"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."