Israel's 'Crime Against Humanity'

Israel's siege of Gaza, largely unseen by
the outside world because of Jerusalem's refusal to allow humanitarian
aid workers, reporters and photographers access to Gaza, rivals the
most egregious crimes carried out at the height of apartheid by the
South African regime. It comes close to the horrors visited on Sarajevo
by the Bosnian Serbs. It has disturbing echoes of the Nazi ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw.

"This is a stain on what is left of
Israeli morality," I was told by Richard N. Veits, the former U.S.
ambassador to Jordan who led a delegation from the Council on Foreign
Relations to Gaza to meet Hamas leaders this past summer. "I am almost
breathless discussing this subject. It is so myopic. Washington, of
course, is a handmaiden to all this. The Israeli manipulation of a
population in this manner is comparable to some of the crimes that took
place against civilian populations fifty years ago."

The U.N. special rapporteur
for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former
Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, calls what Israel is
doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza "a crime against
humanity." Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment
of the Palestinians in Gaza as "a flagrant and massive violation of
international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth
Geneva Convention." He has asked for "the International Criminal Court
to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli
civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege
should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international
criminal law."

Falk, while condemning the rocket attacks
by the militant group Hamas, which he points out are also criminal
violations of international law, goes on to say that "such Palestinian
behavior does not legalize Israel's imposition of a collective
punishment of a life- and health-threatening character on the people of
Gaza, and should not distract the U.N. or international society from
discharging their fundamental moral and legal duty to render protection
to the Palestinian people."

"It is an unfolding humanitarian
catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an
unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health,"
Falk said when I reached him by phone in California shortly before he
left for Israel. "This is an increasingly precarious condition. A
recent study reports that 46 percent of all Gazan children suffer from
acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with
Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among
children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition
is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75
percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially
among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan
children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live."

Gaza now spends 12 hours a day without
power, which can be a death sentence to the severely ill in hospitals.
There are few drugs and little medicine, including no cancer or cystic
fibrosis medication. Hospitals have generators but often lack fuel.
Medical equipment, including one of Gaza's three CT scanners, has been
destroyed by power surges and fluctuations. Medical staff cannot
control the temperature of incubators for newborns. And Israel has
revoked most exit visas, meaning some of those who need specialized
care, including cancer patients and those in need of kidney dialysis,
have died. Of the 230 Gazans estimated to have died last year because
they were denied proper medical care, several spent their final hours
at Israeli crossing points where they were refused entry into Israel.
The statistics gathered on children-half of Gaza's population is under
the age of 17-are increasingly grim. About 45 percent of children in
Gaza have iron deficiency from a lack of fruit and vegetables, and 18
percent have stunted growth.

"It is macabre," Falk said. "I don't know
of anything that exactly fits this situation. People have been
referring to the Warsaw ghetto as the nearest analog in modern times."

"There is no structure of an occupation
that endured for decades and involved this kind of oppressive
circumstances," the rapporteur added. "The magnitude, the
deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the
impact on the health, lives and survival and the overall conditions
warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity. This
occupation is the direct intention by the Israeli military and civilian
authorities. They are responsible and should be held accountable."

The point of this Israeli siege,
ostensibly, is to break Hamas, the radical Islamic group that was
elected to power in 2007. But Hamas has repeatedly proposed long-term
truces with Israel and offered to negotiate a permanent truce. During
the last cease-fire, established through Egyptian intermediaries in
July, Hamas upheld the truce although Israel refused to ease the
blockade. It was Israel that, on Nov. 4, initiated an armed attack
that violated the truce and killed six Palestinians. It was only then
that Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel. Palestinians have launched
more than 200 rockets on Israel since the latest round of violence
began. There have been no Israeli casualties.

"This is a crime of survival," Falk said
of the rocket attacks. "Israel has put the Gazans in a set of
circumstances where they either have to accept whatever is imposed on
them or resist in any way available to them. That is a horrible dilemma
to impose upon a people. This does not alleviate the Palestinians, and
Gazans in particular, for accountability for doing these acts involving
rocket fire, but it also imposes some responsibility on Israel for
creating these circumstances."

Israel seeks to break the will of the
Palestinians to resist. The Israeli government has demonstrated little
interest in diplomacy or a peaceful solution. The rapid expansion of
Jewish settlements on the West Bank is an effort to thwart the
possibility of a two-state solution by gobbling up vast tracts of
Palestinian real estate. Israel also appears to want to thrust the
impoverished Gaza Strip onto Egypt. There are now dozens of tunnels,
the principal means for food and goods, connecting Gaza to Egypt.
Israel permits the tunnels to operate, most likely as part of an effort
to further cut Gaza off from Israel.

"Israel, all along, has not been prepared
to enter into diplomatic process that gives the Palestinians a viable
state," Falk said. "They [the Israelis] feel time is on their side.
They feel they can create enough facts on the ground so people will
come to the conclusion a viable state cannot emerge."

The use of terror and hunger to break a
hostile population is one of the oldest forms of warfare. I watched the
Bosnian Serbs employ the same tactic in Sarajevo. Those who orchestrate
such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation,
indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child
dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not
forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel
checkpoint does not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the
murder of family members do not forget. This rage becomes a virus
within those who, eventually, stumble out into the daylight. Is it any
wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza
recently said they wanted to be a "martyr"?

The Israelis in Gaza, like the American
forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, are foolishly breeding the next
generation of militants and Islamic radicals. Jihadists, enraged by the
injustices done by Israel and the United States, seek to carry out
reciprocal acts of savagery, even at the cost of their own lives. The
violence unleashed on Palestinian children will, one day, be the
violence unleashed on Israeli children. This is the tragedy of Gaza.
This is the tragedy of Israel.

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