Saturday, January 03, 2009

Gaza – The Largest Prison in the World

The current severe bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli air force has left hundreds of people dead and has compromised even further the fragile infrastructure of this territory. Some 800,000 of the 1.5 million people that live in Gaza depend on international aid to deliver proper nutrition. On account of the chaos engendered by this assault, this assistance has been curtailed.

This action has been proclaimed, by Israel, as a war against Hamas. It is true that Hamas decided to resume its rocket attacks against Israel following the lapse of the most recent cease fire. The government of Israel, however, has consistently refused to make any concessions regarding the blockade it imposed on Gaza and to transform its policies in the West Bank.

The citizens of Gaza have literally no exit from their very small and beleaguered place. Their border with Egypt is closed and the Israeli government has blockaded the rest of the territory. The Israeli government tightly controls the transport of electricity, water and supplies into the territory. As a result, the people of Gaza have only about eight to twelve hours of reliable power each day. Their access to fresh water is severely limited and the lack of necessary power curtails sewage treatment and water purification: a reality that has put public health in serious jeopardy. In addition, the supply of medicine is dwindling to dangerous levels. As reported in the New York Times, A leading international charity, Oxfam, which has a program in Gaza, warned the situation "is getting worse by the day", with clean water, fuel and food in short supply. It said hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties, and reported that raw sewage was pouring into the streets in some areas.

The rationale for this behavior on the part of the Israeli government is to destabilize the Hamas leadership that it has proclaimed as a terrorist organization, in spite of the fact that Hamas was chosen by the people of Gaza to lead them. This attempt to place the entire population at risk to achieve political ends is, in fact, employing a strategy of collective punishment. Collective punishment, ironically, was a tool used effectively by the Nazis against the Jews during World War II. The State of Israel continually claims to want to live in peace with its neighbors, but the peace they desire is one that fulfills their own aims in the region and that is to maintain their grip on the territories they occupy and to have absolute supremacy in the region. This is not the kind of peace that has any chance of permanence; it is a peace that comes at too high a price even for the Israelis themselves, for it represents, in fact, a societal acceptance of profound moral failure.

It is clear that Israel has perpetuated its role as an occupying force in the area surrounding its borders. It feels compelled to maintain this position since its behavior over the past decades has engendered so much fierce hatred in its neighbors. In order to maintain any sense of stability amidst the chaos the government requires absolute military superiority over its neighbors. No one in its immediate vicinity is to be allowed to have weapons that would pose any threat. The government of Israel has determined that only it has the right to use its awesome military might to achieve its own ends, regardless of the humanitarian cost of this behavior. Over the years, the United States government has been dedicated to supporting this failed policy to the extent of supplying billions of dollars worth of highly sophisticated armaments.

Clearly, there is no way out of this madness, until concessions are made by all parties. In my judgment, however, the most significant concessions must be make by Israel. Unless the government is prepared to relinquish its iron-fisted control over the territories, there can be no hope for reconciliation. For its part, Hamas must be willing to listen to reason and forego military aggression; this is a fruitless exercise, extremely wasteful of human resources.

In my judgment, the fundamental issue resides with the fact that both sides in the conflict are informed by hatred and fanatical and essentially untenable religious beliefs. It is a deep-seated pathology that drives events, for the leadership of both Gaza and Israel have been brutalized by the past. This fundamental reality must change if peace is ever to come to the region.

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