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Talking peace while strangling Gaza

September 28, 2007 | Page 2

ISRAEL HAS declared war on the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza Strip--and the U.S. government has given its blessing. That's the reality behind the media's dishonest talk of "negotiations" and "breakthroughs."

The U.S. has already backed Israeli sanctions that have turned Gaza into the world's biggest open-air prison, with an economy in collapse, hunger and malnutrition on the rise, and poverty engulfing 87.7 percent of the population.

The justification for Israel's murderous policies was the democratic election of the Islamist Hamas party to lead the Palestinian Authority in January 2006--a few months after Israel unilaterally withdrew its settlements from the territory.

Now, the Israeli cabinet has declared Gaza a "hostile territory," and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, in Israel to broker "peace" negotiations, said Hamas "is indeed a hostile entity. It is a hostile entity to the U.S. as well."

In fact, Israel already treats every Palestinian as an enemy--whether they be fighters or civilians, men, women or children.

According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, which uses statistics conservatively, Israeli security forces killed 668 Palestinians in Gaza between September 1, 2005 and July 25, 2007. Of these, more than half--359 people--"were not involved in any hostilities at the time they were killed," the organization reported. Some 126 of those killed were children or teenagers. In the same period, just four Israeli civilians were killed as a result of rockets fired from Gaza.

The Israeli claim that its periodic military attacks on Gaza are a "response" to the rockets can't be taken seriously. Israel's real aim is to crush the resistance of the Palestinian people and make a viable Palestinian state impossible.

In the West Bank, that means carving up Palestinian lands through a "security wall" to further entrench the position of 450,000 settlers (whose numbers are growing) and systematically squeeze Palestinians into small, economically weak enclaves. Israel only withdrew from Gaza to turn the area into "one big prison," as B'Tselem put it.

Constant killings by the Israel military are only part of the suffering. In 2006, Israeli jets bombed Gaza's newly constructed power plant, cutting electricity to a minimum for months. Entrance into Israel--the only way to reach the West Bank over land--is banned, and Israel controls the Gaza border crossing into Egypt as well. Israel's refusal to hand over taxes due to the Palestinian Authority has aggravated mass unemployment.

And it's getting worse. The World Bank this month reported that the Palestinian economy contracted by 8 percent last year and another 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2007. Gross Domestic Product per capita for Palestinians is just $1,129, a third less than in 1999. What's more, "investment has fallen to exceeding low levels, leaving little of a productive base for a self-sustaining economy," the World Bank concluded.

"I am never sure where to begin to give readers an idea of life in Gaza and the accelerating humanitarian and economic crises," wrote journalist Yassmin Moor.

"Do I begin by describing the effects of the border closures that are, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, the reason that Gaza is on the verge of an economic collapse, and if there are no changes in the upcoming weeks the entire population will be completely aid-dependent?

"We can all certainly feel the closure's effects, as all we have in the market are a few vegetables and are forced to rely on UNRWA's food packages of flour, rice and cooking oil. We cannot even grow our own food if we wanted to, because farmers have run out of supplies, including fertilizer."

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NOW COMES the Israeli declaration that Gaza is a "hostile territory." Israel will use this formulation to absolve itself of the responsibilities of an occupying power under international law, much as George W. Bush has used the term "enemy combatant" to imprison accused terrorists beyond the reach of any court. Thus, Israel is considering cutting off the already small amount of electricity that goes to Gaza.

These threats have gotten only the faintest criticism from the United Nations and European countries seen as friendlier to Palestinians than the U.S--which only serves "to underline that Israel operates in a context where the 'international community' has become inured to a discourse of extermination of the Palestinian people, political and physical," wrote Palestinian activist and author Ali Abunimah.

Israel is taking advantage of the ongoing struggle between the Hamas government in Gaza and the rival Palestinian "emergency government" in the West Bank run by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of the secular Fatah party.

Forced to retreat from Gaza in June after its failed attempt to unseat Hamas, Fatah recently embarked on negotiations with Israel. The supposed aim of talks is to establish a Palestinian state, brokered by Bush sidekick Tony Blair. As a reward for talking, Israel has given Fatah tax revenues and supported it in a crackdown against Hamas supporters in the West Bank.

Israel now wants to exploit this division by finalizing its conquest of Palestine--using methods in Gaza that dissident Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls genocide.

As Pappe wrote in August, "Standing idle while the American-Israeli vision of strangling the Strip to death, cleansing half of the West Bank from its indigenous population and threatening the rest of the Palestinians--inside Israel and in the other parts of the West Bank--with transfer, is not an option. It is tantamount to 'decent' people's silence during the Holocaust."

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