Gaza Crisis, Global Silence
After 10 years of Israeli siege, the UN warns Gaza is becoming ‘unlivable.’ Ali Abunimah of The Electronic Intifada says Israel, with the Palestinian Authority’s help, is responsible for the crisis, as most of the world looks on in silence.
AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. The Gaza Strip recently entered its 11th year under an Israeli siege. In 2012, the World Health Organization warned Gaza will be unlivable by 2020, but now the UN says living conditions in Gaza has worsened faster than anticipated.
ROBERT PIPER, UNITED NATIONS: I see this so extraordinarily inhuman and unjust process of strangling gradually two million civilians in Gaza that really pose a threat to nobody. I don’t know. We talk about the unlivability of Gaza. When you’re down to two hours a day of electricity, which was the case earlier this week, when you’ve got 60% youth unemployment, when you really do have such a little horizon, for me, and you probably, and most of the people watching, that unlivablity threshold has been passed quite a long time ago.
AARON MATE: Gaza’s sole power plant was forced to shut down this week over a shortage of fuel. Gazans have been down to about two hours of power per day after Israel recently cut its already meager supply. The move was supported by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who wants rival Hamas to give up its control of Gaza. That policy is deadly. In recent weeks, at least 16 Gazans have died because Abbas’s government prevented them from leaving Gaza to receive urgent medical treatment. The latest victim was three-year-old [Yara Ismail Bakhit 00:01:48], who was denied permission to leave Gaza to receive treatment for her heart condition. After 10 years of a crippling blockade, Gaza could be facing its worst crisis yet.
I’m joined now by Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada. His latest book is The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Ali, thanks for joining me.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you, Aaron.
AARON MATE: It’s hard to know where to start. What do you think people should know about this crisis right now in Gaza, which as I said just passed its 10th year under an Israeli siege?
ALI ABUNIMAH: It’s probably three years to the day since I was sitting in probably exactly the same chair talking to the Real News or perhaps another channel about Israel’s attack on Gaza that was going on three years ago at this time, in which more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, 11 children a day on average, 142 families decimated.
Three years later, Gaza is perhaps in its worst situation yet. Let me read you what the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said. “The reality in Gaza is part of an Israeli policy of the blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza for the past 10 years, consigning its residents to living in abject poverty under practically inhuman conditions unparalleled in the modern world.” Two million people living in inhuman conditions unparalleled in the modern world. That was a month ago.
Things are considerably worse now, because you were talking about two hours of electricity a day. Since earlier this week, people are going for stretches of 30 hours, sometimes longer, with no electricity at all. What does that mean? Try to imagine life without clean water, because the water in Gaza is polluted. Maybe you don’t have water because there’s no power to pump it. There is no waste treatment in Gaza, and raw sewage is being dumped into the Mediterranean. You can’t go to the bathroom when you want to, because there’s no water. You can’t wash when you want to, because there’s no water, no power. All of this amid sweltering summer heat.
This is on top of the devastation of the siege, but here’s the critical point. This is not a natural disaster. This is a policy choice by Israel to do this to two million people, and it’s a policy choice the so-called international community are supporting. That’s why, Aaron, there is nothing about this in the New York Times. There’s nothing about it on CNN. There’s nothing about it on Democracy Now, for heaven’s sake. There is total silence as two million people are subjected to this, and it is a choice that the European Union is going along with, the big bloc of 28 countries who never tire of trumpeting how much they love human rights and European values. It is something the UN is going along with, the UN officials who have been systematically downplaying Israel’s responsibility and trying to blame Palestinians for what’s going on. Of course, it’s something the Arab regimes are all going along with or are directly complicit in, like Egypt. Two million people living in conditions unparalleled in the modern world with near-total silence.
AARON MATE: Ali, I guess what might be different now, and correct me if I’m wrong, is the extent to which Mahmoud Abbas is taking part. Can you talk about what he’s been doing in terms of his attempt to put pressure on Hamas?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Absolutely. The current downward spiral began in April, when the Palestinian Authority asked Israel basically to cut the electricity supply to Gaza. This was part of a whole host of measures taken by Mahmoud Abbas to try to put pressure on Hamas, as you said in the intro. The critical point is that Israel, according to the UN, according to the Red Cross, according to all authorities on this issue, remains the occupying power in Gaza. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is responsible legally and morally for the lives and the basic welfare of the population in Gaza. Israel is hiding behind the Palestinian Authority and saying, “This is an internal dispute between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas and we have nothing to do with it.”
No, that’s not true. Israel is the one that turns on and off the power. As the Israeli human rights groups have said, even if Abbas asks Israel to turn off the power, Israel is legally obligated to refuse, and to ensure that sewage can be treated. The sewage situation is so bad that Israel is having to close its beaches because of the amount of sewage flowing into the Mediterranean from Gaza. Israel can turn this situation on and off.
Having said that, Abbas is the darling of the so-called international community. He is the Palestinian Quisling, I think it’s the only appropriate word, who works closely with the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. You have these grotesque images this week. You have on the one hand what’s going on in Gaza, which nobody is showing, and on the other hand you had this photo op where Abbas as prime minister was cutting a ribbon with the head of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, the head of the so-called Civil Administration, to open an electricity substation in the north of the West Bank. It’s almost as if they’re putting this in the face of people in Gaza and saying that, “You will be suffer. You’ll be made to pay a price. You’ll be subjected to these inhuman conditions unless you collaborate with your occupiers the way Mahmoud Abbas does in the West Bank.” That’s the political message that these measures are supposed to send.
That’s why everyone’s going along with it, because the idea is to prop up Abbas and to have a Western-approved, Israeli-backed Palestinian leadership in the form of Abbas. That’s what this is about. We’ve seen it time and again, country after country, that peoples who do not submit to what is decided for them in Brussels and Washington and Tel Aviv, are subjected to this kind of cruelty and punishment.
AARON MATE: Ali, you mentioned photographs. In your recent piece for The Electronic Intifada about the crisis in Gaza, you showed a photograph of the young girl who I mentioned who I died because of a lack of medical treatment, Yara Ismail Bakhit. Can you talk about her and the denial of treatment, medical care, to Palestinians inside Gaza?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yeah. What we know is that the health system in Gaza, which has been inadequate for decades despite the heroic efforts of the medical personnel in Gaza, has been in a deep crisis, deepening crisis for months. For example, in April the World Health Organization warned about the dire situation in hospitals. In May, the Red Cross warned that the health system in Gaza was on the brink of systemic collapse.
The main hospital in Gaza City, Al-Shifa Hospital, has cut surgeries by a drastic amount, by more than a third at that time, probably more now, because if you need a life-saving surgery that lasts six hours or eight hours, they can’t keep the life support systems on for that long, because there’s no electricity and there’s no fuel for the generators. You have thousands of people in Gaza. You have cancer patients. You have people with life-threatening illnesses who have to be transferred to hospitals in the West Bank or in Israel for treatment.
Of course, Israel makes the Palestinian Authority pay for that treatment, and so what the Palestinian Authority has been doing systematically since April is refusing or delaying the referrals of Palestinian patients from Gaza. According to the health ministry spokesman in Gaza, Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra, Yara Ismail Bakhit, who was three years old, a toddler, was the 16th person to die in recent weeks because the Palestinian Authority had refused to approve a medical referral. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which has been documenting and researching the numbers, the number of referrals has gone from more than 2,000 in March to just 500 in June. They are using sick children, the Palestinian Authority and Israel are using sick children, as a weapon against Hamas.
Let’s remember, of course, if Abbas refuses to approve these treatments, Israel as the occupier is required under international law, under the Geneva Convention. It’s not an option. It’s an obligation to provide medical care and life-saving services to the people in Gaza. Israel, by refusing to do that and by hiding behind Abbas, is committing an additional war crime against people in Gaza by deliberately, willfully, and knowingly denying them medical services, and in many cases life-saving medical services.
AARON MATE: Ali, let’s talk about that point there, Israel being the occupier. Since it withdrew its settlers and forces in the mid-2000s, it’s claimed it’s no longer responsible for Gaza. It’s no longer the occupying power. Let’s get into a bit of the important local context here. You mentioned before this crisis in Gaza being entirely human-made. I talked about this being the 10 years of an Israeli siege. There’s a very specific reason why that siege started, right? It was after Hamas won democratic elections. The U.S. under President Bush immediately started plotting a takeover of Abbas-friendly forces inside Gaza. Gaza launched a … Hamas, sorry, launched basically a preemptive move against that and affirmed its control of Gaza. Since then, Israel has imposed this blockade.
Can you talk about that context, Israel’s goals inside Gaza, and the tactics that it’s used?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yeah, all that is accurate, of course. Just to go to the point of Israel denying it’s the occupying power, you hear this propaganda or [inaudible 00:13:53] line all the time, this talking point. “Israel left Gaza in 2005.” Israel left Gaza. It moved its settlers out of Gaza, and it moved its occupation to the perimeter. Every authority on this, and by the way this includes on paper the U.S. government and the European Union, the United Nations, the International Committee for the Red Cross, says that because Israel maintains effective control over Gaza, over the land, the sea, and the air around Gaza, it is still the occupying power, and its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention are intact.
The problem is, no one enforces that. No one is holding Israel accountable of these big powers, and so even though it’s the occupying power on paper, what happens is that Israel imposes these inhuman conditions on two million people, and at best the so-called international community scrambles to do an appeal to various donor governments to patch up, to do palliative care. What they don’t do is challenge Israel and hold it accountable.
In terms of what you talked about, after Israel left Gaza in 2005, or left the interior of Gaza to be more accurate, what they wanted was to have a Gaza under the control of a friendly and docile Palestinian Authority. That was supposed to be the deal. What was unanticipated is that the Palestinians have elections in 2006, which by the way the Bush administration insisted the Palestinians hold, and Hamas won. No one disputes it was as free and fair an election as you could have under military occupation, and Hamas won.
The decision of the so-called international community, meaning the U.S. and its vassals like the European Union and the various Arab regimes, was to deny Hamas its victory and to basically say that, “Palestinians, whether you want Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction or not, whether you voted for them or not, we are the ones who decide who your leaders are, not you.” There was precisely this coup, which was planned by, really directed by the United States. All this is told in detail in an article in Vanity Fair, which people can Google, called The Gaza Bombshell. I also wrote about it in my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine, in which the United States explicitly backed these anti-Fatah militias headed, ironically, by this Gaza strongman called Mohammed Dahlan. The goal was to build up their strength and eventually take over Gaza and also to take over the West Bank.
What happened is that Hamas turned the tables on them and basically threw them out of Gaza. One of the ironies of ironies is that as these kinds of Mafia-type figures often do, Mohammed Dahlan and Mahmoud Abbas then fell out. You now have this weird alliance of convenience between Hamas and Dahlan, who were previously mortal enemies against Abbas. Hamas’s situation is really one of desperation, where they had no choice but to make common cause with Dahlan because Dahlan has influence. Dahlan is backed by the United Arab Emirates and has influence with the Egyptian regime. It was through Dahlan’s influence that in recent weeks Hamas was able to obtain from Egypt a few days’ supply of diesel for the power plant in Gaza.
AARON MATE: Ali, the issue that Israel will constantly bring up in terms of Gaza is the firing of rockets from Hamas. They cited that as their justification in the three major assaults that they’ve waged against Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014. Can you briefly address that issue, because it’s important for people to understand as they think about the humanitarian crisis that Gaza faces? We’ll often hear the blame pinned on Hamas.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. Of course, this is a very popular talking point from Israel’s propagandists and apologists, but again, the devil is always in the details. It’s so easy for anyone to repeat a talking point. It’s more challenging but more rewarding to know the facts. Of course, since the August 26th, 2014 ceasefire, Israel acknowledges that Hamas hasn’t fired a single rocket. The rockets that Hamas was firing prior to the last war were in response to Israeli attacks, something that is chronologically documented.
That has in fact always been the case, back to the 2008 Israeli attack, so-called Operation Cast Lead. There had been a ceasefire, an agreed and negotiated ceasefire, between Israel and Hamas that had held in the six months before November-December 2008. That ceasefire broke down because Israel carried out lethal attacks inside Gaza killing a number of people. That has been the pattern repeatedly. Israel is always the first to acknowledge that when there’s a ceasefire, Hamas observes it, as it has been doing now. The very tiny number of rockets that have been fired out of Gaza were fired by rogue factions, and Hamas has worked to make sure that nobody fires rockets in violation of the ceasefire.
Israel, on the other hand, has killed dozens of people in Gaza since 2014, since the ceasefire. The majority of them have been unarmed Palestinians demonstrating near the boundary fence against the siege, just demonstrating to show their humanity. These young men, teenagers usually, are shot dead in cold blood by Israeli soldiers who are in no danger whatsoever sitting in watch towers hundreds of feet from the border fence, or they have been fishermen at sea trying to ply a trade, trying to feed their families, shot at by the Israeli navy. Somehow, there is no outcry about Israel’s relentless violations of the ceasefire with Gaza, relentless violations that have killed dozens of people.
AARON MATE: Ali, you mentioned earlier how Hamas had won the election that the Bush administration pushed for. Just to illustrate how bipartisan U.S. attitudes are when it comes to Palestinians, I want to read for you a quote from Hillary Clinton. She was speaking after Hamas won. She said, “I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. If we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure we did something to determine who was going to win.”
Ali, as we wrap, you mentioned earlier the silence that has greeted the latest crisis in Gaza across the spectrum. I’m wondering finally if you can comment on why you think that silence exists and what should be done about it.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yeah. Just to add that it wasn’t just Hillary Clinton who took that position. Barack Obama, when he was a senator and before he ran for president, also criticized the Bush administration for allowing Palestinians to choose their leaders. I just want to make sure that doesn’t get lost in history.
Let me just say that we live at a moment of great despair and also simultaneously great hope. What I mean by that is that the official complicity and silence has never been greater. In my life, I have never seen more official complicity with Israel from governments, from international organizations, from institutions, but at the same time, I’ve never seen more grassroots support and mobilization for Palestinian rights and Palestinian liberation. I was just talking to my friend in Gaza [Haid Arid 00:22:49]. He said that right now, from the darkened homes of Gaza, he said the greatest hope for people there is the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, popular mobilization and pressure that can begin to hold Israel accountable. It’s much less than is needed, but it’s growing and it’s something that gives people hope and is immune to the kind of institutional complicity that has brought us to this point.
I guess that’s what I would say, that it’s up to us to challenge the institutional complicity and silence. If the U.S. regime media, as I call it, don’t make noise about Gaza, it’s up to people should be demonstrating, holding protests at the UN and Israeli embassies, at Palestinian Authority embassies, because they’re all complicit in this siege. Of course, there was by the way a demonstration today in Brussels at the European Union headquarters. People need to hear that this suffering will not be allowed to go on in silence.
AARON MATE: Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, thanks so much.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you, Aaron.
AARON MATE: Thank you for joining us on the Real News.