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A Dire Situation Gets Worse Every Day

The Quality of Mercy in Gaza

by SONJA KARKAR

In these days of warmongering, peace and justice are tossed about like hot potatoes with no end to the suffering in sight. But, where is the compassion for the children, women and men who are being subjected to the excesses of power in all its guises?

Right now, some mercy for the Palestinians in Gaza is desperately needed before it is too late.

Shakespeare saw mercy as "an attribute to God himself" and above "the force of temporal power"[1], but it seems that for all the Christian rhetoric today, and particularly amongst our Western leaders, mercy towards other human beings has been well and truly forgotten. Perhaps the Palestinians do not qualify ­ most are Muslim and the rest who are Christian, are still Arabs. To some, that means they are not like us because we have been told as much. An Israeli prime minister referred to them as "beasts walking on two legs", [2] and although the context has been disputed, the analogy with animals has been used often enough to give credence to the Zionist mindset. It is no wonder there are those who think that is good enough reason to herd them behind concrete walls, check and search them whenever they want to move about inside their prison, and drop bombs on them when they get out of line. Yet still not satisfied with these measures, Israel has resorted now to starving them.

On 19 September 2007, the Israeli government designated Gaza "a hostile entity"[3] and decided to impose "additional sanctions" which will reduce even more drastically the basic necessities of living for the entire population. This unrelenting aggression against every man, woman and child for having elected a government that Israel and the US do not want, is known as collective punishment and is prohibited by international law. But, rather than castigate Israel, the international community, as is its wont, may well decide to sever all ties with Gaza in case it is seen to be aiding this "hostile entity". If this happens, the Palestinians will find themselves totally isolated and at Israel’s mercy and whim.

Gaza’s population has already been severely punished since Israel completely cut it off from the outside world and forced it into extreme poverty, making it humiliatingly dependent on international aid. Almost no one and nothing is allowed to enter or leave this godforsaken hellhole without approval from Israel. Further restrictions would be unsustainable. Without the basic necessities like electricity, fuel, water, food and medicines, the lives of ordinary people would be held to ransom. It does not take much imagination to know what happens to a population when there is no clean drinking water, inadequate sewage and waste disposal and no refrigeration for food and medicines.

Do we really want to see 1.5 million people scrabbling for food in the garbage dumps, people withering away as diseases begin to spread into an epidemic and the descent into chaos as absolute desperation forces the people to grab at anything for survival? Just in case anyone thinks that this is an exaggeration, the beginnings of that scenario are already in play. Israel is setting up a demonic experiment in human behaviour reduced to the extremes of existence. By demonising the Palestinians over the years and rendering them unfit for human compassion, these now "sub-human" people are to be kept in Dov Weisglass’ formaldehyde with the peace process. [4] Give it any name you want, this is genocide.

The situation in Gaza is so dire now that mercy is just about all they can hope for if they want to survive. Neither justice nor peace have been offered in any measure nor are likely to be if Israel has its way. The Palestinians know only too well the futility of the peace processes and the barriers to justice. The powers that be have already thrown their weight behind Israel enough times for the Palestinians to be sure that their next generation will be suffering even worse humiliations than they have experienced themselves. But for many, the choice of being killed or living as slaves is not a choice at all. No wonder some of them are fighting back, even if their crude attempts at resistance are met with formidable and unmatchable retaliation. Only last November, the Israeli military attacked Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip with a vengeance that left 82 Palestinian civilians dead and 260 injured. [5] This was the culmination of five months of killing by Israeli soldiers which saw the number of dead soar to 382 Palestinians with 1,229 injured. In the same period, Palestinian rocket fire had killed one Israeli and injured 26 others. [6]

It is impossible to make sense of this brutality unless we understand that Israel, since its creation, has been willing the Palestinians to vanish ­ not only those living in Gaza, but also in the West Bank and even inside Israel itself. That what is happening in Gaza is just part of the long and unforgiving litany of crimes that is still continuing.

Over sixty years, Israel has razed Palestinian homes and villages; destroyed their historical records of existence; denied their culture and identity and even promoted elements of it as their own; terrorised the Palestinians into leaving through campaigns of massacres and military brutality; divided families and communities with a prison wall and razor wire; prevented family unification bulldozed their cultivated lands which provided the farmers with sustainable living for centuries; obstructed education to a people long known for their academic achievements; intensified the closure on their society despite agreeing to ease the restrictions; taken their water leaving the Palestinians no choice but to buy it back at exorbitant prices; ruined their economy; demolished thousands of their homes; transferred thousands of others by force; refused them building permits while they allow Jewish citizens and settlers to build; created some 2000 occupier laws and regulations to prevent their natural growth even as they encourage the development of illegal Jewish settlements deep inside the occupied Palestinian territories; herded them into Bantustans while Israel maintains absolute control of all their movements; withheld their taxes so their civil servants could not be paid; put pressure on Western governments to impose sanctions; allowed US armaments in to stoke a civil war between the Palestinians; isolated Gaza from the West Bank and ostracised its leadership; and now, in a particularly venomous act is reducing Gaza to absolute penury while offering the interim Palestinian leadership in the West Bank "legitimacy" and another round of peace talks. And in the neighbouring Arab countries, some 6 million Palestinians are refused their right to return home – a situation going back to 1948 when Israel’s first prime minister Ben Gurion set up a "Transfer Committee" which prohibited the return of the then 750,000 refugees who had fled Israel’s campaign of terror. [7]

On the long and painful road towards resolving the injustices that are mounting with each Israeli act of aggression, mercy is very much needed. If Israel is loathe to give it, we must demand it of our governments to pressure Israel into stopping this collective punishment. Otherwise, we will be complicit in acts of calculated misery and ultimately the death of a whole people. However, mercy must extend beyond agreeing to feed the Palestinians properly, letting them have their electricity back and promising not to deprive them of water. This mercy must free the Palestinians from Israel’s occupation and allow them the justice that has long been their due. And that, according to Dr Ghada Karmi, is the dilemma that Israel has with Palestine. [8] It would mean the end of the grand Zionist plan to establish a Jewish-only state in a land belonging to another people and the beginning of an arduous journey towards reconciliation with the long-suffering victims of its colonial project. In the process, both peoples have yet to find out that mercy "blesseth him that gives and him that takes": [9] without it, peace will remain as elusive as ever.

SONJA KARKAR is the founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia. See www.womenforpalestine.com

Footnotes:

[1] William Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice", Act 4 scene 1

[2] The Palestinians are " beasts walking on two legs." Menahim Begin, speech to the Knesset, quoted in Amnon Kapeliouk, ‘Begin and the "Beasts", New Statesman, 25 June 1982. (Zionists claim that Begin was just talking about Palestinian terrorists.)

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,2172691,00.html

[4] Dov Weisglass: "The significance of our disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. It supplies the formaldehyde necessary so there is no political process with the Palestinians." – Ha’aretz, Oct. 6, 2004.

[5] As of 15 November. UNRWA Gaza Field Office data.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Benny Morris, "Remarques sur l’historiographie sioniste de l’idée d’un transfert de populations en Palestine dans les années 1937-1944", in "Les nouveaux enjeux de l’historiographie israélienne", ed. Florence Heymann, Information paper, Centre de recherche français de Jérusalem, no. 12, December 1995. On the contradictions of Mapam’s position, see the first chapter of "1948 and After".

[8] Ghada Karmi "Married to Another Man ­ Israel’s dilemma in Palestine", Pluto Press, London, 2007

[9] William Shakespeare, ibid.