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Terrorized Civilian Communities

Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto

by MELVIN A. GOODMAN

THE WARSAW GHETTO WAS THE LARGEST OF ALL THE JEWISH GHETTOS IN NAZI-OCCUPIED EUROPE DURING WORLD WAR II.  The Gaza Strip is the largest Palestinian ghetto in the Middle East and among the most densely populated parts of the world.

THE GERMANS CLOSED THE WARSAW GHETTO TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD IN 1940.  Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, but maintains exclusive control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters.  It controls the movement of people and goods in or out of Gaza.  As a result, the European Union and Human Rights Watch as well as agencies of the United Nations consider Gaza to remain occupied by Israel.

UNEMPLOYMENT WAS A MAJOR PROBLEM IN THE WARSAW GHETTO, AND OVER 100,000 RESIDENTS OF THE GHETTO DIED DUE TO DISEASE OR STARVATION.  The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza has devastated the economy and caused a shortage of basic medicines and medical equipment. In 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions.  Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”

Of course, comparisons are never fully dispositive.  The death toll among the Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto as a result of deportations to concentration camps and the razing of the Ghetto was more than 300,000.  The Ghetto itself was almost entirely leveled during the uprising in 1943, when the Germans systematically burned and blew up the ghetto buildings, block by block, rounding up or murdering anybody they could capture.

Nevertheless, the relentless and repetitively compulsive Israeli attacks over the past decade suggest that the Israelis are making innocent Palestinians pay for the savagery of the Germans 70 years ago.  Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, in fact, began in 1948 with the “Nakba,” the “catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes during
the Arab-Israeli War.  As a result, The Palestinians are the only refugees in the world that have been given hereditary refugee status.

The Israeli massacre in Shejalya, with Palestinian children carrying white flags and running for their lives from Israeli tanks and artillery, is reminiscent of the massacre in Warsaw.  According to a Norwegian doctor trying to provide medical assistance in Gaza, “Israeli impunity is a huge medical problem.  Every single dead child and adult, and all the injuries, all the amputations, are one hundred percent preventable.  This is a man-made disaster that is cynically planned and brutally executed by the government of Israel.”

There are two compelling factors that stand out in any examination of the crisis in Gaza: the persistent intransigence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Israeli unwillingness to pursue a diplomatic and political solution to the Palestinian tragedy.  Like a long line of Israeli politicians, Netanyahu favors total humiliation of the Palestinian people.  He also is willing to humiliate and embarrass the only nation in the world that is willing to support Israeli with military and economic assistance–the United States.  Netanyahu has ignored U.S. calls for a halt to the illegal building of settlements on occupied territory, and Israel has even timed the announcement of new settlements to the presence in Israel of high-ranking U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden.

Netanyahu has always opposed the so-called peace process, and takes particular credit for destroying the Oslo process.  In 1997, during his first term as Israeli leader, he insisted he would only continue with the talks if a clause was added saying Israel would not have to withdraw from undefined “military locations”.  According to Gideon Levy, an Israeli who has published “The Punishment of Gaza,” Netanyahu was  caught on tape boasting: “Why is that important?  Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo accords.”

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban once said that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  Now the same can be said for the Israelis.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly embarrassed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is dedicated to a peaceful solution to the crisis.  President Abbas offered Netanyahu one more opportunity in April, when he created a Palestinian “national consensus” government with Hamas.  The Palestinian authority and President Abbas set the terms for the new government, which included a Palestinian pledge to nonviolence, adherence to past agreements, and even recognition of Israel.

These terms were designed not only to appeal to Israel but to meet the demands of the United States and its European allies.  According to Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, Israel opposed U.S. recognition of the new government and sought to isolate the Palestinians internationally.

President Netanyahu is now using overwhelming military force to terrorize a civilian community in order to return to the status quo ante that limits Gaza’s use of electricity, forces sewage to be dumped in the sea, makes sure that water remains undrinkable, and ensures fuel shortages that cause sanitation plants to be shut down.  He thus ensures the perpetuation of desperation among those forced to live in these conditions.  Such desperation would lead any human being to believe that violent resistance is the only recourse.

Perhaps the comparison with the Warsaw Ghetto is not completely far-fetched after all.

Melvin A. Goodman (and Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl) are the co-authors of “The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze” (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).  Goodman is also the author of National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers, 2013).