Israel's cruel Gaza siege could escalate

October 25, 2012
The SV Estelle on October 16.

The ongoing siege of Gaza by the Israeli government looked set for a worrying escalation following a visit to Gaza by the emir of Qatar. Just three days earlier, Israel's navy had boarded a Gaza aid ship and used tasers on activists.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani entered Gaza via Egypt's Rafah border crossing on October 23.

Israeli leaders condemned al-Thani's visit, the first by a foreign head of state since 1999. Al-Thani promised $400 million in aid projects to Gaza, undermining Israel's economic blockade.

Qatar's move is at odds with its status as a Western ally. However, the move may relate to Qatar's growing efforts to have greater political influence in the region. It also may be directed at undermining the influence of Iran on the Hamas government in Gaza.

Following the visit, Israeli officials said Palestinian militant groups fired about 80 rockets until a ceasefire was negotiated by the Egyptian government on October 25, Reuters said.

Israel's military launched tank fire and air strikes that killed four Gazans and wounded 10 others, the Guardian said on October 24.

Palestinian rocket fire has long been used as a pretext to advance the Israeli government's efforts to wipe out resistance to its colonial agenda. Often presented in the media as simply “terrorism” or “Islamic fanaticism”, such rocket fire ― usually provoked by specific actions by the Israeli military ― is a consequence of the desperation that has developed after decades of brutal military occupation.

As a recently exposed document showed, the Israeli government has worked to worsen living conditions in order to break down Gazans' ability to resist. The document from 2008 showed the calculated way it sought to collectively punish the people of Gaza through systematically underfeeding them, journalist Jonathan Cook said on October 24.

Israeli health officials calculated the minimum number of calories required to avoid mass malnutrition in Gaza, which required an average of 170 supply trucks a day. However, Israeli military officials only allowed an average of 67 trucks a day, the supplies in which were often spoiled while waiting at checkpoints.

This, combined with the crippling of Gazan farming under the blockade, meant malnutrition spread throughout Gaza.

Cook said this was part of a tactic that aimed for the “wholesale destruction of a community’s infrastructure to immerse it so deeply in the problems of survival and reconstruction that other concerns, including fighting back or resisting occupation, are no longer practicable”.

Despite the easing of some of the harsh economic restrictions in September that had kept the Gazan economy on the point of collapse for years, the economy remains in ruins and, along with the constant threat of attack and lack of basic freedoms, life in Gaza remains a nightmare.

The siege has led to a rise in addiction to painkilling drugs, particularly Tramadol. Inter Press Service said on October 22 that Tramadol's “reality-numbing” effect and relative availability made it the drug of choice for large numbers of traumatised and depressed people.

Gazan addiction specialist Dr Hossam al Khatib told Inter Press Service: “The siege causes all of the problems: high unemployment, hopelessness, stress, anxiety, depression. Even some youths 15 years and older, take it because their lives are so difficult.”

Overdose cases are becoming more prominent, and black market versions of the drug are cut with mouse poison – which acts as a stimulant – adding to the risk.

“If the borders were opened, the siege lifted, work available again, people here wouldn’t feel hopeless, wouldn’t feel the need to take drugs like Tramadol,” Khatib said.

Efforts by international activists to break the siege and expose Israel's crimes have involved attempts to sail to Gaza and deliver goods blocked by Israel.

The Israeli navy illegally detained and abused about 30 activists on October 20 aboard a Swedish ship on its way to Gaza as part of the campaign. Estelle was carrying birds and children's games when it was raided by the Israeli navy in international waters ― legally defined as an act of piracy.

Elik Elhanan, one of three Israeli activists onboard, said after being released on bail on October 22 that 15 navy vessels had surrounded the ship. Israeli forces “used a completely disproportional amount of force” on the unarmed activists, including repeated use of Tasers and beatings. Elhanan said the troops told him he would “pay for [his] leftism” before tasering him.

The Israeli activists on the ship were charged with “violating a legal order, violating the Disengagement Law, aiding the enemy and incitement and sedition”, said on October 21. However, a judge ruled that the aiding the enemy and incitement charges were baseless, the Jerusalem Post said on October 23.

The 27 foreign activists on the ship included a former Canadian politician and five European politicians – at least one of whom was beaten by interrogators.

The threat against Elhanan for his leftism reflects the broader trend of deep conservatism in Israeli society.

A new opinion poll of Jewish Israelis has revealed what Israel's supporters have denied for years: that Israeli society is deeply racist and many people openly support apartheid practices.

The poll, published in Haaretz on October 23, showed wide support among Jewish Israelis for racist discrimination against Palestinians. Preferential treatment in employment for Jewish people was supported by 59% of those surveyed, 49% supported the government treating Jewish people better than Palestinians, and 42% wanted separate housing and school classes for different ethnic groups.

Forty-seven percent said all Palestinians should be stripped of Israeli citizenship, and a third said Arab Israelis should be barred from voting for the Knesset (parliament). Fifty-eight percent said apartheid was already being practised to some degree in the West Bank, and only 31% said there was no apartheid system.

Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy said: “The Israelis admit this is what they are and they're not ashamed of it. Such surveys have been held before, but Israelis have never appeared so pleased with themselves, even when they admit their racism ...

“It's good to live in this country, most Israelis say, not despite its racism, but perhaps because of it.”

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