The Collective Punishment of Gaza
It’s no secret that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is designed to collectively punish the 1.5 million people who live there. This blockade is now 2 years old, and causes immense suffering. Here is a quick summary from the Financial Times, Amnesty International, and the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart.
The blockade disproportionately hits the most vulnerable, including children (half the Gazan population), the elderly, the sick, and refugees.
Four in five Gazans are now dependent on humanitarian food aid. There is mass unemployment and extreme poverty. According to the United Nations, the number of refugees living in abject poverty has tripled since the blockade began, and more than 60 per cent of households are currently “food insecure”. Families lack the means to purchase even the most basic items, including soap, school materials and clean drinking water. More than 90 per cent of Gaza’s factories have shut or are operating at less than 10 per cent of capacity. Exports have been reduced to almost zero – since the blockade began in June 2007, only 260 trucks of goods have left Gaza, down from 70 trucks a day beforehand. Fishermen are not allowed to travel more than three miles from the coast, dramatically reducing their catch.
The blockade restricts the entry of basic goods, including food and fuel. Much of the available food is smuggled in and sold at exorbitant prices. People cannot come or go – this applies to students and seminarians in the west bank. People with medical conditions that cannot be treated in Gaza must apply for permits to leave, but the Israelis frequently refuse or delay these requests, leading to death in some cases. Electricity is in seriously short supply – 8-12 hours of power cuts each day are common. Israel only allows in half the weekly fuel needed for Gaza’s only power plant, and less than half of needed monthly gas supply.
And despite what the Israelis claim, it is not the case that all humanitarian aid is allowed in – World Health Organization trucks of medical equipment for hospitals have repeatedly been turned away without explanation. UN agencies have said that additional storage and transportation costs from delays due reached $5 million in 2009.
And the blockade itself seems random and inconsistent, all designed to increase the power of the Israelis over the population. So what is allowed and what is banned? The distinction is bewildering. A small sample of what is banned: jam, chocolate, biscuits, potato chips, fresh meat, coriander, industrial margarine, musical instruments, pens, notebooks, toys, cars, fridges, computers, cement, iron, gravel, marble, wood, sage, french fries, dried fruit, fabrics, empty flowerpots.
The embargo is also corrupt. Beinart: “When Israeli farmers have surplus supply, they seek loopholes for the goods they wish to sell. Israeli officials allow Gazans to import Israeli products, but not the materials necessary to make those products themselves, since that would threaten Israel’s hold on the Gazan market. ..Gazans can buy Israeli-made tomato paste, but cannot buy the empty cans necessary to preserve and market their own, which would compete with Israeli suppliers“. As always, it’s about keeping the Gazans down.
And then there is the matter of the war itself. As we know, the Goldstone report issued a damning indictment of Israel’s behavior during the most recent Gaza war. As noted at the time by Catholic priests on the ground, Israel’s actions amounted to war crimes. Its policy of blockade amount to collective punishment and “a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation”. During the war itself, “the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population”.
Basically, the Israeli response was highly disproportionate, and targeted non-combatants. The report notes that the Israelis regularly used white phosphorus (including to “directly and intentionally” attack hospitals), launched indiscriminate mortar attacks into densely populated areas, directly shot civilians (including some with white flags), bombed houses full of occupants, and fired a missile into a mosque during evening prayers. In sum, ”the direct targeting and arbitrary killing of Palestinian civilians is a violation of the right to life”. The Israelis also destroyed industrial infrastructure, food production, water installations, sewage treatment plants, and housing. And after destroying much of Gaza’s infrastructure, Israel now refuses to allow the material necessary for rebuilding to enter the territory.
In sum, this is the immoral collective punishment of a civilian population. It strips the 1.5 million human beings who live in Gaza of their basic human dignity. And yet some – including those who call themselves pro-life – are actually defending what Israel is doing. They defend collective punishment.
Israel knows what it is doing. It knows that far from undermining the incompetent rule of Hamas, it is rallying people around them. But Israel is anything but stupid. This is all deliberate, and the 1.5 million suffering people in Gaza are expendable pawns in the game. As Beinart puts it, “the embargo must be tight enough to keep the people of Gaza miserable, but not so tight that they starve“.
Daniel Larison says something similar: “The blockade is a policy aimed at the steady immiseration and deeper impoverishment of Gazans. This not only deflects attention from Hamas’ abuses and misrule, but it also ensures that there will not be enough prosperity in the future to foster any sort of viable political opposition against Hamas. That tells me that Israel is actually quite willing to tolerate a Hamas-run enclave on its doorstep so long as it can keep the people living there poor and dependent“.
End this evil blockade now. Collective punishment can never be supported.