It is one of the most scandalous instances of collective punishment anywhere in the world in recent times. And what is the response of the high-minded “international community”? It’s the standard “three monkeys” – willfully deaf, dumb and blind.
This Thursday, the Israeli cabinet’s decision to declare the 8-kilometer-wide, 23km-long, arid Gaza Strip a “hostile territory” has started to be translated by facts on the ground. The Israel Defense Forces have begun “gradually” to cut the supply of fuel and electricity to the 1.5 million population, one of the highest densities on Earth, 50% of them already living under the poverty line, 50% of them under-15s, 33% of them refugees.
Gaza uses about 200 megawatts of electricity; 120 come from Israel; 65 are produced in Gaza; and only 17 come from Egypt. Israel says supply to generators at Gaza’s hospitals will not be affected.
There’s more to come: a trade ban, no freedom of movement, no visits to prisoners in Israeli jails, an overall hardcore financial squeeze, and sooner rather than later, another military onslaught. As the Israeli daily Ha’aretz so nicely put it, this is just a “plan to limit services to civilians.”
Nobody will get in. Few, if any, will get out. If someone wants to go to Gaza, the only way will be via Egypt.
This comes on top of other “restrictions” already in place. No fewer than 200,000 kids went back to school in occupied Palestine this September – just like millions of other kids around the world. But they had nothing apart from their textbooks because the State of Israel deems paper, ink, ballpoint pens and binding materials not to be “fundamental humanitarian needs.”
It was up to AMIN (Arabic Media Internet Network), Ramallah’s information site, to put things in perspective. Ramallah is in the West Bank. The West Bank is “friendly.” Gaza is “hostile.” So West Bank residents can now “thank God for having escaped this collective punishment” – even though they still have to contend with walls, curfews, military incursions, arbitrary arrests and a thousand checkpoints.
Residents of the “hostile entity,” according to AMIN, will closely follow the example of the “friendly entity,” where walls and blast walls still bloom. The (good) point is to have been classified as “friendly”; “It’s better being half ‘enemy’ than being it full-time, it’s more comfortable being half deprived of electricity and fuel, it’s better being half exposed to air raids, it’s more benign to be half destructed than totally.”
AMIN also points out that Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah government in the West Bank can always blame Hamas’ government in Gaza for this sorry outcome. Then the “secular” will win over the “Islamists.” But there’s still a choice to be made. Gaza, full of shame for being branded an “enemy,” may succumb to Israel’s dictates. Or the West Bank, full of shame for being branded “friendly,” may fight Israel’s dictates. Conclusion: “What’s worse under occupation, to be an ‘enemy’ or to be a ‘friend’?”
And now for the monkeys
While this was being announced, US President George W Bush’s Sunni Arab allies in the “axis of fear” – from Saudi Arabia and Egypt to Jordan, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf petromonarchies – had better fish to fry, from taking over almost half of the London Stock Exchange (Dubai, Qatar) to turning the screws on internal repression and fanning the specter of “the Persians.” “Classic” al-Qaeda (not the diet Iraqi brand), through resident oracle Ayman al-Zawahiri in person and Osama bin Laden’s voice, was more interested on its new video-op calling for a jihad against “infidel” Bush ally President General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.
It was up to a lone, meek United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to urge Israel to “reconsider” its decision – which once more is “contrary to Israel’s obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law” (as if that other occupying power, the US in Iraq, was giving a damn to the suffering of the Iraqi civilian population). Ban should have also explained what “hostile entity” means in international law: nothing.
Israeli strategy is to bring down the “quality” – non-quality, rather – of life in Gaza to unbearable levels, thus sabotaging any attempt by Hamas to govern the Strip properly. The crude Qassam rockets fired over Israel – the apparent reason for the blockade – are not even fired by Hamas, but by al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, for instance, connected to Islamic Jihad. The actual blockade anyway comes on top of any further military incursions, soon to be decided by Israel, according to the Israeli press.
The US subscribes to everything. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – who is right in the middle of intense lobbying for a US-sponsored, and already discredited, November peace conference – incredibly said that Hamas “is indeed a hostile entity. It is a hostile entity to the US as well.” Nobody asked Rice what kind of “peace” she is exactly lobbying for.
Rice added that the US “will make every effort to deal with their [Palestinian] humanitarian needs.” How? By bombing Gaza with cornflakes? “Hostile” Hamas called the plan “a declaration of war.” “Friendly” Palestinian Authority chairman Abbas – who meets his friend Bush next week in New York – only called it “oppressive.” It was up to one of his ministers, Ashraf Ajami, to dare to use the crystal-clear words “collective punishment.”
Voices of reason in Israel, such as Meretz (leftist political party) chairman Yossi Beilin, at least had the courage to denounce the plan as “foolish as well as dangerous.”
University of Michigan professor and Informed Comment blogger Juan Cole has defined Gaza as “the worst outcome of Western colonialism anywhere in the world outside the Belgian Congo.” And just like contemporary Belgium in relation to the Congo, Israel will never admit to what it has inflicted on Palestine.
No wonder Likud superstar Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu loves these Likudnik-style methods. It proves how the majority of Israel’s political elite is still wallowing in the mire of Zeev Jabotinsky, a Zionist in love with fascism in 1930s Europe. This treatment of Palestinians bears all the elements of fascism: radical (Israeli) nationalism; racism (the demonization of Palestinians as a sub-race); colonialism; expansionism (the goal of Israel); a penchant for a military dictatorship (the preferred method for ruling Palestinians); and absolute indifference to the point of despising the (Arab) poor.
As much as peace and security for Israel are more than a just cause, the colonization and hardcore repression of the “friendly” West Bank and “hostile” Gaza are nothing but fascism. Professor Toni Negri, author of Empire and Multitudes, is one among throngs of top public intellectuals appalled that among so much cosmopolitanism at a global level, many Jews are simply not part of it, and are still attracted by “archaic and barbarian” ideologies such as Zionism.
Get me to my gulag on time
Planet Gaza may be our contemporary Congo – the heart of darkness, especially when taken in conjunction with that other heart of darkness, Iraq. There’s nothing about a “Korea model” in Iraq – as much as Washington will try to keep an array of permanent military bases in Mesopotamia.
The logic of the US in Iraq is pure Planet Gaza. French geopolitical master Alain Joxe, in his book L’Empire du chaos, has been one of the few who have identified Palestine as the ultimate live textbook on urban repression – a “technical experiment” in the ultimate red zone carefully studied by the Pentagon, with all its known attributes (blast walls, checkpoints, pinpoint military incursions and “acquisition of targets”, collective punishment, etc).
The Israeli wall penetrating the “friendly” West Bank like a dagger has been replicated by mini-walls in Baghdad. As much as Israeli armed settler/missionaries do their ethnic cleansing in slow motion in Palestine, mercenary Blackwater and their ilk do the dirty work in Iraq. “Friendly” West Bank Fatah and “hostile” Gaza Hamas are mirrored in Iraq by the “good” (Sunni tribes, collaborator Shi’ite parties Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Da’wa, the Kurds) and the “bad” (Sunni guerrillas, al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, the Shi’ite Mahdi Army).
Iraq is actually Planet Gaza redux. According to British polling organization ORB, no fewer than 1.2 million Iraqis may have died violent deaths, most of them caused directly or indirectly by the occupation, since 2003. That’s close to the entire population of Gaza.
Invisibility is also part of the logic of Planet Gaza. Invisibility at least for US and Israeli exceptionalism – as both could not possibly assimilate the hard truth pointing to US and Israeli administrations killing loads of innocent Arab civilians. The “international community” – an antiseptic construct that basically means the US and western Europe – may not see it; autocratic, incompetent, corrupt Arab leaders may not see it; but the real world – public opinion in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Russia – sees Planet Gaza for what it is. It’s not about “al-Qaeda.” It’s not about “Islamo-fascist terrorists.” It’s about fighting neocolonialism. It’s about national liberation. And – barring any possibility of dialogue – it’s about perennial blowback.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007).