Israel’s Deadly Siege of Palestine

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

"The idea is to put Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger," commented Dov Weisglass, senior advisor to Israeli Prime Ministers Sharon and Olmert, when asked how Israel should deal with the new Hamas government. Even these disgustingly callous words scarcely do justice to the collective punishment to Palestinians (illegal under international law) being inflicted by Israel on the people of Palestine for democratically electing a government that refuses to accede to Israeli demands.

The situation is desperate. Since the new Hamas-dominated government took office in January 2006, record levels of poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, malnutrition, movement restrictions and social unrest of all kinds have been reported.

Here is the grim picture as culled from available sources by Jennifer Loewenstein of the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford, the U.K.

In addition to an economic siege imposed by the governments of the United States and the European Union ­in which all aid to the Palestinian Authority (and in some cases to NGOs as well) has been cut, bank transfers suspended, contacts with and visas for new government members effectively banned, and $55 million in tax revenues illegally withheld each month- comprehensive closure has been imposed on the territories restricting access to goods and services within the West Bank and imposing draconian movement restrictions on the entire Palestinian population.

Israel has kept the Karni (al-Muntar) industrial crossing into the Gaza Strip shut for weeks at a time locking out medicines, food and goods as well as preventing the export of agricultural produce from Gaza. Approximately 165,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority have gone without pay for more than three months affecting the lives of at least 700,000 people. Doctors, nurses, teachers, civil servants, policemen and others return home empty handed each day to families whose overall levels of poverty and malnutrition have grown dramatically. Save the Children UK Program Manager Jan Coffey reports that in Gaza now 78% of the population lives below the poverty line ($2 per day) and that 10% of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Israeli artillery shelling, targeted assassinations, incursions into cities and towns, arrests and raids continue with impunity. Even after the widely publicized deaths of almost an entire family on a north Gaza beach and a subsequent attack in which two children and three paramedics were killed after two Islamic Jihad militants were assassinated in Gaza City, the international community remains silent ­in effect condoning the piecemeal destruction of an entire society. These atrocities are in addition to the economic and political blockade of Palestine.

On March 15, 2006 the World Bank published a report in which the economic outlook for the occupied Palestinian territories is assumed based on a scenario (now extant) in which tax revenues to the PA are withheld, trade and labor restrictions are imposed and foreign aid reduced. Under this scenario "[r]eal GDP per capita declines by 27 percent, and personal incomesby 30 percent ­a one-year contraction of economic activity equivalent to a deep depression. Unemployment hits 47 percent and poverty 74 percent by 2008. By 2008, the cumulative loss in real GDP per capita since 1999 has reached 55 percent."

The World Bank estimated in 2004 that, following "Disengagement," 2006 poverty rates in the West Bank would reach 41% and in the Gaza Strip 68%. Unemployment would be at 23% in the West Bank and 38% in the Gaza Strip. These estimates were made before the Western powers and their friends imposed the economic embargo and suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights provides conservative estimates of the current situation across the territories. According to Sourani, the rate of unemployment in the territories now is 34% in the oPts as a whole and 44% in the Gaza Strip. This rate rises to 55% during times of complete closure. He estimates current poverty levels at 50% for the territories as a whole and nearly 70% in Gaza.

According to an OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) report published on April 11th 2006, unless the siege on Palestine ends unemployment and poverty will reach especially high levels in the Gaza Strip (60%) and the northern West Bank (50% & 40% in the governorates of Salfit and of Jenin, Tubas and Tulkarem respectively). The OCHA office in Gaza has warned of a "humanitarian disaster" owing to a lack of money and food. OCHA estimates the current rate of poverty in the oPts at 56%. Prior to the Second Intifada it was 22%.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has also warned of a "humanitarian crisis" if aid and funding to the Palestinian Authority continues. "The ICRC is deeply concerned about the growing needs and the worsening security situation in the occupied territories, caused in large part by the decision earlier this year to withhold funds and other aid from the Palestinian Authority," it said on Monday, June 12. " [T]he occupying power ­in this case the State of Israel-is responsible for meeting the basic needs of the civilian population of the territories it occupies. Those needs include sufficient food, medical supplies and means of shelter."

Israel’s continued withholding of just Palestinian tax/customs revenues reduces the total available budget resources for the PA to between US $700 – $750 million. In the PA’s draft budget for 2006 prepared by the IMF in December 2005, the figure needed to sustain the territories was US $1.9 billion. The United States’ administration nonetheless claims that no humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories exists.

The rationale for this onslaught on a civilian population? Israel says Hamas is a terrorist organization, bent on Israel’s destruction. As prominent Israelis and western observers have pointed out, Hamas’s leadership has made it clear on numerous occasions that Israel’s right to exist is not at issue. What is at issue is Israel’s adamant refusal to confirm Palestine’s right to exist. As prime minister Olmert told a joint session of the US Congress in Washington DC a few weeks ago, "I believed, and to this day still believe, in our people’s eternal and historic right to this entire land." In other words he doesn’t recognize the right of Palestinians to even the wretched cantons currently envisaged in his "realignment".

The world shook with rage at the reports from Darfur. Do not the starvation, not to mention almost daily murder of Palestinian civilians merit even a word of reproach to the government of Israel, or the US and European governments that have joined in this barbaric siege?

Hitchens Hails "Glorious War"

The recent memorial for long-term New York Review co-editor Barbara Epstein, sadly felled by cancer on June 15, was disfigured by an unseemly outbursts from Christopher Hitchens. There was a list of invitees for the private ceremony and C. Hitchens — a sometime NYT contributor ­ was not on the list. He implored to be admitted, and some misguidedly decent soul gave him the green light.

Visibly taken with drink, in the estimate of at least one observer, Hitchens showed up and soon made his way to Jean Stein, a close friend of Barbara Epstein, also editor of Grand Street in recent years. Hitchens spared Stein the habitual presentation of his hairy cheek but made a low, facetious bow and offered his hand.

Stein icily declined, saying she had no desire to shake hands with him for many reasons, not least the fact that Hitchens had attacked one of her best friends, Edward Said, while he was on his death bed.

As Hitchens retreated, someone remarked to him, "So your glorious war has turned out to be a total disaster, hasn’t it?"

"It is glorious," the sodden scrivener blared, "and it IS my war because it needed Paul Wolfowitz and myself to go and convince the President to go to war."

As mourners digested this megalomanic outburst, Hitchens continued, "And we are going to kill every Al Qaida terrist and Baathist in the country and that’s a good thing. They need to be killed and we will kill them."



 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman