January 05, 2009

The Slaughter of the Diseased Animals

Eyad El-Sarraj is very ill; he suffers from multiple myeloma. He was unable to obtain desperately needed medical treatment for three months, because he was refused permission to make the short trip to Tel Aviv. El-Sarraj has a British passport. He lives in Gaza.

El-Sarraj was finally granted a one-day travel permit, but only because an Israeli friend with the right connections intervened on his behalf. We know that many others are not so fortunate. In mid-December 2008, El-Sarraj described some of the effects of the Israeli blockade:
The situation in Gaza got worse early last month when Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza. Our food, fuel and medical supplies have been severely limited. The blockade has ruined our economy and reduced many among us to a level of economic desperation that has alarmed United Nations officials.

According to Karen Koning Abu Zayd, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the human toll of this siege is terribly grave. Gaza has "been closed for so much longer than ever before ... and we have nothing in our warehouses. ... It will be a catastrophe if this persists, a disaster," she said. And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently called for the immediate easing of the closure because of "deprivations of basic supplies and human dignity."

The secretary-general rightfully condemned Palestinian rocket fire at civilian targets in Israel. Such rockets are morally wrong and strategically inept. Yet the blockade that Israel has clamped on 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza is a collective punishment that harms men, women and children who have no power to control those firing the rockets. Rather than turn Gazans against Hamas, the blockade's effect has been a humanitarian catastrophe that alienates Gazans young and old from both Israel and the West. Even I, a practicing psychiatrist for decades and a longtime advocate of coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, am having trouble coping with the hardships to which we are subjected.

Travel is crucial to me, not just for medical reasons but for reasons of basic sanity. I long to see dear friends, to see the world again, to breathe fresh air and, most of all, to reassure my senses that there are normal things and normal people outside Gaza's debilitating confines.
I'm almost certain that El-Sarraj understands this, but it is crucial to emphasize that this exercise in dehumanization engineered by Israel is intentionally designed to destroy the concept of "normal things and normal people" -- indeed, to destroy the concept of "normality" itself.

El-Sarraj mentions "Palestinian rocket fire at civilian targets in Israel"; this is, of course, the primary justification offered by Israel for the current slaughter. But without an appreciation of the monstrousness of the conditions that have been imposed on Gaza over a long period of time, this represents only the worst, most viciously dishonest kind of war propaganda. When one considers every matter of moment, that is to say, all those conditions that make possible a human mode of existence, Israel has all the power -- and the Palestinians generally, and certainly the inhabitants of Gaza, have none. That is the point from which all further analysis must begin.

And the argument about "Palestinian rocket fire" is a notable lie used to "justify" acts that are immensely evil. Uri Avnery explains:
"Israel must defend itself against the rockets that are terrorizing our Southern towns," the Israeli spokesmen explained. "Palestinians must respond to the killing of their fighters inside the Gaza Strip," the Hamas spokesmen declared.

As a matter of fact, the cease-fire did not collapse, because there was no real cease-fire to start with. The main requirement for any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip must be the opening of the border crossings. There can be no life in Gaza without a steady flow of supplies. But the crossings were not opened, except for a few hours now and again. The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets. It paralyzes life in the Gaza Strip: eliminating most sources of employment, pushing hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation, stopping most hospitals from functioning, disrupting the supply of electricity and water.

Those who decided to close the crossings – under whatever pretext – knew that there is no real cease-fire under these conditions.

That is the main thing. Then there came the small provocations which were designed to get Hamas to react. After several months, in which hardly any Qassam rockets were launched, an army unit was sent into the Strip "in order to destroy a tunnel that came close to the border fence". From a purely military point of view, it would have made more sense to lay an ambush on our side of the fence. But the aim was to find a pretext for the termination of the cease-fire, in a way that made it plausible to put the blame on the Palestinians. And indeed, after several such small actions, in which Hamas fighters were killed, Hamas retaliated with a massive launch of rockets, and – lo and behold – the cease-fire was at an end. Everybody blamed Hamas.
For a very long time, the United States government has specialized in the pattern pursued by Israel. The vastly more powerful nation wishes to act on a certain policy -- almost always territorial expansion, for purposes of access to resources, or to force itself into new markets, or to pursue the evil notion that economic and ideological success depend on brutality and conquest -- but a specifically moral justification for its planned actions does not lie easily to hand.

So the powerful nation embarks on a course designed to make life intolerable for the country and/or those people that stand in its way. The more powerful nation is confident that, given sufficient time and sufficient provocation, the weaker country and people will finally do something that the actual aggressor can seize on as a pretext for the policy upon which it had already decided. In this way, what then unfolds becomes the victim's fault.

The United States government has utilized this tactic with Mexico, to begin the Spanish-American War, even, dear reader, in connection with the U.S. entrance into World War II, most recently in Iraq, possibly (perhaps probably) with Iran in the future, and in numerous other conflicts. It's always the fault of the other side, never the fault of the United States itself. Yet the United States has always been much more powerful than those it victimizes in this manner. The United States always claims that its victims represented a dire threat to its very survival, a threat that must be brought under U.S. control, or eliminated altogether. The claim has almost never been true. This monstrous pattern is "The American Way of Doing Business."

Another of Avnery's points deserves emphasis: that blockades such as that imposed on Gaza are acts of war. The horrifying effects of the U.S. sanctions against Iraq should be recalled; you will find them detailed here. But U.S. politicians and most Americans deny that this is "war"; in the manner of remarkably stupid and/or disgustingly dishonest killers, we insist that our government's actions do not result in death unless bullets are fired or bombs are dropped. But sanctions and blockades of this kind kill as finally as bullets and bombs do. And such sanctions and blockades very frequently and inevitably lead to the deployment of bullets and bombs. As I noted in the earlier post about the Clinton administration's detestable Iraq policy (which included not only immensely destructive sanctions, but bombing too, let us not forget):
The Clinton administration's Iraq policy, as well as its interventions in the Balkans, strengthened the groundwork of our bipartisan foreign policy and provided unbroken continuity to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Anyone who tells you otherwise is ignorant or lying, or both. The Clinton administration and its defenders in the realm of foreign policy have a great deal to answer for.
In that same article, I quoted Stanley Kutler: "The sanctions and bombings of the 1990s are directly linked to Bush's determination to invade Iraq in 2003 and attempt to remake it--again, in our image."

In their unceasing determination to learn less than nothing from this deadly history, the Democrats and the incoming Obama administration have made indisputably clear that they intend to repeat this same precise pattern with Iran. If and when the bombs and missiles begin to fly, let no one be heard to say that they were not warned.

The general pattern described above, and more particularly the devastation visited on Gaza, remind me of an especially harrowing sequence from a fine film, Hud. The story concerns a cattle rancher and his family. It is discovered that some of the cattle have contracted hoof and mouth disease. To prevent the spread of the disease, and because he can think of no other means to control it, the head of the family decides that all the cattle must be destroyed.

A large pit is dug, deep enough to prevent the cattle from getting out. The cattle are driven into the pit, with all means of escape closed off. The men stand around the edges of the pit, and they lift their rifles. They begin to shoot -- and they shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot.

Finally, after endless, terrifying minutes, all the cattle are dead.

Cattle, the inhabitants of Gaza ... what's the difference? They're all animals and subhumans, diseased or possibly diseased, incapable of being saved, beyond redemption. Kill them all.

And the world watches -- and the world does nothing.