Pounding Gaza with impunity
By Vijay Prashad. This article was first published on The Hindu.
With Gaza reduced to Hamas, 1.8 million people who live in Gaza are made responsible for Hamas. This is the doctrine of collective responsibility, illegal by international law
On July 9, the second day of the Israeli assault on Gaza, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin, had three Palestinian Members of Parliament removed from the room: Ahmed Tibi of the Arab Movement for Change as well as Ibrahim Sarsour and Masud Ghnaim of the United Arab List. Their crime: being critical of the Israeli attack on Gaza, which has by now claimed close to 200 Palestinian lives and injured almost a 1,000 Palestinians. Mr. Feiglin, who has said that Arabs are “a gang of bandits,” then offered his own military strategy. The Israeli government, he said, should cut off electricity to Gaza so that its hospitals would be paralysed. “The blood of a dialysis patient in Gaza,” he said, “is not redder than the blood of our IDF [Israel armed forces] soldiers who will, God forbid, need to enter [Gaza].”
Mr. Feiglin is not alone. During Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), Ariel Sharon’s son Gilad wrote in The Jerusalem Post that Israel needs “to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima — the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.” This year, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that it was time to “eradicate the Hamas regime in Gaza.”
Hibernation of terror
Israel justifies its actions by saying that Hamas has a “culture of death,” which can only be confronted by death itself. Hamas, however, denies that it had anything to do with the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teenagers and says that it has not violated the 2012 ceasefire. Its rockets fired after Israel began its aerial bombing of Gaza. Israeli politicians have rhetorically conflated Hamas with everything bad that ever happens in the region — “Hamas” has come to stand for the devil. With Gaza reduced to Hamas, 1.8 million people who live on the Gaza Strip (140 square miles) are made responsible for Hamas. This is a classic definition of the doctrine of collective responsibility, illegal by international law.
What does the language of “flatten” and “eradication” mean in the context where a politician calls for dialysis patients to be killed and hospitals to be bombed? So far, Israeli bombs have hit al-Wafa hospital, which is why international solidarity activists have now moved in as a human shield to protect the facility. Israeli bombs also flattened the Center for Disability in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, killing two disabled girls. At least forty children are confirmed killed by Israel strikes over the first four days of the Operation.
Hospitals are not the only sites that have been hit. The U.N. agency that runs schools in Palestine, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, reports that nine of its schools have been hit in Gaza City, Middle Area, North Area, Khan Younis and Rafah. The UN’s organisation for humanitarian affairs, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), provided numbers of the dead and mentioned that because the water and sewer infrastructure has been struck, 350,000 Gazans have lost these services. Three quarters of Gaza has no electricity — Feiglin’s hope is close to realisation. Jens Laerke of UNOCHA said, “Our aid workers on the ground report that people in Gaza are gripped by fear, the streets are empty and the shops are closed.” Gaza, in other words, has gone into the hibernation of terror.
The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that Gaza is on the “knife edge,” as the Security Council met for half an hour on July 10 without any action. The United States has blocked all moves by Jordan, on behalf of Palestine, to call for an immediate ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the international criticism, which was evident in demonstrations from Tokyo to New York City, saying, “No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power.” The phrase “all power” is chilling, and indeed a good description of the way Israel is already prosecuting the war. It is a one-sided barrage (there are no Israeli fatalities).
Egypt’s ceasefire proposal came without any substantial conversation with the Palestinian factions or with Israel. Hamas’ Qassam Brigade said that they had heard about it from the media. Israel seized the public relations opportunity to say that they would abide by the ceasefire, which last only a few hours. A massive Israeli barrage on Khan Younis announced the return of “all power.”
U.N. Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay cautioned Israel to “avoid” killing civilians. She has not made any remarks about the dangerous language coming out of Israeli politicians — words like “eradication” and “flatten” suggest a crime against humanity. The Gaza destruction is already immense. The only time the international community came close to asking for Israeli accountability for its actions against Palestine was in 2009, when the U.N. empanelled the Goldstone Commission. Its report intimated that Israel has committed crimes against humanity (perhaps even war crimes), but the report was shelved. There was no price paid by Israel for its use of chemical weapons and to attack civilian infrastructure (including hospitals, religious buildings and schools). A failure to demand accountability allows Israel impunity — it shrugs off international pressure because this is of no heft.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, will have to pick up the pieces, with aid from the U.N. agencies and from the Arab states, and from their own resilience. It is a testimony to the human spirit that the Palestinian people remain resilient and hopeful, looking beyond the last sky for a chance to live dignified lives, or just to stay alive.
(Vijay Prashad is Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.)