Revolution #203, June 13, 2010
From A World to Win News Service
An extraordinary admission of guilt: Obama, Israel and war crimes in Gaza
The following is from A World to Win News Service:
May 24, 2010. Israel's stepped-up ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank has rightly captured much of the world's attention recently. But it is important not to lose sight of Israeli efforts to slowly choke the Palestinians in Gaza.
The scientific precision with which Israel is inflicting cruelty on Gaza residents and the political goals behind it were highlighted by recent reports from the Israeli organization Gisha, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Britain's BBC. About a year ago, Gisha, which describes itself as a "legal centre for freedom of movement" of Palestinians and particularly Gaza residents, brought suit against the Israeli government to force it to reveal what it does and does not allow to be brought into this narrow desert strip and why. First the government falsely claimed that no relevant documents existed. Then, after a court challenge, it finally submitted a written response stating that four basic policy documents have been written up, but that their contents could not be revealed without "harm to national security and foreign relations." A district court judge was allowed to read them in a closed hearing, but Gisha's lawyers were not.
This claim that Israeli policies towards 1.5 million people must be kept secret is astonishing, and the statement is extraordinary in other ways as well, but before examining it, first the known content of those policies must be detailed.
Certainly what Israel does and does not allow through its blockade is no secret in Gaza. The Israeli court response admits that two of the four secret documents list non-prohibited items (anything not specifically authorized is forbidden). The absurdity of this secrecy shows through in the ease with which Gisha was able to guess the list's contents based on information from Gaza traders, business people and international organizations. A BBC correspondent was somehow able to see the secret Israeli list of the 81 items allowed, and in general terms confirmed what Gisha had deduced. (See Gisha.org and BBC.co.uk "Details of Gaza blockade revealed")
The list at first seems arbitrary, but its goals become apparent on careful study—as of course they are obvious to people in Gaza. The point is to keep people in Gaza on the verge of hunger, to kill them slowly, and to deny them sources of pleasure and information.
A calibrated cruelty is evident even in the smallest details, like the prohibited condiments and spices. Some basic items such as tahini (sesame paste), garlic, zaatar (dried herbs) and cinnamon are allowed, but experience shows that sage, cardamom, coriander, cumin and ginger are not. No dried fruit, jam, halva, chocolate, biscuits or other sweets. Dried foodstuffs such as lentils, beans and rice and frozen meat and vegetables are permitted, as are canned goods, but fresh meat is banned. People are also denied toys, musical instruments, paper and newspapers.
Some of the rules governing food are clearly designed to crush Gaza's local economy and force it to become more dependent on Israeli imports. For instance, the importation of tin cans is forbidden, so that farmers are unable to preserve and sell produce such as tomatoes, but Israeli tomato paste is allowed in. Anything to do with fishing—poles, nets and ropes—is banned. So are basic farming inputs, such as fertilizer, and crucial farm equipment and greenhouse items. Chicken farming seems to be a particular Israeli target, along with livestock in general. Industrial salt, margarine and other products used in food processing are barred.
The blockade of all construction materials, including wood, concrete and pipes, brings extreme hardship to people whose homes, schools and other buildings were destroyed by the Israeli air strikes and invasion of December 2008-January 2009. The UN Development Programme said on May 23 that only about a quarter of the damage done by Israeli missiles, bombs and artillery has been repaired, since the only available resources are recycled rubble or supplies smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt. Fuel restrictions mean that there is electricity only about half the time, which is especially disastrous for hospitals. Gaza residents are not allowed to leave for education, so that among other results there is an acute shortage of trained medical personnel.
But perhaps the most shocking prohibitions are against the drugs and medical equipment that mean life and death for many people. These products are not discussed in the Gisha report, but are mentioned in a April 25 "operational update" from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It says that Israel has allowed the ICRC to deliver 55 tons of drugs and other supplies for emergency treatment, but has kept out 110 other essential pharmaceuticals and supplies and spare parts for many medical machines. All this, too, perpetuates the destruction brought about by the Israeli attack, since as a consequence a high proportion of the people have long-term disabilities and special health needs. For example, the ICRC says that about nine percent of all children in Gaza suffer from speech disorders as a result of war trauma.
It can be deduced from the medical situation that Israeli policy is to keep people from dying all at once in such numbers that it would cause an international outcry, but to deliberately bring about the deterioration of health in general and the deaths of many people that would otherwise be avoidable. One of the four secret documents seems to indicate that this is exactly the goal of Israeli policy in general regarding Gaza. From what is known, it sets "red lines" for what Israel considers a minimum amount of calories (detailed by age and sex) Gazans are to be allowed. Another document establishes mechanisms for "foods needs" to be monitored. It is alarming and telling that Israel refuses to divulge what it considers the minimum requirements. These facts imply that Israel has taken an official decision that it is not going to produce mass starvation, with all the political consequences that would bring, but that people in Gaza are not going to get much more than that either.
Israel cannot admit these policies, even though their existence is no secret, because they are outlawed by the Fourth Geneva Convention (Section Three, articles 47-78), which holds the occupying power responsible for the people's welfare in general, and particularly medical services and children's education.
In its response to the judge in this case, instead of a legal argument the Israeli government makes a political one. After apologizing for what it calls a "misunderstanding" in initially lying to the court, it reasons that "the requested documents concern the management of the transfer of goods that Israel imposes on the Gaza Strip" whose disclosure would "harm national security and possibly even Israel's foreign relations" because "Israel's conduct toward the Gaza Strip, including the restrictions on transferring goods, is a central part of the measures at its disposal in the armed conflict with Hamas, which is a hostile entity whose goal is to destroy the state of Israel."
This assertion that fear of Hamas is what motivates Israel's treatment of Palestinians in Gaza is not entirely true. First of all, historically, Israel itself is much to blame for the rise of Hamas, which it secretly encouraged for decades in an effort to weaken the secular Palestine Liberation Organization, when the PLO was more revolutionary. Today, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank is not so different than Israeli policies toward Gaza. Even without a blockade like in Gaza, the wall around the West Bank, Israeli checkpoints, Israeli settlements and other policies have largely wiped out the local economy, especially agriculture. The wall and/or the Israeli army keep farmers from the fields for long periods of time, sometimes permanently. When they are not murdering Palestinian farmers and children, Zionist settlers often focus their violence on Palestinian olive trees and citrus groves. Despite the U.S.-inspired Israeli policies that have brought a measure of economic relief to some of the small urban middle class in the politically key West Bank city of Ramallah where the PLO is strongest, the previously mentioned Red Cross update reports that half of the West Bank population is currently living in "poverty" by international measures. This is a population that is not guilty by Israeli standards, as Gazans are, of having largely voted for Hamas...
The Israeli government statement amounts to an Israeli admission of guilt under international law. It openly says that its policy is intended to punish all the people of Gaza in order to weaken Hamas. Such "collective punishment" of people "for an offence she or he has not personally committed" is explicitly illegal under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime. While the Israeli government tried to hide its guilt on a technical level by refusing to reveal the contents of its list of what Gazans are permitted to import, this political part of its statement is a perhaps inadvertent but unambiguous confession in legal terms. The International Committee of the Red Cross, in its commentary on Article 33, says that "intimidatory measures to terrorize the population" are "opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice."
The Obama government has voiced concern about the accelerated expulsion of Palestinians from the remaining part of Jerusalem where they had been allowed to live, many after having been driven out of their home villages and West Jerusalem when Israel was created. That might endanger the emergence, legitimacy and viability of the Palestinian "mini-state" with a shared sliver of Jerusalem as its symbolic capital that Washington continues to propose. The U.S. is also slightly worried about the political future of the PLO leadership, which has staked its entire political capital on the hope that American pressure will force Israel into letting it help administer at least some oppressed Palestinians. Further, overly close public identification of U.S. and Israeli policy would go counter to the U.S.'s regional goals.
But at the same time the U.S. has showed its contempt for Palestinian lives and aspirations by supporting Israeli policies toward Gaza that can only be considered extremely cruel, immoral and illegal under international law. The U.S. has even backed Israel against every attempt to condemn these policies in the UN. Likewise, the U.S.-dependent Arab regimes and their media outlets have been quick to protest when religion is at stake, in the face of current Israeli measures to make Jerusalem sites sacred to both religions exclusively Jewish. Yet they barely pretend concern for the Palestinians living in Gaza.
It's worth noting that even while the U.S. has criticized the pace of Israeli expansion in that once mainly Palestinian city, it has argued against it on the grounds of political expediency and never mentioned the fact that the avowed policy of "Judaizing" Jerusalem constitutes a prima facie (obvious on the face of it) violation of international law. (Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention outlaws the colonization of an occupied territory and the forced transfer of its original inhabitants.) The whole issue of applying international law to Israel is too explosive for the U.S. to even allow it to be raised, since the Zionist state is so obviously an outlaw state by these standards, and so, of course, is the U.S. (in its international conduct). This is why the Bush and Obama governments have supported war crimes tribunals for specific countries where that suits American interests, like the former Yugoslavia and Sudan, but Washington still refuses to sign the International Criminal Court treaty that would subject the leaders of all countries to law.
Israel's response to the exposures it has suffered at the hands of Israeli human rights organizations is itself an exposure. A bill currently before the Israeli parliament envisages the banning of any NGO if "there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the association is providing information to foreign entities or is involved in legal proceedings abroad against senior Israeli government officials or IDF [Israeli army] officers for war crimes."
Here we have it: The reason why the Israeli government cannot allow its policies toward Gaza to become public really is what Israel says: it would "harm national security and foreign relations" by fueling the movement of people all over the world to demand the indictment of the Israeli leadership for war crimes, throw shame on the Arab regimes complicit with Israel and embarrass and expose those who rule the U.S. as motivated not by the principles of morality or even law that they pretend to uphold, but only imperial self-interest.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.