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Let Us Now Speak Plain

Arthur Silber

November 15, 2012

The most striking and significant quality of our national conversation “is one of overwhelming, oppressive and suffocating unreality. It is as if everyone knows, but will never acknowledge, that we may speak only in code, and that we may only utilize the safe, empty phrases that we have agreed are ‘acceptable’ — phrases and language that are safe precisely because they have been drained of all correspondence to facts. It is as if everyone realizes, but will never state, that we are engaged in an elaborate charade, a pageant of gesture and indication, where substance and specific meaning have been banned. … [T]he truth is not merely unpleasant, an uninvited guest who makes conversation difficult and awkward. Truth is the enemy; truth is to be destroyed.”

Gaza is a concentration camp. It is not like a concentration camp. It is not a metaphorical or figurative concentration camp. It is a concentration camp. Our culture, our political leaders, and the cacophony of voices in the media have all agreed that this truth must never be spoken. If one wanted to be momentarily charitable about people’s absolute refusal to recognize the obvious, one might argue that a land area of approximately 140 square miles, containing a population of roughly 1.7 million people, could not possibly be a concentration camp. But size and the number of prisoners are not the distinguishing characteristics of a concentration camp. The most essential characteristic of a concentration camp is what is permitted, and what is not. Only one question matters: Under what conditions are the people within its borders permitted to live?

Israel controls most of Gaza’s land borders, just as Israel controls the air space above it and the waters that border Gaza on the west. The sole exception is the small border with Egypt, and Israel subjects that border to attacks whenever it chooses. In essence, nothing is permitted in or out of Gaza without Israel’s permission. When Israel imposes severe restrictions on what and who is allowed to enter and leave Gaza, the consequences are catastrophic, as Uri Avnery explained a few years ago:

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.

Israel imposes conditions on Gaza and its inhabitants that necessarily result in a slow, long, lingering death. Unjustified but quick murder, murder which occurs in an instant, is a terrible crime. How are we to describe the crime that sentences a huge number of people to death, but does so in a manner that ensures the unendurable pain will last for years, that pain and deprivation can never be forgotten, that agony becomes the increasingly overwhelming component of a human being’s existence?

I speak here of the necessary, inevitable final consequence of the policy Israel has chosen with deliberation and great care. Yes, people in Gaza still go about their lives to the extent they can. They still enjoy the company of family and friends; they continue to celebrate birthdays and holidays. They seize those rare, precious moments of happiness that circumstances allow. That they have moments of reprieve from the horror that ultimately awaits them does not make the horror imposed on them better. It makes it worse, infinitely, unimaginably worse. Israel’s policy is that of a monstrous sadist, a sadist who finds hideous pleasure in subjecting its victims to pain that lasts a lifetime.

We are forbidden to say this.

Because we may never say this, some of those determined to remain in a state of almost perfect ignorance will be heard to complain: “But surely nothing justifies the violence of the Palestinians themselves, or their firing rockets into Israel!” Gaza is a concentration camp. The inhabitants of Gaza act in defense of their lives, to the extent the hell to which they are condemned can be called “life” at all. That is: “When you leave people no choice but to engage in violence, they’ll engage in violence.” This, too, must never be acknowledged.

The torture that Israel inflicts on Gaza is of a rare, uncommon refinement; this is torture that is endlessly inventive, forever finding new ways of prolonging the suffering of its victims. Consider:

In 2010, Israel relaxed its economic siege following an international outcry over its deadly raid of a Turkish-flagged humanitarian flotilla, allowing Gazans to legally import more consumer goods. Hamas took the opportunity to transform the tunnels, which were previously used for only basic consumer goods, into a government-sanctioned trade route for raw construction materials and cheap Egyptian petrol, fueling the economic boom of 2011 and 2012.

The rapid, subterranean inflow through the tunnels spurred a bustling construction sector that accounted for 27 percent of job growth in the Gaza Strip in 2011, private sector groups say.

The economy improved so much that, according to a September poll released by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, just 9 percent of Palestinians believe the blockade on Gaza is the most serious problem facing Palestinian society today. …

Devastated by the economic siege, during which 30 percent of Gaza’s businesses closed, the economy grew a staggering 20 percent in 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Per capita gross domestic product also increased by 19 percent in 2011.

“The role the [Hamas] government is playing is a positive one. It facilitated the entrance of construction materials, and allowed them to be delivered at reasonable prices,” Nasser Al Helow, a Gazan business mogul with real estate investments and an import business, said in July.

“This affected unemployment and stimulated other economic sectors,” he said.

Live!, said Israel, at least a little bit, at least for a little while. As in the case of a man dying of thirst, the Gazans eagerly drank the water they so desperately needed. They fiercely seized the brief opportunity they were provided. They lived to the degree they could, and some conditions temporarily improved in significant ways.

But Gaza was still a concentration camp:

Since that initial boom, Egypt closed many of the commercial tunnels in reaction to a deadly militant attack on Egyptian soldiers near the Gaza border. The closures curbed some of the freewheeling economic activity.

Construction imports are now down 45 percent and food imports 30 percent, according to October data released by the Portland Trust, a private sector group in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Forty-four percent of Gazan refugees are still reliant on food aid, while 60 percent of households are either food-insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, according to the United Nations Relief Works Agency.

This poverty is likely to deepen in the wake of the ongoing Israeli military offensive. Gaza is still closed to exports through Israeli crossings, which hampers efforts to build a full-fledged economy free from foreign aid.

But a surplus of raw materials already in Gaza because of the boom, an uptick in trade through the Israeli crossings and the ease with which fuel is transported through the tunnels — in thin hoses requiring little solid infrastructure — means the economy has not yet received a knockout blow, economists say.

That “knockout blow” is all too likely to be delivered in the near future.

It is close to impossible to describe sadism of this kind in the required terms. To subject a vast number of human beings to unimaginable suffering, then to hold out the brief promise of life and perhaps even a measurable degree of happiness — only to snatch all of it away once more … The scope of this particular evil seeks to protect itself from judgment and condemnation by making itself ungraspable to anyone who is still recognizably human.

As has happened every time before, the world watches — and the world does nothing. More horrifying is the fact that the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, supports this evil and guarantees that it will not only continue, but very probably get still worse. Any individual who expected a different response from the United States in any respect at all has blinded himself to the nature of the United States generally, and to the significance of the Obama administration more particularly. For the Obama administration has engaged in a worldwide campaign of death for four years, and promises to continue the campaign into the indefinite future. And Obama and his fellow murderers repeatedly proclaim their “right” to murder any innocent human being wherever he may be in the world, for any reason they invent and even for no reason at all. A nation led by a group of serial murderers will hardly object to another country’s program of sadism. That Israel’s practice of sadism is so remarkably creative — that it inflicts pain and suffering in an endless variety of ways, over a prolonged period of time — is likely only to provoke envy on the part of Obama and his fellow murderers, and perhaps the thought that Israel might have some very useful ideas worthy of adoption.

This is evil of an unusual kind, evil that delights in its own cruelty, evil that seeks no end other than the satisfaction of watching its victims suffer for years on end, with a glimmer of hope offered now and then — but solely for the purpose of making the suffering to come even more painful.

And there is no end in sight.

How Israel shattered Gaza truce leading to escalating death and tragedy: a timeline
Ali Abunimah

A wounded Palestinian boy at a hospital after an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on 15 November 2012.
(Eyad Al Baba / APA images)

November 15, 2012

Today, 3 Israelis were killed as a result of rocket fire from Gaza.

This came after Israel had killed 13 Palestinians, including 3 children and a woman, and injured 115, including 26 children and 25 women since yesterday, 14 November.

This will be presented by Israel – and sympathetic or careless world media – as another justification for Israel’s attacks on Gaza to stop rocket fire. But this narrative is false.

Where there was calm and an effective truce, Israel chose to shatter it, bringing about the current deadly escalation.

In general, Palestinians fired rockets, or attacked the Israeli army, as a response to Israeli attacks, seeking to avoid escalation and publicly embracing a truce. Take a look at the sequence:

On 29 October the BBC reported that “Militants in Gaza have fired 26 rockets into Israel, officials say, amid a flare-up in fighting which shattered a brief ceasefire between the two sides. No injuries were reported from the barrage, in the south of the country.” The BBC said that, “It came hours after Israeli aircraft hit targets in Gaza, after militants fired rockets following the killing by Israel of a Gazan who Israel said fired mortars at its troops.”

QassamCount @QassamCount

A rocket fired from #Gaza hit southern #Israel – overall 26 rockets today.
29 Oct 12
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BBC reporter Jon Donnison said, “It is often difficult to pinpoint when a specific escalation in violence started – both sides will always remember what they see as a previous act of aggression by the other which enables them to justify their attacks as retaliation.” But we can do better than that.

On 4 November, Israeli forces shot dead “an unarmed, mentally unfit man” walking near an Israeli-imposed “buffer” area inside the occupied Gaza Strip.

Yet, after the 28-29 October “flare-up” reported by the BBC, the Israel-based Twitter account @qassamcount, which catalogues projectiles fired from Gaza toward Israel recorded almost no rocket fire. Qassam Count tweeted at 23:56 UTC on 5 November about just one rocket.

QassamCount @QassamCount

A rocket fired from Gaza hit southern Israel
6 Nov 12
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The killing of Ahmad Abu Daqqa

On 8 November, Israeli occupation forces made an incursion into the Gaza Strip near al-Qarara villlage northeast of Khan Yunis fatally injuring a child. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR):

They leveled areas of Palestinian land amidst indiscriminate shooting. A few hours later, they moved southwards to ‘Abassan village. They opened fire indiscriminately and leveled areas of Palestinian land. An Israeli helicopter gunship also opened fire at the area. At approximately 16:30, as a result of the indiscriminate shooting by IOF [Israeli occupation forces] military vehicles, 13-year-old Ahmed Younis Khader Abu Daqqa was seriously wounded by a bullet to the abdomen. At the time he was shot, Ahmed had been playing football with his friends in front of his family’s house, located nearly 1,500 meters away from the area where the IOF were present.

Ahmad Abu Daqqa, profiled by The Electronic Intifada’s Rami Almeghari, died of his injuries.

On 9 November, the day after the killing of Ahmad Abu Daqqa:

QassamCount @QassamCount

2 rockets fired from Gaza hit southern Israel
9 Nov 12
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Palestinians attack Israeli army, Israeli army kills civilians

On 10 November, Palestinian resistance fighters attacked an Israeli army jeep near the boundary with Gaza, injuring 4 Israeli occupation soldiers.

Following this, Israel attacked civilian neighborhoods in Gaza. In the ensuing 72 hour period, Israeli forced killed 7 Palestinians. According to PCHR, five of the dead were civilians, including 3 children. Fifty-two others, including 6 women and 12 children were wounded.

“Four of these deaths and 38 of the injuries resulted from an Israeli attack on a football playground in al-Shoja’iya neighborhood east of Gaza City,” PCHR reported.

Not surprisingly, Palestinians fired rockets into Israel, as recorded by “Qassam Count”:

QassamCount @QassamCount

5 more rockets fired from Gaza explode in Israel. 25 rockets today.
10 Nov 12

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QassamCount @QassamCount

Update: 3 more rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel.
10 Nov 12

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Truce talks

Qassam Count records no rockets on 11 November. This can perhaps be explained by the fact that Palestinian factions were in talks over a truce and were keen to see calm restored.

Israel’s Ynet reported on 11 November:

Egyptian Intelligence officials have successfully brokered an end to the current round of escalation in the south, Ynet learned Sunday. No Israeli source has corroborated the report.

The Ynet reported added:

According to senior Egyptian sources, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have agreed to hold their fire if Israel suspends its airstrike on Gaza. > Cairo-based sources said that Israel reportedly agreed not to retaliate over sporadic rocket fire from Gaza, as long as it was sans casualties

Yet on 12 November, two rockets were fired into Israel according to Qassam Count. This came amid two days of air attacks by Israel on the Gaza Strip.

Truce takes hold

Reuters reported on 13 November:

After five days of mounting violence, Israel and the Palestinians stepped back from the brink of a new war in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, sending signals to each other via Egypt that they would hold their fire unless attacked.

The report added:

Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Gaza’s Hamas government, praised the main armed factions in the enclave for agreeing on Monday night to a truce. “They showed a high sense of responsibility by saying they would respect calm should the Israeli occupation also abide by it,” he said.

Israel destroys the truce

Yet Israel was not interested in calm.

On 14 November Israel carried out the extrajudicial killing of Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari.

Reuters noted that the Israeli attack “appeared to end a 24-hour lull in cross-border violence that surged this week.”

The rest is tragic history, some undoubtedly yet to be written in innocent blood.
An Israeli pattern

Israel’s contempt for truces and ceasefires is nothing new. In November 2008, Israel broke a months-long ceasefire, manufacturing a crisis that it then used to justify its December 2008-January 2009 massacre of 1,400 people in Gaza.

Israel has a long, well-documented history of breaking ceasefire after ceasefire, but you would never know it by watching the news or reading, say, The New York Times.

It is also important to keep in mind the context that Israel and Palestinians in Gaza are not symmetrical “sides.” Gaza is a small, impoverished enclave, home to 1.6 million people, some 80 percent of whom are refugees. Gaza is under a tight siege and blockade by Israel, the occupying power.

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