June 30, 2006 - counterpunch.com
excuse of rescuing one kidnapped soldier, Israeli is now bombing the
Gaza Strip and is poised to re-invade. It has also arrested a third of
the Palestinian parliament, wrecking even its fragile illusion of
capacity and reducing the already-empty vessel of the Palestinian
Authority into broken shards.
In the shambles, Palestinians may be observing one bitter pill of
compensation: vicious angling by Fatah to reclaim control of Palestinian
national politics and its rivalry with Hamas are now rendered obsolete.
Even the dogged international community cannot maintain its dogged
pretense that the PA is actually capable of any governance at all. The
demise of the disastrous Oslo model, Israel's device to ensure its final
dismemberment of Palestinian land and its fatal cooptation of the
Palestinian national movement, may finally be at hand. Perhaps
Palestinian unity again has a chance.
But no one knows what will replace the PA. It is therefore not
surprising that this transformed diplomatic landscape is absorbing the
principal attention of an anxious international community.
Nevertheless, politics should not be the greatest international concern.
For over in Gaza, one appalling act must now eclipse all thoughts of
"road maps" or "mutual gestures": on Wednesday, Israeli war planes
repeatedly bombed and utterly demolished Gaza's only power plant. About
700,000 of Gaza's 1.3 million people now have no electricity, and word
is that power cannot be restored for six months.
It is not the immediate human conditions created by this strike that are
monumental. Those conditions are, of course, bad enough. No lights, no
refrigerators, no fans through the suffocating Gaza summer heat. No
going outside for air, due to ongoing bombing and Israel's impending
military assault. In the hot darkness, massive explosions shake the
cities, close and far, while repeated sonic booms are doubtless wreaking
the havoc they have wrought before: smashing windows, sending children
screaming into the arms of terrified adults, old people collapsing with
heart failure, pregnant women collapsing with spontaneous abortions.
Mass terror, despair, desperate hoarding of food and water. And no
radios, television, cell phones, or laptops (for the few who have them),
and so no way to get news of how long this nightmare might go on.
But this time, the situation is worse than that. As food in the
refrigerators spoils, the only remaining food is grains. Most people
cook with gas, but with the borders sealed, soon there will be no gas.
When family-kitchen propane tanks run out, there will be no cooking. No
cooked lentils or beans, no humus, no bread � the staples Palestinian
foods, the only food for the poor. (And there is no firewood or coal in
dry, overcrowded Gaza.)
And yet, even all this misery is overshadowed by a grimmer fact: no
water. Gaza's public water supply is pumped by electricity. The taps,
too, are dry. No sewage system. And again, word is that the electricity
is out for at least six months.
The Gaza aquifer is already contaminated with sea water and sewage, due
to over-pumping (partly by those now-abandoned Israeli settlements) and
the grossly inadequate sewage system. To be drinkable, well water is
purified through machinery run by electricity. Otherwise, the brackish
water must at least be boiled before it can be consumed, but this
requires electricity or gas. And people will soon have neither.
Drinking unpurified water means sickness, even cholera. If cholera
breaks out, it will spread like wildfire in a population so densely
packed and lacking fuel or water for sanitation. And the hospitals and
clinics aren't functioning, either, because there is no electricity.
Finally, people can't leave. None of the neighboring countries have
resources to absorb a million desperate and impoverished refugees:
logistically and politically, the flood would entirely destabilize
Egypt, for example. But Palestinians in Gaza can't seek sanctuary with
their relatives in the West Bank, either, because they can't get out of
Gaza to get there. They can't even go over the border into Egypt and
around through Jordan, because Israel will no longer allow people with
Gaza identification cards to enter the West Bank. In any case, a
cordon of Palestinian police are blocking people from trying to scramble
over the Egyptian border--and war refugees have tried, through a hole
blown open by militants, clutching packages and children.
In short, over a million civilians are now trapped, hunkered in their
homes listening to Israeli shells, while facing the awful prospect,
within days or weeks, of having to give toxic water to their children
that may consign them to quick but agonizing deaths.
One woman near the Rafah border, taking care of her nephews, spoke to
BBC: "If I am frightened in front of them I think they will die of
fear." If the international community does nothing, her children may
soon die anyway.
The astonishing scale of this humanitarian situation is indeed matched
only by the deafening drizzle of international reaction. "Of course it
is understandable that [the Israelis] would want to go after those who
kidnapped their soldier," says Kofi Anan (while the Palestinian
population cowers in the dark listening to thundering explosions
demolish their society), "but it has to be done in such a way that
civilian populations are not made to suffer." Even as Israel bombs smash
Gaza's roadways, the G-8 stands up on its hind-legs to intone, "We call
on Israel to exercise utmost restraint in the current crisis." How about
the Russians, now angling for position in the new "Great Game" of the
Middle East? "The right and duty of the government of Israel to
defend the lives and security of its citizens are beyond doubt," says
Russia's foreign ministry, as though poor Corporal Shalit warrants any
of this mayhem, "But this should not be done at the cost of many lives
and the lives of many Palestinian civilians, by massive military strikes
with heavy consequences for the civilian population."
And what says noble Europe, proud font of human rights conventions,
architects of the misi�n civilizatrice? "The EU remains deeply
concerned," mumbles the mighty defenders of humanitarian law, "about the
worsening security and humanitarian developments." Seemingly soggy
phrases like "deeply concerned" are diplomatic code for "We are
seriously unhappy." But under these circumstances, "remains deeply
concerned" suggests that this staggering crime is just one more sobering
moment in the failed "road map."
Diplomatic bubbles of unreality in the Middle East are the norm rather
than the exception, but at some point the international community must
face the very unwelcome fact that it needs to change gear. A country
that claims kinship among the western democracies of Europe is behaving
like a murderous rogue regime, using any excuse to reduce over a million
people to utter human misery and even mass death. Plastering Corporal
Shalit's face over this policy is no more convincing that South African
newspapers emblazoning the picture of one poor murdered white doctor
over their coverage of the 1976 Soweto uprising.
Israel has done many things argued to be war crimes: mass house
demolitions, closing whole cities for weeks, indefinite "preventative"
detentions, massive land confiscation, the razing of thousands of square
miles of Palestinian olive groves and agriculture, systematic physical
and mental torture of prisoners, extrajudicial killings, aerial
bombardment of civilian areas, collective punishment of every
description in defiance of the Geneva Conventions--not to mention the
general humiliation and ruin of the indigenous people under its military
control. But destroying the only power source for a trapped and
defenseless civilian population is an unprecedented step toward
barbarity. It reeks, ironically, of
the Warsaw Ghetto. As we flutter our hands about tectonic political
change, we must take pause: in the eyes of history, what is happening in
Gaza may come to eclipse them all.
*Dr. Virginia Tilley is a professor of
political science, currently working in South Africa. She can be reached