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The Crisis in Gaza

The World’s Largest Open-Air Gulag

by RALPH NADER

Have you heard much lately about the 1.5 million Palestinians illegally imprisoned by the Israeli government in the world’s largest open-air Gulag? Their dire living conditions, worsened by a selective Israeli siege limiting the importation of necessities of life – medical items, food, water, building materials, and fuel to list a few – has resulted in an 80 percent unemployment rate and widespread suffering from unlawful punishment, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment in Israeli jails.

The horrific conditions were a result of the Israeli invasion of Gaza in late 2008, ignited by Israel’s breaking of a truce with Gaza on November 4. Fourteen hundred people died, nearly three hundred of them children, and thousands were injured. The terror bombing of the Gazan population smashed into homes, hospitals, schools, ambulances, mosques, subsistence farms, UN facilities, and even the American International School. Israeli bombers destroyed over 30 members of one extended family in their home. That toll alone was three times the amount of Israeli fatalities, which included friendly fire.

The humanitarian crisis in crowded Gaza – about twice the size of the District of Columbia – “is now more dire than ever.” That is the judgment of Norwegian physician and professor of medicine, Dr. Mads Gilbert, who just finished a ten-day speaking tour in the U.S. Dr. Gilbert, returning from a recent visit to Gaza, was one of the only two foreign doctors inside Gaza during the massacre of December 2008 to January 2009.

He says: “During the Israeli attack, I saw the effects of new weapons including drones, phosphorous and also DIME [Dense Inert Metal Explosives], which leave no shrapnel, but I witnessed their capacity to cut a child in two; they also leave radioactive traces.”

Today, anemia and protein deficiency are widespread, reports Dr. Gilbert, especially among little children. UN and other relief supplies are inadequate, and UN humanitarian relief staff is often harassed by Israeli officials. Rebuilding pulverized Gaza is seriously obstructed by Israel blocking the imports of building materials.

Dr. Gilbert comments that he has “worked in other desperate situations in other places and Gaza is unique in a number of respects. It’s a captive population – usually if civilians are being attacked, there’s a safe place they can take refuge and then come
back to their homes when the fighting has stopped. That doesn’t exist for the people in Gaza since they are effectively imprisoned by the Israeli siege.”

Writing in the prestigious British medical journal “The Lancet” in early 2009, Dr. Gilbert provided clinical details of the slaughter, including the destruction of ambulances and medical facilities that tend to the dying and the wounded.

He described a “shattered, attacked, and drained health-care system trying to help an overwhelming amount of casualties in a war between clearly unequal powers, where the attacker spares no civilian lives – be it man, woman, or child – not even the much-needed health workers of all professions.”

It is no wonder the Israelis banned all foreign reporters, including those from the U.S. – the very country that provided the weaponry – thereby preventing the world from seeing the carnage as it happened.

The media ban made it possible for George W. Bush and president-elect Barack Obama to get away with describing this aggressive war with the identical phrase “Israel has the right to defend itself.” But apparently, the Palestinians do not have any way to defend themselves against the second-most modern military arsenal in the world; and their pleas about who broke the truce and started the bloodshed are unheeded.

Crude, garage-built Palestinian rockets are no match for modern precision missiles, helicopter gunships, bombers and drones. Fortunately for the Israelis, the rockets failed to reach any population centers 99 percent of the time. It was a mystery even to the Israelis why the unchallenged Israeli air force and ground artillery did not knock out the primitive Gaza launching sites, given its spies, informants and knowledge of every block in Gaza.

Reporters would have dug out these stories were they allowed inside Gaza. Since 2009, the focus of both the Israeli and U.S. government toward Iran has taken Gaza, the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, and the swallowing up of more land in the Palestinian West Bank, off of the news screens in the West.

It is remarkable how successful the Israeli propagandists have been in controlling the news coverage. They have even sidelined prominent retired Israeli security, military and political leaders, who along with civic and peace advocates are seeking a two-state solution, an end to confiscation of Palestinian land and houses, and debunking war talk against Iran, designed for domestic political purposes in Israel and the U.S.

For example, Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad – Israel’s CIA – from 2002 until 2010, called bombing Iran “the stupidest thing I ever heard.” In agreement are many other Israelis in the know. But, as in the U.S. during the months before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, experienced voices of realism and sanity are not heard. Nor are sobering words of candor, as voiced by Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, who said, of the dispossessed Palestinians years ago, “we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”

Isn’t bringing these prominent Israeli truthsayers, peace advocates and military refuseniks to the U.S. Congress for their first-ever public hearing way overdue? At stake is peace or more wars in the Middle East. Also at stake is the possibility of another U.S. “war of choice” against Iran and the likely uncontrollable consequences that such belligerency would provoke. Would members of Congress let the AIPAC lobby block Israelis from coming here to present such testimony?

Or are the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees, chaired respectively by Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, satisfied with following their party lines?

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.