention on the treatment of Occupied populations (a set of laws designed to forestall further excesses such as those of the Fascist, Axis powers in the 1930s and 1940s). For more on Gaza see my essay of last Wednesday (click here).
(This aid mission was primarily organized by Swedish and Norwegian groups. Humanitarians in both countries have been particularly vocal about the Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians in Gaza. Prominent Swedish mystery novelist Henning Mankell was himself a passenger in the flotilla of the Mavi Marmara, which the Israeli army attacked in 2009, killing 9 passengers, including one American. Mankell’s detective Kurt Wallander always sees an injustice when it has been committed and is dogged about rectifying it.)
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the Estelle aid mission as an attempt to blacken Israel’s reputation. But what seems clear is that it is the blockade of the civilians of Gaza, half of whom are children, that blackens Israel’s reputation. Netanyahu denied that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but US diplomatic documents demonstrate that his government and that of his predecessor have deliberately attempted to calibrate their punishment of the Palestinians so as to fall just short of producing actual starvation, keeping them on the edge of it. To say that there is not a humanitarian crisis is not the same thing as saying that there is not a set of illegal Israeli policies producing severe humanitarian problems.
The European members of parliament aboard were: From Greece: Vangelis Diamandopoulos and Dimitris Kodelas; from Norway: Aksel Hagen; from Spain: Ricardo Sixto Iglesias; and from Sweden: Sven Britton. Ricardo Sixto is a member of the United Left bloc from Valencia and has a degree in History and Geography from the University of Valencia.
By the way, I think the American wire services and newspapers that report on this incident but neglect to name these names are not doing real journalism, since the presence of the sitting parliamentarians is a significant part of this story. It is a slap in the face of the European Union and completely outrageous that sitting members of parliaments of its member states should be attacked in international waters and illegally kidnapped and falsely accused of being illegal immigrants into Israel!
When the left next gets in, in Sweden and Spain and the other countries represented, and some sorts of boycott of Israel are considered, how do you think these parliamentarians will vote? The Israeli right wing rather disgracefully hides behind accusations of anti-Jewish racism in explaining such sentiments, but never considers that bad Israeli policies are eliciting critiques of . . . bad Israeli policies. (Not to mention that it is falling down funny for the far right wing Likud Party to go around accusing other people of racism!)
Another reason the parliamentarians should be reported on is fairness: if US Congressmen were on such a mission and were kidnapped on the high seas this way, you can bet that they would be named and interviewed by the press. That it has to be the bloggers that provide this level of detail is one reason that the newspapers are in trouble– they are often too timid in the face of powerful single-issue lobbies that want to shape the news; and some of them, such as the Murdoch newspapers, are actively complicit with many of those lobbies, indeed, part of them.
An Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, sued in Israeli courts to force the release of a planning document for ‘putting the Palestinians on a diet’ without risking the bad press of mass starvation, and the courts concurred. The document, produced by the Israeli army, appears to be a calculation of how to make sure, despite the Israeli blockade, that Palestinians got an average of 2279 calories a day, the basic need. But by planning on limiting the calories in that way, the Israeli military was actually plotting to keep Palestinians in Gaza (half of them children) permanently on the brink of malnutrition, what health professionals call “food insecurity”. And, it was foreseeable that sometimes they would slip into malnutrition, since not as many trucks were always let in every day as the Israeli army recommended (106 were recommended, but it was often less in the period 2007-2010).
Planning for keeping people on the edge is nearly as bad as planning actually to starve them. A prudent person would know that a blockade is a blunt enough instrument, with shipments up and down in a given week, that such a policy would from time to time produce real misery. Were any physicians involved? They should be boycotted by the international community.
And, the Israeli army’s way of trying to minimize the document must be the worst example of propaganda in history! They are saying that the plan was produced but not consulted. But this document aimed at making sure just enough trucks got in to keep people on the edge. If the government didn’t consult it, does that mean it did not care if the food shipments slipped below the basic calorie allowance? Wouldn’t it have been better if they had known about the 106-truck recommendation?
I mean, don’t those figures make you want to do something for those mothers and children? Wouldn’t they melt anyone’s heart?
Although, under international pressure, the Israeli government eased its blockade slightly in 2010, and foodstuffs are no longer interdicted, it still limits imports into Gaza, and its wide-ranging ban on exports has thrown Palestinians into unemployment at Depression levels, imperiling their ability to afford food even when it is available.
Note that the Israeli government did not voluntarily cease its policy of keeping Palestinians on a diet in 2010. It was forced to by Turkish and European aid activists, and 9 people, one an American citizen, were martyred for this change when Israeli commandos illegally boarded a civilian, unarmed ship in international waters and shot it up.
In any case, there are other ways to starve out the people of Gaza than bluntly preventing food from coming in. Nobel-prize-winning economist Amartya Sen showed that the real cause of famines is not lack of food but that the price of the food rises above the ability of people to pay for it. By keeping Gaza on the edge of economic collapse, the Likud government has continued the food blockade by other means.
The Israeli members of Gisha, who are Mensches, care that their government is contributing in a systematic and deliberate way to damaging childrens’ health because of the way their parents voted in 2006! And they want to embarrass it into ceasing this illegal and inhumane treatment of people who are under Israeli military Occupation and protected from such measures by the Geneva Convention of 1949 (a convention on occupation designed to prevent a recurrence of the excesses and atrocities of the Fascist Powers in World War II, and which you would think an Israeli government would be embarrassed to contravene).
The blockade has medical as well as nutritional bad effects. Palestinians in Gaza have to get Israeli permission (!) to leave the strip for medical care. Palestinian hospitals, having been starved of funds and materiel by Israel, are dilapidated. A study published this month in The Lancet found that 10% of such requests were delayed or rejected by Israeli authorities (the rejection or delay rate for the Palestinian territories over all is nearly a fifth). Israel’s delays murdered 6 Palestinians in Gaza last year, as surely as though they had been taken out and shot twice behind the ear. How would you like to have to apply to an arbitrary foreign government for permission to go next door to a neighboring country for medical care?
“In 2011, 1082 (10%) of 10,560 applicants in the Gaza Strip had their access permits denied or delayed, with no reason given, and 197 (2%) were called for security interview. Patients aged 18–40 years had the highest rate of denied or delayed permits. Tracer interviews with Gazan families of patients who had their permits denied or delayed showed that six patients died while waiting for the permits.”
The Gaza Strip is a small expanse of land on the coast of the Mediterranean to Israel’s southeast, which also borders on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Some 40% of its 1.7 million people are victims of Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign, and many, having been chased off their farms and out of their homes by the military forces of the Yishuv (the Jewish settler community in British Mandate Palestine), still live, or their descendants do, in refugee camps. The territory was captured by Israel in 1967, and until 2005 Israelis were actually encouraged to colonize it. The Kadima government gave up on that enterprise, but did not let its Palestinian people go.
In January of 2006, Hamas won the elections for the Palestine Authority (it had been allowed to run at the insistence of Bush, who, however, backed down in a cowardly way from ‘democratization’ when the Israelis insisted that the outcome was unacceptable). The Bush administration and the Israeli government connived in staging a coup by Fateh in the West Bank. The coup failed in Gaza, where the elected Hamas government retained control.
From 2007, Israel imposed a blockade on the exports and imports of the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. It vastly limited the number of trucks that were allowed in from Israel and disallowed most exports. Dov Weinglass, an aide to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, announced that the Palestinians would be ‘put on a diet.’ That is, the Israeli government had decided to wage economic and nutritional warfare against the Palestinians.
Obviously, allowing them to become malnourished would raise an outcry even in an international community that typically allows Israel’s settler colonialism to get away with murder toward the Palestinians. So the policy was to keep the Palestinians “food insecure.” That is, they wouldn’t be starved, but they’d be one step away from starving — if they lost a source of income, for instance.
Wikileaks revealed a US embassy cable that confirmed, “As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to [U.S. embassy economic officers] on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge…”
Note that the cowardly US government went along with this policy of ruining the lives of civilian non-combatants as a way of trying to defeat the Hamas party-militia (five years later, I think we can safely pronounce the policy a failure).
The most horrible thing is that the Israelis, and the international community, have no long-term plans for Gaza. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is no vision for how this blockade of innocents will ever end. People pay lip service to a ‘two state solution,’ but everyone knows that Israel won’t allow the Palestinians to have a state! Although Qatar has just announced a multi-million-dollar aid program, it remains to be seen whether Israel will allow it. And, aid is secondary to the dignity of being citizens in a state, which is what Palestinians really need (the economic efflorescence would come from that statehood better than from outside charity). The people of Gaza are apparently to be kept in a large out-door concentration camp forever. Unless the world cares enough to rescue them from that fate.
I hear the sequel, “How to Build a new Iran after Khamenei,” is just about out.
The US press corps and radio and television people who keep having WINEP provide them talking heads are being duped. As for having WINEP teach US government personnel about the Middle East, you may as well just send them to settle the West Bank.