Gaza, a year on: The (mental) siege continues

Reading Donald MacIntyre’s recent piece on Gaza in The Independent I was reminded of the infamous May 2004 Jerusalem Post interview of Arnon Sofer, the original strategist behind Sharon’s Gaza Strip pullout:

When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day. … The only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the [Israeli] boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.

Here are some excerpts from MacIntyre:

Certainly you can see the weakening of secularism on Gaza’s streets. More women are covering their heads; there is a greater sprinkling of them wearing the once rarely-seen nakab, the garment covering the whole face except for the eyes. And the greatest internal pressure on Hamas is not Fatah, which has been effectively repressed in Gaza, but from more extreme Islamist groups. To [businessman Jawdat] Khoudary, these developments are the function of what he calls "a mental siege" in which lack of contact with the outside world is turning Gaza inwards. To take a single example, there has been a complete halt to the once-steady flow of many hundreds of students a year, often to pursue postgraduate studies, abroad or in Israeli universities. Now Israel has used the closure to stop students even travelling to the West Bank, let alone to Israel or foreign countries. Thanks to the tunnels, says Khoudary, and provided you can afford it, "you can order anything you want in 36 hours. But the mental siege is the most dangerous and harmful siege." He asks why Israel fosters a climate which in the long run will encourage extremist groups "worse than the Taliban". "Israel is so stupid," he says. "They are punishing the wrong people."

What gives [UN Relief and Works Agency director of operations John] Ging his high credibility in Gaza is his tireless championing of the civilian population in the face of what he repeatedly calls the "failed and flawed" policies of isolating it. The end of the war, he says, left Gazans "worse than before" because of the "unfulfilled hope" that it would also mark the end of "that era of collective punishment … that had been their daily life for so long". For the war had at least finally generated an international realisation "that it was the civilian population that was paying a devastating price not only in loss of life but [also] in their living conditions".

But rather than an end to isolation, Ging says, the traumatised Gazans have seen that "daily life continues to deteriorate and, as they listen and they read of more talk of war, they see the peace process is in further peril".

Ging acknowledges that this is not a "typical human emergency" made visible by "emaciated bodies and an overwhelmed medical service" – though he points out that 80 per cent of Gazans are dependent on food aid, that the medical services are overloaded but somehow coping, and that the water and sewage infrastructure is on the brink of crisis with 80m cubic litres of raw sewage pumped daily into the Mediterranean, 80 per cent of the drinking water below WHO minimum standards and 60 per cent of people with only irregular access to water. Instead, he says, "the problem here is the destruction of a civilised society and what the impact of that will be for the solution to this conflict".

As a man for whom belief in international law is a driving passion, he has sought to combat this trend with a human-rights curriculum in UN schools which is anything but routine [in its inclusion of Holocaust studies], less than a year after a war about which the Goldstone report accused mainly Israel but also Hamas of war crimes. Ging is convinced about the positive response of Gazan civilians. "You only have to talk to them," he argues, to know that "they are not terrorists, they are not violent people. They are deeply civilised people … not withstanding the provocative nature and injustice of their circumstances."

Their aspirations are not, he says, "vengeance or revenge or violence or destruction – their aspirations are the same as any civilised person on this planet. They want the space to live, basic fundamental freedoms of human rights. They understand the difference between right and wrong and sanctions against those who are in violation of the law, but their claim – which I fully support – is that the innocent should not be sanctioned."

Like Jadwat Khoudary, Ging is fearful however of the extremism that the "devastatingly" negative conditions of Gaza threaten to breed, including among school pupils. "How do we motivate them to achieve their academic potential when their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters have no job and no prospect of a job? They listen every day to rhetoric, very destructive, which capitalises on their physical experience which is very negative – and tries to attach that to violent activity as being the way out of those circumstances." UNRWA, says Ging, aims to counter that through education. But, he adds, "the most important support is to change the circumstances".

The UN Girls’ Preparatory School A in Zeitoun, the very neighbourhood where calamity overtook the Samouni family, helps to illustrate the point. Three of its pupils were killed during the war, 25 injured and many more were made homeless by the destruction. Late last month, it staged a varied day of activities to reinforce another Ging initiative – one that perhaps would not go amiss in many British schools – the Respect and Discipline programme. They ranged from a parade – "We call it ‘military’ because we want the discipline of soldiers without the violence," explained teacher Soha Sohoor – to a playlet set in court in which teenage girls acted the parts of a female lawyer, teacher, doctor, engineer and housewife successfully defending themselves against a judge’s draconian anti-woman ruling. Afterwards, four articulate 14-year-olds discussed issues ranging from domestic violence and the impact of the winter war to the determination of all four to go to university. All said they favoured a two-state solution based on 1967 borders.

Shaima Remlawi, who is learning English, wants to be an international interpreter but also sees herself campaigning for women’s rights – particularly against early marriage and fathers who discourage their daughters from completing their education. "I will not marry until I am more than 20," she declared. Afrian Naim wants to be a journalist, "so I can give the message of the Palestinians all over the world." Islam Aqel wants to become both a professor and a "novelist who can write books that everyone can read." And Ahlam Al-Haj Ahmed said: "I want to be a journalist writing about the sufferings of the Palestinian people. But I want to be effective in society, to be a member of the PLC [the Palestinian Parliament], not in Fatah or Hamas but as an independent, so I can tell the others when they are doing well and when they are not doing well." It’s hard not to be impressed with these girls, brimming with healthy ambition. But hard also not to wonder – without that "change in circumstances", an end to Gaza’s siege, mental and physical – how long it will be before their dreams crash into irrevocable disappointment.

"It’s urgent that we change," says Ging. "Because time is against us. A whole generation is growing up."

Sofer’s inhumane vision was only half-true: Gazans, though they are suffering, have managed to maintain their humanity. But the psychological toll the Gaza siege is taking upon them is definitely growing. This cruel experiment Israel is conducting has already left permanent scars on a whole generation.

Till when will the world allow the siege to persist?

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 18 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. potsherd says:

    Sofer cries for the Jewish soldiers who will have to “kill and kill and kill” but not a tear for their victims. Palestinians aren’t human to these people, they are no more than cockroaches.

    • Koshiro says:

      As I said elsewhere: The Nazi analogies basically write themselves. Cue Heinrich Himmler and his concern for the psychological well-being of his mass-murdering underlings.
      Fortunately for Sofer, aerial bombing is almost as efficient as a gas chamber in keeping the victims out of sight and minimizing the effect on our boys’ delicate souls. Ain’t it neat?

  2. Citizen says:

    True. In time they will see it does nothing to turn the other cheek and hope for giving the benefit of the doubt. This goes for both Palestinians and Americans. When they both arrive at the Zionist POV, there will be a terrible reckoning. The Nazis and the Zionists
    as a practical matter set this up. Pick your year when it will come to final fruition. The USA masses will play and pay their part. At present, they are being bled, but don’t even know it.

  3. Colin Murray says:

    “Israel is so stupid,” [Khoudary] says. “They are punishing the wrong people.”

    I’m definitely not one to underplay the influence of simple stupidity, ignorance, incompetence, and policy inertia in affairs of state. One must ask, however, if Israel is indeed ‘punishing the wrong people’.

    Khoudary’s assertion makes implicit assumptions about Israeli government objectives and the means and methods with which it seeks to attain them. Who can make a credible argument that the Israeli political establishment’s Gaza policy is not working as designed? I can’t make one either way.

    I think most (honest) people with more than two brain cells would agree that ethnic cleansing and colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been pillars of Israeli government policy since 1967. These objectives have over the intervening decades metastasized in the culture of most Israeli political, economic, social, and military institutions. State policies to martial and apply national resources towards their achievement have changed over time, with changing domestic and international conditions.

    Changes in state policy lag behind changes on the field of struggle which necessitate them. When policy making and implementing institutions are in disarray, as they currently appear to be in Israel, it becomes even more difficult than usual to decipher with any confidence whether particular consequences, such as a further radicalization of Gazan society, are deliberate or unintended. Is there any more or less cohesive feeling among members of the Israeli political establishment that they know what the hell they are doing any more, or why, excepting the obvious continuance of unquestioning obeisance to the graven idols of ethnic cleansing and colonization?

    Khoudary says that “[Israelis] are punishing the wrong people.” Are they really? Why would he think that questions of innocence or guilt of individual Palestinians have even a shred of relevance to colonists and their supporters and enablers when there is a veritable mountain of evidence to the contrary? His thinking sounds as wishful to me as that of proponents of some moderate or humanistic version of Zionism. It might sound good on paper or in academic argument, but the ugly facts on the ground, including south Lebanese farmland deliberately clusterbombed with aged faulty munitions (MILLIONS of bomblets) AFTER a ceasefire agreement had been reached, deliberately bombed schools, power and sewage treatment plants, and factories in Gaza, and violent suppression of peaceful protest in the West Bank, put it to the lie.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      I would have to agree with you. It’s not that Israel is even punishing anyone (in any realistic definition of the term as being a reaction). The entirety of the Palestinian people are Israel’s targets, right down to the children and the pregnant women.

  4. Rehmat says:

    MacIntyre mindset is no different than the Nazis or Daniel Pipes or the Swiss hatemongers who fell on ground on the site of four minarets in thei country. Maybe the ignorant doesn’t know that during the Kemalists’ extreme secularist rule for over eight decades – more than 75% of Turkish women never stopped wearing Hijjab. Is not adultery a sin in Torah – then why Israel is one the world’s top countries when it comes to adultery, porn, homosexuality, organ theft, and sex slavery.

    Islam doesn’t need the approval of some Zionazi or some racist hiding behind secularism. As former NATO information chief, Murad Hofman, wrote: “Islam is not a fashion that it has to keep changing. It can wait”.

    Iran and the women’s rights “Expert”
    link to rehmat1.wordpress.com

  5. olive says:

    Dr. Murad Wilfried Hofmann is a famous German convert to Islam, but this is the first time that I heard of him being the NATO information chief!

    • olive says:

      By the way, I am not denying that he was the NATO info chief (Wikipedia, the most accurate source of all information) says he is. I was just showing my surprise that he worked for NATO, in addition to everything else on his impressive resume.

  6. David Samel says:

    Israeli hasbara loves to publish video clips of imams urging their flock to partake in anti-Semitic violence. There are a whole assortment of quotes they love to trot out as proof of the homicidal tendencies of the Arabs. But there is an abundance of similar quotations from Israelis and their supporters. The quote from Sofer has to be among the most disgusting, but it is hardly unique. A tiny, tiny sampling from history:

    In the late 1970′s, Israeli military analyst Zeev Schiff reported on Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur’s speech, who stated that “In South Lebanon we struck the civilian population consciously, because they deserved it…the importance of Gur’s remarks is the admission that the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously…the Army, he said, has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets… [but] purposely attacked civilian targets even when Israeli settlements had not been struck.”

    In July 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin explicitly told of his plan to attack civilian areas in Southern Lebanon to frighten them into fleeing to Beirut to pressure their government to end attacks on Israel. “We will not permit a situation where there is no calm and security in Israel, while there is calm and security in southern Lebanon.” “If there will be no quiet and safety for the northern settlements, there will be no quiet and safety for south Lebanon residents north of the security zone.”

    After the 2006 Lebanon offensive, Gadi Eisenkot, the head of Israel’s northern command, warned: “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. This is not a recommendation. This is a plan.” [That's one way to ensure that all the victims are military, not civilian: declare all civilians to be legitimate military targets."]

    2008-2009: The commanding officer in Israel’s south, Yoav Galant, said that the objective of the offensive was to “send Gaza decades into the past.” [Reminiscent of Tom Friedman's exhortation that Clinton should bomb Serbia centuries into the past.]

    Gabriel Siboni, a colonel in the reserves, published an article in Tel Aviv University’s Institute of National Security Studies two months before the assault on Gaza. He said that the goal of military action was to use “disproportionate force,” thereby “inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes.”

    Rabbi Manis Friedman of the Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies in St. Paul, MN: “The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).” [You gotta love inclusion of livestock. Of course, in Gaza, the Israelis slaughtered tens of thousands of chickens.]

    Israeli’s insistence on the moral superiority of its killing is nauseating. Each side has brazenly tried to kill the other’s civilians to teach lessons, “put pressure” on their leaders, etc. But Israel’s violence has taken many more lives, and has been in the service of perpetuating rather than resisting occupation. Yet somehow, the hasbara is successful. Israel’s PR machine is considerably more impressive and successful than its celebrated military.

    • yonira says:

      David,

      Wow, talk about a hypocritical statement, you denounce something in your first paragraph, then you partake in the same kind of shit in the rest of your post.

      Also, Rabbi Manis Friedman is by no means a spokesmen for Zionism, Israel, or for the Jewish people. He was denounced by basically everyone in the Jewish community following that gem of a disgusting comment.

      • Cliff says:

        Hey retard,

        He’s not doing the same thing. He was just making the point that there are nutcases on both sides.

        He began with listing the Zionist meme of citing crazy fundamentalist Muslim rantings – and then countered it by listing similar craziness on the Zionist side.

        He’s pointing out the hypocrisy of the Zionists who use that tactic.

        I thought that was pretty fucking obvious. Gosh, you’re a moron. Stick to calling people Jew-haters/etc. – that’s all you’re good for, douche.

      • Unfortunately, the Arabs don’t have the means nor the will to carry out any of the things that some of them call for in their stupid rhetoric. The Zionists on the other hand do. Also, keep in mind that virtually every Arab nation and the Iranian nation has endorsed the Arab peace proposal, yes even Hamas. None of the mainstream Zionist parties have yet to even acknowledge it.

        Furthermore, what some Saudi sheikh says about Jewish people should have very little bearing on how the Israelis decide to view the Palestinians.

        In any case, if a Palestinian hates an Israeli its not because hes “Jewish,” its simply because the Israeli stole his land.

        Its that simple.

      • RE: “He [Rabbi Manis Friedman] was denounced by basically everyone in the Jewish community…” – yonira

        MY COMMENT: Wink, wink; nudge, nudge!

      • Koshiro says:

        As we say on the internets: O RLY?
        Is Manis Friedman no longer invited to hold lectures? Do people no longer buy his books? Do sponsors, teachers and students boycott his school? Yeah, didn’t think so. I mean, he is still a Rabbi. One of us.

        The gist of nationalism (of which Zionism is merely a peculiar variant): Even to the most despicable among “us” we owe basic loyalty on a level that we will never, ever grant to even the most saintly among “them”. In other words: Ethic principles are secondary to group allegiance – which is precisely the reason that nationalism can only be abhorrent to anybody who truly wants to lead a life guided by ethic principles.

    • David Samel says:

      Cliff, Thank you for your defense to my post, although I tend to refrain from using such epithets, even though yonira’s failure to understand my obvious point was silly at best. You correctly interpreted my post, but I now realize I should have been far more precise. Most of my quotes were from prominent government and army officials, while I threw in one from a Minnesota rabbi at the end. It is only this last quote which is analogous and roughly equivalent to the hate spewed forth from individual imams. I know that this rabbi is not necessarily representative of Israeli policy or a significant segment of American Jewry, but the mirror image of such a quote would be used to “conclusively” demonstrate the homicidal Arab/Muslim mentality. All of the other quotes, of course, actually do demonstrate a long-standing Israeli policy to target civilians (and there are many, many other similar quotes one can rather easily find). Israeli leaders have often resorted to lame excuses for killing civilians (“we warned them to flee” is not new but dates back to 1948; “we didn’t know there were civilians in the building,” used in the 2006 Qana slaughter of 29, was used as far back as 1953 Qibya; etc.) but sometimes, they have not even bothered with excuses. As James Bradley notes, my quotes are from people who had the power to implement their stated policy.

      Moreover, it is perfectly acceptable in Israeli discourse to say things like that. Were any of these army leaders publicly rebuked or chastised, much less relieved of their command? If an American general or colonel said the US would “apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction” to every Iraqi village that fired on US forces, or that the objective of the Afghan campaign was to “send Afghanistan decades into the past,” they would be sacked immediately. As Koshiro points out, even the raving Minnesota rabbi continues to enjoy his position of authority. And what of Sofer himself? Or Steven Plaut, a fellow professor who has repeatedly called for using live ammo on the weekly protestors at Bil’in? Neve Gordon, a prof who called for supporting BDS, was the subject of a petition that garnered tens of thousands of signatures calling for his removal, including many of his fellow academics. What a contrast!

      • jan_gdyn says:

        Zionists have historically been much more adept at deploying these kinds of deplorable quotes spewed from Palestinians and Arabs to demonize ‘the Arabs’ and to justify an unpalatable Zionist project. What I am discovering more and more recently is that they have a pit of scum of their own that can be used against them.