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27902Noam Chomsky: My Visit to Gaza, the World's Largest Open-Air Prison

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  • Romi Elnagar
    Nov 9, 2012
      Noam Chomsky: My Visit to Gaza, the World's Largest Open-Air Prison Friday, 09 November 2012 09:03 By Noam Chomsky, Truthout

      Women sit in their makeshift home in the Forgotten Neighborhood in Gaza City, Gaza, September 6, 2012. A United Nations report cites shortages of
      food, water, electricity, jobs, hospital beds and classrooms amid an
      exploding population in what is already one of the most densely
      populated patches of the planet. (Photo: Ed Ou / The New York Times) Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force.
      And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to appreciate what it
      must be like to try to survive in the world's largest open-air prison,
      where some 1.5 million people on a roughly 140-square-mile strip of land are subject to random terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose
      other than to humiliate and degrade.
      Such cruelty is to ensure that Palestinian hopes for a decent future
      will be crushed, and that the overwhelming global support for a
      diplomatic settlement granting basic human rights will be nullified. The Israeli political leadership has dramatically illustrated this
      commitment in the past few days, warning that they will "go crazy" if
      Palestinian rights are given even limited recognition by the U.N.
      This threat to "go crazy" ("nishtagea") – that is, launch a tough
      response – is deeply rooted, stretching back to the Labor governments of the 1950s, along with the related "Samson Complex": If crossed, we will bring down the Temple walls around us.
      Thirty years ago, Israeli political leaders, including some noted
      hawks, submitted to Prime Minister Menachem Begin a shocking report on
      how settlers on the West Bank regularly committed "terrorist acts"
      against Arabs there, with total impunity.
      Disgusted, the prominent military-political analyst Yoram Peri wrote
      that the Israeli army's task, it seemed, was not to defend the state,
      but "to demolish the rights of innocent people just because they are
      Araboushim (a harsh racial epithet) living in territories that God
      promised to us."
      Gazans have been singled out for particularly cruel punishment.
      Thirty years ago, in his memoir "The Third Way," Raja Shehadeh, a
      lawyer, described the hopeless task of trying to protect fundamental
      human rights within a legal system designed to ensure failure, and his
      personal experience as a Samid, "a steadfast one," who watched his home
      turned into a prison by brutal occupiers and could do nothing but
      somehow "endure."
      Since then, the situation has become much worse. The Oslo Accords,
      celebrated with much pomp in 1993, determined that Gaza and the West
      Bank are a single territorial entity. By that time, the U.S. and Israel
      had already initiated their program to separate Gaza and the West Bank,
      so as to block a diplomatic settlement and punish the Araboushim in both territories.
      Punishment of Gazans became still more severe in January 2006, when
      they committed a major crime: They voted the "wrong way" in the first
      free election in the Arab world, electing Hamas.
      Displaying their "yearning for democracy," the U.S. and Israel,
      backed by the timid European Union, immediately imposed a brutal siege,
      along with military attacks. The U.S. turned at once to its standard
      operating procedure when a disobedient population elects the wrong
      government: Prepare a military coup to restore order.
      Gazans committed a still greater crime a year later by blocking the
      coup attempt, leading to a sharp escalation of the siege and attacks.
      These culminated in winter 2008-09, with Operation Cast Lead, one of the most cowardly and vicious exercises of military force in recent memory: A defenseless civilian population, trapped, was subjected to relentless attack by one of the world's most advanced military systems, reliant on U.S. arms and protected by U.S. diplomacy.
      Of course, there were pretexts – there always are. The usual one,
      trotted out when needed, is "security": in this case, against homemade
      rockets from Gaza.
      In 2008, a truce was established between Israel and Hamas. Not a
      single Hamas rocket was fired until Israel broke the truce under cover
      of the U.S. election on Nov. 4, invading Gaza for no good reason and
      killing half a dozen Hamas members.
      The Israeli government was advised by its highest intelligence
      officials that the truce could be renewed by easing the criminal
      blockade and ending military attacks. But the government of Ehud Olmert – himself reputedly a dove – rejected these options, resorting to its
      huge advantage in violence: Operation Cast Lead.
      The internationally respected Gazan human-rights advocate Raji
      Sourani analyzed the pattern of attack under Cast Lead. The bombing was
      concentrated in the north, targeting defenseless civilians in the most
      densely populated areas, with no possible military basis. The goal,
      Sourani suggests, may have been to drive the intimidated population to
      the south, near the Egyptian border. But the Samidin stayed put.
      A further goal might have been to drive them beyond the border. From
      the earliest days of the Zionist colonization it was argued that Arabs
      have no real reason to be in Palestine: They can be just as happy
      somewhere else, and should leave – politely "transferred," the doves
      This is surely no small concern in Egypt, and perhaps a reason why
      Egypt doesn't open the border freely to civilians or even to desperately needed supplies.
      Sourani and other knowledgeable sources have observed that the
      discipline of the Samidin conceals a powder keg that might explode at
      any time, unexpectedly, like the first Intifada in Gaza in 1987, after
      years of repression.
      A necessarily superficial impression after spending several days in
      Gaza is amazement, not only at Gazans' ability to go on with life but
      also at the vibrancy and vitality among young people, particularly at
      the university, where I attended an international conference.
      But one can detect signs that the pressure may become too hard to
      bear. Reports indicate that there is simmering frustration among young
      people – a recognition that under the U.S.-Israeli occupation the future holds nothing for them.
      Gaza has the look of a Third World country, with pockets of wealth
      surrounded by hideous poverty. It is not, however, undeveloped. Rather
      it is "de-developed," and very systematically so, to borrow the term
      from Sara Roy, the leading academic specialist on Gaza.
      The Gaza Strip could have become a prosperous Mediterranean region,
      with rich agriculture and a flourishing fishing industry, marvelous
      beaches and, as discovered a decade ago, good prospects for extensive
      natural gas supplies within its territorial waters. By coincidence or
      not, that's when Israel intensified its naval blockade. The favorable
      prospects were aborted in 1948, when the Strip had to absorb a flood of
      Palestinian refugees who fled in terror or were forcefully expelled from what became Israel – in some cases months after the formal cease-fire.
      Israel's 1967 conquests and their aftermath administered further blows,
      with terrible crimes continuing to the present day.
      The signs are easy to see, even on a brief visit. Sitting in a hotel
      near the shore, one can hear the machine-gun fire of Israeli gunboats
      driving fishermen out of Gaza's territorial waters and toward land,
      forcing them to fish in waters that are heavily polluted because of
      U.S.-Israeli refusal to allow reconstruction of the sewage and power
      systems they destroyed.
      The Oslo Accords laid plans for two desalination plants, a necessity
      in this arid region. One, an advanced facility, was built: in Israel.
      The second one is in Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza. The engineer in
      charge at Khan Yunis explained that this plant was designed so that it
      can't use seawater, but must rely on underground water, a cheaper
      process that further degrades the meager aquifer, guaranteeing severe
      problems in the future.
      The water supply is still severely limited. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which cares for refugees but not other Gazans, recently released a report warning that damage to the aquifer may soon become
      "irreversible," and that without quick remedial action, Gaza may cease
      to be a "livable place" by 2020.
      Israel permits concrete to enter for UNRWA projects, but not for
      Gazans engaged in the huge reconstruction efforts. The limited heavy
      equipment mostly lies idle, since Israel does not permit materials for
      All this is part of the general program that Dov Weisglass, an
      adviser to Prime Minister Olmert, described after Palestinians failed to follow orders in the 2006 elections: "The idea," he said, "is to put
      the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."
      Recently, after several years of effort, the Israeli human rights
      organization Gisha succeeded in obtaining a court order for the
      government to release its records detailing plans for the "diet."
      Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Israel, summarizes them: "Health officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories
      needed by Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants to avoid malnutrition. Those
      figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day ... an average of only 67 trucks – much less than
      half of the minimum requirement – entered Gaza daily. This compared to
      more than 400 trucks before the blockade began."
      The result of imposing the diet, Middle East scholar Juan Cole
      observes, is that "about 10 percent of Palestinian children in Gaza
      under age 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. ... In
      addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants,
      58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers."
      Sourani, the human-rights advocate, observes that "what has to be
      kept in mind is that the occupation and the absolute closure is an
      ongoing attack on the human dignity of the people in Gaza in particular
      and all Palestinians generally. It is systematic degradation,
      humiliation, isolation and fragmentation of the Palestinian people."
      This conclusion has been confirmed by many other sources. In The
      Lancet, a leading medical journal, Rajaie Batniji, a visiting Stanford
      physician, describes Gaza as "something of a laboratory for observing an absence of dignity," a condition that has "devastating" effects on
      physical, mental and social well-being.
      "The constant surveillance from the sky, collective punishment
      through blockade and isolation, the intrusion into homes and
      communications, and restrictions on those trying to travel, or marry, or work make it difficult to live a dignified life in Gaza," Batniji
      writes. The Araboushim must be taught not to raise their heads.
      There were hopes that Mohammed Morsi's new government in Egypt, which is less in thrall to Israel than the western-backed Hosni Mubarak
      dictatorship was, might open the Rafah Crossing, Gaza's sole access to
      the outside that is not subject to direct Israeli control. There has
      been a slight opening, but not much.
      The journalist Laila el-Haddad writes that the reopening under Morsi
      "is simply a return to status quo of years past: Only Palestinians
      carrying an Israeli-approved Gaza ID card can use Rafah Crossing." This
      excludes a great many Palestinians, including el-Haddad's own family,
      where only one spouse has a card.
      Furthermore, she continues, "the crossing does not lead to the West
      Bank, nor does it allow for the passage of goods, which are restricted
      to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on
      construction materials and export."
      The restricted Rafah Crossing doesn't change the fact that "Gaza
      remains under tight maritime and aerial siege, and continues to be
      closed off to the Palestinians' cultural, economic and academic capitals in the rest of the (Israeli-occupied territories), in violation of
      U.S.-Israeli obligations under the Oslo Accords."
      The effects are painfully evident. The director of the Khan Yunis
      hospital, who is also chief of surgery, describes with anger and passion how even medicines are lacking, which leaves doctors helpless and
      patients in agony.
      One young woman reports on her late father's illness. Though he would have been proud that she was the first woman in the refugee camp to
      gain an advanced degree, she says, he ''passed away after six months of
      fighting cancer, aged 60 years.
      ''Israeli occupation denied him a permit to go to Israeli hospitals
      for treatment. I had to suspend my study, work and life and go to sit
      next to his bed. We all sat, including my brother the physician and my
      sister the pharmacist, all powerless and hopeless, watching his
      suffering. He died during the inhumane blockade of Gaza in summer 2006
      with very little access to health service.
      "I think feeling powerless and hopeless is the most killing feeling
      that a human can ever have. It kills the spirit and breaks the heart.
      You can fight occupation but you cannot fight your feeling of being
      powerless. You can't even ever dissolve that feeling."
      A visitor to Gaza can't help feeling disgust at the obscenity of the
      occupation, compounded with guilt, because it is within our power to
      bring the suffering to an end and allow the Samidin to enjoy the lives
      of peace and dignity that they deserve.


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