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Why is the Israeli army finally worried that Gaza is on the brink of collapse?

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Last week Israeli military officials for the first time echoed what human rights groups and the United Nations have been saying for some time: that Gaza’s economy and infrastructure stand on the brink of collapse.

They should know.

More than 10 years ago the Israeli army tightened its grip on Gaza, enforcing a blockade on goods coming in and out of the tiny coastal enclave that left much of the 2 million-strong population there unemployed, impoverished and hopeless.

Since then, Israel has launched three separate major military assaults that have destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, killed many thousands and left tens of thousands more homeless and traumatised.

Gaza is effectively an open-air prison, an extremely overcrowded one, with only a few hours of electricity a day and its ground water polluted by seawater and sewage.

After a decade of this horrifying experiment in human endurance, the Israeli army finally appears to be concerned about whether Gaza can cope much longer.

In recent days it has begun handing out forms, with more than a dozen questions, to the small number of Palestinians allowed briefly out of Gaza – mainly business people trading with Israel, those needing emergency medical treatment and family members accompanying them.

One question asks bluntly whether they are happy, another whom they blame for their economic troubles. A statistician might wonder whether the answers can be trusted, given that the sample group is so heavily dependent on Israel’s good will for their physical and financial survival.

But the survey does at least suggest that Israel’s top brass may be open to new thinking, after decades of treating Palestinians only as target practice, lab rats or sheep to be herded into cities, freeing up land for Jewish settlers. Has the army finally understood that Palestinians are human beings too, with limits to the suffering they can soak up?

According to the local media, the army is in part responding to practical concerns. It is reportedly worried that, if epidemics break out, the diseases will quickly spread into Israel.

And if Gaza’s economy collapses too, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians could be banging on Israel’s door – or rather storming its hi-tech incarceration fence – to be allowed in. The army has no realistic contingency plans for either scenario.

It may be considering too its image – and defence case – if its commanders ever find themselves in the dock at the International Criminal Court in the Hague accused of war crimes.

Nonetheless, neither Israeli politicians nor Washington appear to be taking the army’s warnings to heart. In fact, things look set to get worse.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week there could be no improvements, no reconstruction in Gaza until Hamas agrees to give up its weapons – the only thing, in Hamas’s view, that serves as a deterrent against future Israeli attack.

Figures show Israel’s policy towards Gaza has been actually growing harsher. In 2017 exit permits issued by Israel dwindled to a third of the number two years earlier – and a hundredfold fewer than in early 2000. A few hundred Palestinian businesspeople receive visas, stifling any chance of economic revival.

The number of trucks bringing goods into Gaza has been cut in half – not because Israel is putting the inmates on a “diet”, as it once did, but because the enclave’s Palestinians lack “purchasing power”. That is, they are too poor to buy Israeli goods.

Netanyahu has resolutely ignored a plan by his transport minister to build an artificial island off Gaza to accommodate a sea port under Israeli or international supervision. And no one is considering allowing the Palestinians to exploit Gaza’s natural gas fields, just off the coast.

In fact, the only thing holding Gaza together is the international aid it receives. And that is now in jeopardy too.

The Trump administration announced last week it is to slash by half the aid it sends to Palestinian refugees via the UN agency UNRWA. Trump has proposed further cuts to punish Mahmoud Abbas, the increasingly exasperated Palestinian leader, for refusing to pretend any longer that the US is an honest broker capable of overseeing peace talks.

The White House’s difficuties are only being underscored as Mike Pence, the US vice-president, visits Israel as part of Trump’s supposed push for peace. He is being boycotted by Palestinian officials.

Palestinians in Gaza will feel the loss of aid severely. A majority live in miserable refugee camps set up after their families were expelled in 1948 from homes in what is now Israel. They depend on the UN for food handouts, health and education.

Backed by the PLO’s legislative body, the central council, Abbas has begun retaliating – at least rhetorically. He desperately needs to shore up the credibility of his diplomatic strategy in pursuit of a two-state solution after Trump recently hived off Palestine’s future capital, Jerusalem, to Israel.

Abbas threatened, if not very credibly, to end a security coordination with Israel he once termed “sacred” and declared as finished the Oslo accords that created the Palestinian Authority he now heads.

The lack of visible concern in Israel and Washington suggests neither believes he will make good on those threats.

But it is not Abbas’s posturing that Netanyahu and Trump need to worry about. They should be listening to Israel’s generals, who understand that there will be no defence against the fallout from the catastrophe looming in Gaza.

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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17 Responses

  1. Citizen on January 22, 2018, 11:37 am

    Meanwhile, Ahed Tammy’s jail cell must be a very cold place to be spending her teen year. Will this year’s Women’s March bring some placards of her plight to America’s channel news shows?

    • eljay on January 22, 2018, 12:14 pm

      || Citizen: Meanwhile, Ahed Tammy’s jail cell must be a very cold place to be spending her teen year. … ||

      She may wish she were dead and Zionists may oblige her…but they’ll be sure to collect that price from her “in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.

  2. Eva Smagacz on January 22, 2018, 11:53 am

    From Haaretz 2012:

    in 2007, Omert’s govenrment decided to tighten the siege.

    The cabinet decision stated that
    “the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip will be restricted; the supply of gas and electricity will be reduced; and restrictions will be imposed on the movement of people from the Strip and to it.”

    Read this: and throw at the face of anyone who tells you Gaza should beat Singapore by now:

    “In addition, exports from Gaza would be forbidden entirely. However, the resolution added, the restrictions should be tailored to avoid a “humanitarian crisis.”

    Read this: and throw at the face of anyone who tells you that call for BDS is immoral:

    Col. Shlomi Mukhtar of COGAT to Israeli High Court: “it is the state’s right to decide that it doesn’t intend to have economic ties with, or provide economic assistance to, the other party in the conflict, and to adopt a policy of ‘economic warfare.’”

    Calculations of calories is the most shocking aspect of caging civilians indefinately:

    The “red lines” document calculates the minimum number of calories needed by every age and gender group in Gaza, (…) On average, the minimum worked out to 2,279 calories per person per day, which could be supplied by 1,836 grams of food, or 2,575.5 tons of food for the entire population of Gaza.

    And logistics , banality of it:

    Bringing this quantity into the Strip would require 170.4 truckloads per day, five days a week.
    From this quantity, the document’s authors then deducted 68.6 truckloads to account for the food produced locally in Gaza (…)


    • kev on January 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

      “In addition, exports from Gaza would be forbidden entirely. ”

      Absolutely, Eva. I have posted many times in many forums that Israel is directly and consciously responsible for destroying the Gazan economy. Zionist posters always claim that it is Hamas’ fault, that Israel is not making war on civilians, Hamas is stealing or misusing any funds for missiles or tunnels instead of taking care of their people, blah, blah, blah. The truth is that Israel is waging economic war on a captive civilian population. It is collective punishment, and a violation of human rights.

      Israel is solely responsible for destroying the economy in Gaza, primarily by not allowing exports. Zionists claim that the blockade is only to prevent Hamas from arming, but that’s a lie: Exports don’t “bring in missiles”. The pressure is intentionally applied to the Gazan civilian population in order to try to spark a revolt and a regime change in Gaza. In other words, Israel doesn’t want to go in to make war on Hamas if it can just get the civilians in Gaza to overthrow Hamas (which, if it ever happened, would result in terrible, extreme loss of civilian life… but, hey, it’s preferable for Gazan civilians to die than Israeli Jewish soldiers; so who is it that is using civilians as human shields?)

      The “red lines” document? Israel long ago crossed many red lines. Hopefully the ICC will come forward soon with a decision to fully investigate Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

      • Maghlawatan on January 23, 2018, 12:29 am

        Correct. It has been planned from the get go.

      • Maghlawatan on January 23, 2018, 1:25 am

        Correct. It has been planned from the get go. The purpose of Israeli pauperisation in Gaza is eventual ethnic cleansing. As Dayan said “treat them like dogs. Those who want to can leave”.

        But the Palestinians ain’t leaving.

        Gaza is proof that religious morals mean nothing if power is used without limits.

    • Misterioso on January 23, 2018, 10:44 am

      “‘Trump – he wants us to die’: Palestinians fear US aid cuts could ignite Gaza tinderbox”

      “Special report: Aid workers have stark warnings for the US President, after he slashed American funding for the UN agency here. ‘They have seen the peace efforts fall apart and their own leadership divided. But nobody has ever taken away their bread.'”
      By Sarah Helm, Gaza
      23 January 2018 – The Independent

      “With their horses and carts and beaten-up cars, the refugees of Gaza’s Beach camp arrived early on Monday for their quarterly food boxes, given out on a rota system by UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.

      “Some had come several days before their designated pick-up day, fearing that soon the free flour, lentils, sardines and oil on which their lives depend, would be gone.

      “’Trump – he wants us to die,’ they cried angrily, as huge flour sacks thumped on the ground. They were talking of the US President’s shock decision last week to slash US funding to UNRWA by more than half, a move which threatens food aid to Palestinian refugees not only in Gaza but in camps in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan – where five million refugees rely on UNRWA for basic services, including health and education.

      “’They have tried with the bombs and now they want us to starve,’ said Rihab Abu Sharifa, a 45-year-old widow, who shares her breeze block and asbestos home with 18 others, including her 12 grandchildren.

      “Anger about Mr Trump’s cuts to UNRWA spilled out in Gaza on the same day as Mike Pence, the US Vice President, held talks in Jerusalem with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, about a new ‘peace plan.’”

  3. on January 22, 2018, 12:47 pm

    “But the survey does at least suggest that Israel’s top brass may be open to new thinking, after decades of treating Palestinians only as target practice, lab rats or sheep to be herded into cities, freeing up land for Jewish settlers. Has the army finally understood that Palestinians are human beings too, with limits to the suffering they can soak up?”

    The same army that has and is using Gaza as its military arms testing site is now concerned about Gaza? No chance – there may be changes to how the military deals with Gaza but we would be fools to believe those changes have anything to do with Palestinian suffering.

  4. Ossinev on January 22, 2018, 1:56 pm

    “In recent days it has begun handing out forms, with more than a dozen questions, to the small number of Palestinians allowed briefly out of Gaza”

    This is seriously laughable on a number of fronts. First of all a blockading army is handing out leaflets to a blockaded civilian population at a prison exit asking them if they are satisfied with living conditions in the squalid prison. Presumably if they refuse to answer the questions on the leaflet they are automatically moved one notch up in the Zio “terrorist” categorisation scheme and refused future exits.. And supposing that they answer the questions along the lines of we are living in a “Warsaw Ghetto” type of hell and are being brutalised on a daily basis by people who are no more or less than Fascists they are then “detained” for “terrorist incitement” activities.

    Typical surreal Zio arrogance. They really do think that they are above and beyond and not bound in any way to the rules and norms of a proper democratic and civilised society.

  5. Rusty Pipes on January 22, 2018, 3:13 pm

    Perhaps they are concerned that Abbas’ threats to pursue Sanctions against Israel in International fora are not entirely empty and that charges of Genocide in Gaza could leave Israel’s political and military elite vulnerable to prosecution.

    • Rob Roy on January 23, 2018, 4:03 pm

      I was surprised and glad that Abbas finally spoke up as he hasn’t since forever, having been a collaborator with Israel….in almost a syndrome-like effect. He thought by appeasing them and cooperating with them, he could…what” have his big, big house on the hill? Speaking up may save his soul.
      As for Hamas, I was glad to see them elected in 2006 and hope they hold fast in Gaza; they are the only stance between the diabolical assaults from the IOF and the Gazans.

  6. Maghlawatan on January 22, 2018, 4:44 pm

    Israel’s hatred for Gaza is fathomless. And so is Israel’s cruelty towards Gaza.
    090320 “I felt there was a lot of thirst for blood,” one soldier is quoted as saying. “This is the beauty of Gaza. You see a person walking down a street or path; he does not have to be with a weapon. You just have to see him with something, and you shoot him.”

    Gaza is the repository of Nazi hatred for ashkenazi Jews. Israel projects its trauma onto Gaza.

    And Gaza will collapse. Because that is the policy that Israel has been pursuing since 2000 if not before.


    syvanen November 11, 2010 at 9:18 pm
    “I have difficulty blaming these individual Israeli soldiers for their violent attitudes towards the destruction of Gazan properties. They are simply expressing the attitudes of any group of youth that are indoctrinated in their own military culture. They have been trained to accept violence as normal. Central to Israel’s defence of its actions in Gaza in 2014 is the claim that international humanitarian law (IHR) is inadequate and must be modified to accommodate the “asymmetrical”nature of modern warfare
    What is sad is that this typical military training that any military force on the planet expects of its late teen soldiers, has infected the entire Israeli society. I am afraid that is what happens when a country exists in a mental state of war for almost a century which is what happened to Prussia and if ancient history is accurate, what happened to Sparta. What has happened is that once military thinking dominates, then violence, not negotiated settlement, is the only solution.”

    MJ (Mike) Rosenberg @MJayRosenberg · 4h
    Netanyahu is a fucking barbarian and so is everyone in his government.
    “Hassan, who has worked at the mental health center since 1991, spoke a lot in our conversation about the meaning of psychological treatment during periods of unrelenting and continuing trauma. “I came to the conclusion that such treatment is not ethical,” he said. “For 23 years, I have been trying to help children living in trauma, but there is no guarantee that they will not be affected again. It’s as if I am just preparing them to deal with something worse. You cannot provide true psychological treatment when the patients have no protection, no guarantee that it won’t happen again and soon, when what causes trauma never ends,” he said.
    “What is at issue here is a lot more than individual, separate cases,” he continued. “Even when there is no war, there is no stability in the Gaza Strip, and in a situation like this, how can psychological treatment help? One political decision on Israel’s part — lifting the blockade — could do a lot more good than all of the psychological treatment performed in Gaza and all of the quantities of money invested in them. The long-standing blockade limits our field of vision, our broader outlook, our creativity. The occupation is not only of land. The blockade is not just of goods, objects. The occupation is also cognitive, of one’s will, of feelings and thoughts. The siege is also over the ability to hope.”
    “When an entire family is killed, society’s primary source of support is lost,” Hassan Ziadeh said in a phone call from Gaza. “When Israel targets entire families, it is destroying a social institution.”

    Gaza is where the full sickness of Zionism meets reality.

    • Misterioso on January 23, 2018, 11:26 am

      “The fear I learned during Cast Lead has never left me”
      Muhammad Shehada, The Electronic Intifada 18 January 2018

      “The morning of 27 December 2008 was as any other. My 14-year-old self put on a worn pale-blue school uniform, prepared my heavy bag and ran – late as usual – to catch the bus.

      “The bus stopped near my home in the Tal al-Hawa area of Gaza City, and there was the normal hubbub. Schoolchildren were crossing the road, young kids were crowding by the bus, hustling to get in.

      “On the short ride to our UNRWA school, I was chatting to my younger brother Salah, who was 9 at the time, about the cake we’d enjoyed the day before for our older brother Mahmoud’s birthday.

      “Just as we walked out of the bus the earth literally shook beneath my feet. Unbelievably loud explosions drowned out the screams and cries of those around me. My heart skipped several beats and all I really remember during the confusion was pulling my brother into the bus and down to the floor and holding on to him tightly.

      “I didn’t know it then, but at that moment – 10 minutes before our usual school assembly and 30 minutes ahead of the Saturday noon start for lessons – Israel had struck dozens of targets around the Gaza Strip in 100 near-simultaneous airstrikes. At least four were in the vicinity of the school.

      “Children poured out of the school, a human deluge of panicking students and teachers. Our bus driver ordered us back into the bus and tried to rush us all home. But traffic jams paralyzed the unpaved streets and people ran in all different directions.

      “No one knew where to seek refuge as giant black clouds of smoke smothered the city and obscured the horizon.”

  7. Maghlawatan on January 22, 2018, 4:49 pm

    When Gaza does collapse Israel will be isolated

  8. lonely rico on January 22, 2018, 7:37 pm

    Has the army finally understood that Palestinians are human beings too, with limits to the suffering they can soak up?
    Doubtful. The greatest concern of the IDF (most moral army in the world) is return on investment.
    10+ years constructing a true-to-life (‘true-to-death’) shooting gallery, daily testing their ability (courage) to kill and maim without fear or compunction.
    The sniper towers, concrete wall, barb wire – all for nothing with the damn Gazans starving in the rubble of their lives.
    What sort of training for young Israelis when targets are motionless, prostrate, lifeless ?
    Where’s the challenge ? Where’s the fun ? Soon young zionists will lose interest (god forbid) in joining the IDF.

  9. Eva Smagacz on January 22, 2018, 8:53 pm

    Compare and Contrast:


  10. Ossinev on January 23, 2018, 1:13 pm

    “The lack of visible concern in Israel and Washington suggests neither believes he will make good on those threats”

    Yes it`s that old familiar refrain “handing back the keys”. Yawn.

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