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How Israel is turning Gaza into a super-max prison

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It is astonishing that the reconstruction of Gaza, bombed into the Stone Age according to the explicit goals of an Israeli military doctrine known as “Dahiya”, has tentatively only just begun two months after the end of the fighting.

According to the United Nations, 100,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, leaving 600,000 Palestinians – nearly one in three of Gaza’s population – homeless or in urgent need of humanitarian help.

Roads, schools and the electricity plant to power water and sewerage systems are in ruins. The cold and wet of winter are approaching. Aid agency Oxfam warns that at the current rate of progress it may take 50 years to rebuild Gaza.

Where else in the world apart from the Palestinian territories would the international community stand by idly as so many people suffer – and not from a random act of God but willed by fellow humans?

The reason for the hold-up is, as ever, Israel’s “security needs”. Gaza can be rebuilt but only to the precise specifications laid down by Israeli officials.

We have been here before. Twelve years ago, Israeli bulldozers rolled into Jenin camp in the West Bank in the midst of the second intifada. Israel had just lost its largest number of soldiers in a single battle as the army struggled through a warren of narrow alleys. In scenes that shocked the world, Israel turned hundreds of homes to rubble.

With residents living in tents, Israel insisted on the terms of Jenin camp’s rehabilitation. The alleys that assisted the Palestinian resistance in its ambushes had to go. In their place, streets were built wide enough for Israeli tanks to patrol.

In short, both the Palestinians’ humanitarian needs and their right in international law to resist their oppressor were sacrificed to satisfy Israel’s desire to make the enforcement of its occupation more efficient.

It is hard not to view the agreement reached in Cairo this month for Gaza’s reconstruction in similar terms.

Donors pledged $5.4 billion – though, based on past experience, much of it won’t materialise. In addition, half will be immediately redirected to the distant West Bank to pay off the Palestinian Authority’s mounting debts. No one in the international community appears to have suggested that Israel, which has asset-stripped both the West Bank and Gaza in different ways, foot the bill.

The Cairo agreement has been widely welcomed, though the terms on which Gaza will be rebuilt have been only vaguely publicised. Leaks from worried insiders, however, have fleshed out the details.

One Israeli analyst has compared the proposed solution to transforming a third-world prison into a modern US super-max incarceration facility. The more civilised exterior will simply obscure its real purpose: not to make life better for the Palestinian inmates, but to offer greater security to the Israeli guards.

Humanitarian concern is being harnessed to allow Israel to streamline an eight-year blockade that has barred many essential items, including those needed to rebuild Gaza after previous assaults.

The agreement passes nominal control over Gaza’s borders and the transfer of reconstruction materials to the PA and UN in order to bypass and weaken Hamas. But the overseers – and true decision-makers – will be Israel. For example, it will get a veto over who supplies the massive quantities of cement needed. That means much of the donors’ money will end up in the pockets of Israeli cement-makers and middlemen.

But the problem runs deeper than that. The system must satisfy Israel’s desire to know where every bag of cement or steel rod ends up, to prevent Hamas rebuilding its home-made rockets and network of tunnels.

The tunnels, and element of surprise they offered, were the reason Israel lost so many soldiers. Without them, Israel will have a freer hand next time it wants to “mow the grass”, as its commanders call Gaza’s repeated destruction.

Last week Israel’s defence minister Moshe Yaalon warned that rebuilding Gaza would be conditioned on Hamas’s good behaviour. Israel wanted to be sure “the funds and equipment are not used for terrorism, therefore we are closely monitoring all of the developments”.

The PA and UN will have to submit to a database reviewed by Israel the details of every home that needs rebuilding. Indications are that Israeli drones will watch every move on the ground.

Israel will be able to veto anyone it considers a militant – which means anyone with a connection to Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Presumably, Israel hopes this will dissuade most Palestinians from associating with the resistance movements.

Further, it is hard not to assume that the supervision system will provide Israel with the GPS co-ordinates of every home in Gaza, and the details of every family, consolidating its control when it next decides to attack. And Israel can hold the whole process to ransom, pulling the plug at any moment.

Sadly, the UN – desperate to see relief for Gaza’s families – has agreed to conspire in this new version of the blockade, despite its violating international law and Palestinians’ rights.

Washington and its allies, it seems, are only too happy to see Hamas and Islamic Jihad deprived of the materials needed to resist Israel’s next onslaught.

The New York Times summed up the concern: “What is the point of raising and spending many millions of dollars … to rebuild the Gaza Strip just so it can be destroyed in the next war?”

For some donors exasperated by years of sinking money into a bottomless hole, upgrading Gaza to a super-max prison looks like a better return on their investment.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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8 Responses

  1. Citizen on October 28, 2014, 10:18 am

    I look forward to this information being given to the US public by the US main media–NOT!

  2. just on October 28, 2014, 10:19 am

    “Where else in the world apart from the Palestinian territories would the international community stand by idly as so many people suffer – and not from a random act of God but willed by fellow humans?”

    This is the essential question that every real human being in the world needs to ask themselves. All the while, US pols were calling the deaths in Gaza “heartbreaking”– I reserve heartbreaking for natural disasters, etc., not for man created events. I can’t think of anywhere else that this would be allowed to happen. The destroyer, the Occupier paves the way for more misery followed by more misery…
    This was not ‘willed by fellow humans’, Jonathan– Israel and its supporters have/are acting in distinctly inhuman ways.

    “Security needs” of Israel is beyond tiresome– they are armed to the teeth with WMD, nukes, and a cruel IOF. End the OCCUPATION.

  3. seafoid on October 28, 2014, 11:10 am

    What really interests me is why this stuff is happening and what exactly is dysfunctional in the Israeli psyche. how do you explain it ?

    I think there are 2 interlinked problems

    1. the Zionist interpretation of Jewish history which emphasizes persecution above everything else and is deluded.

    Very interesting article in the FT about how wrong this is explained via the new museum of Jewish history in Warsaw

    (you can sign up for the article without paying)

    “For, in contrast to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, or Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the new Warsaw museum is not specifically about the mass murder of Jews in the second world war. In fact, only one of the core exhibition’s eight galleries, which cover a combined area of more than 4,000 sq m, deals with the Holocaust.

    The international historians and museum experts who developed the core exhibition do not skate over the Holocaust – far from it. But their chief purpose is to narrate and celebrate the story of Jewish civilisation in Poland, a story that spans the arrival of Ashkenazi Jews from western and central Europe in the Middle Ages to the rebirth of Jewish communities in contemporary Poland. In this historical sweep the Holocaust, unquestionably the central and most terrifying fact of the story, is treated as one element of a seamless narrative.

    Throughout, the threads of Poland’s Jewish past are intertwined with those of its history as a state in such a way as to make it hard to imagine Polish Jews without their Christian neighbours or vice versa. “We’re trying to show the history of Polish Jews as an integral part of the history of Poland,” says Kirshenblatt-Gimblett.”

    2 The Zionist mangling of traditional Jewish morality to focus exclusively on vengeance

    This mirrors what happened in Albania post communism

    “The Kanun is linked to the religion of blood, of which feuding is just one aspect,” he adds. “The law is based on two pillars: fair treatment between men and reciprocity.”

    This system did not provide for endless escalation. On the contrary, from the outset it left room for mediation, through the council of the elders. A promise of safety (besa) could be granted to some members of a clan. But tradition has withered away and all that remains is the idea of vengeance. “After the murder,” says Ismet’s grandfather, Kalter, “I went to the home of the two brothers twice. I told them there was no problem between us and their family. I tried to negotiate but they would not even sit down, as required by custom.”

    In 1997 the Lottery uprising, a conflict verging on civil war, erupted following the collapse of various financial pyramid schemes. In the ensuing chaos arms dumps were ransacked, the arms boosting the old patriarchal system. With no effective law enforcement, families resorted to the Kanun.

    Albanian’s penal code refers to vendetta as premeditated murder, but the courts are still at a loss to know how to cope with this parallel system of justice. “Families feel entitled to take vengeance,” says Përparim Kulluri, the public prosecutor in Shkodër. “We’ve seen cases where the relations of a victim have given testimony clearing the accused, so that they can settle the score themselves.”

    Theoretically under Kanun rules children cannot be touched. “But the old rules have disappeared since the fall of communism,” Luani says. “Old conflicts have resurfaced, new ones have started, mainly linked to land ownership rights. There was a case in Shkodër where a man tried to kill a three-year-old.”

    The prime minister, Sali Berisha, sees things differently. A native of Tropojë, he thinks the Kanun has its merits. “It acted as a very powerful deterrent imposing incredible self-control. There are very few instances of such feuding, proof that the law of the state prevails,”

    The more the spirit of vengeance contaminates the next generation, the more the Kanun loses its original meaning.

    Zionism is just another lost ideology.

  4. eljay on October 28, 2014, 11:42 am

    >> Last week Israel’s defence minister Moshe Yaalon warned that rebuilding Gaza would be conditioned on Hamas’s good behaviour.

    Meanwhile, Yaalon added, Israel – which will remain a Jewish-supremacist state for all eternity! – will continue to…
    – steal, occupy and colonize Palestinian land;
    – oppress, torture and kill Palestinians;
    – refuse to honour its obligations under international law; and
    – refuse to accept accountability and responsibility for its past and on-going (war) crimes; and
    – refuse to enter into sincere negotiations for a just and mutually-beneficial peace,
    …as it has been doing for over 60 years.

    • Citizen on October 28, 2014, 12:20 pm

      Bibi just said Israel will build in Jerusalem just as France is building in Paris:

      • eljay on October 28, 2014, 6:22 pm

        >> Citizen: Bibi just said Israel will build in Jerusalem just as France is building in Paris

        In order to build illegal settlements in an occupied city, a colonialist and supremacist “Jewish State” needs tools. Bibi is one such world-class, Zio-supremacist tool.

      • talknic on October 28, 2014, 8:11 pm

        Conveniently forgetting that Paris is in France, Jerusalem is not in Israel. Netanyhu is an idiot

  5. Horizontal on October 28, 2014, 12:23 pm

    As evil as Israeli conduct is, I believe that it couldn’t exist without the evil of American political support, which insulates Israel from any consequences. Since both parties are equally infected, we have no recourse to “throw the bums out” by voting for the other guy. So what to do?

    Work the grassroots. Like Vietnam, this is only going to be halted by the younger generation changing the dynamic which allows Israel to wield such inordinate influence over our political process. The ugliness of what Israel is doing is difficult to hide.

    This process will, unfortunately, take time; time that the Palestinians don’t have. As mondoweiss recently reported, the BDS campaign on campuses across the country is under assault, and this can only be taken as a sign that it is working and has somebody running scared.

    And that should give us all hope in these dark times.

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