Pounding an already battered Gaza

By Eric Ruder

ISRAEL IMPOSED a total blockade on Gaza on January 18, forcing a shutdown of the only electricity plant in the territory and sparking fears of an acute public health emergency.

"Israel is manufacturing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip that is seriously deteriorating every aspect of civilian life," according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). "To date, 45 patients have died as a direct result of [Israel's] closure and siege of the Gaza Strip...Gaza's second major hospital, the European Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, has now suspended all major surgical operations.

"In addition to the dangerous shortage of electricity that threatens the lives of critically ill patients in all of Gaza's hospitals, chronic shortages of petrol and diesel and gas for domestic use have led to panic buying before gas stations in Gaza are forced to close completely. Civilians are also suffering widespread shortages of bread, due to lack of electricity to power the ovens at bakeries across Gaza."

Israel even refused to allow United Nations' relief aid and other essential supplies to pass through the crossings into Gaza.

In response to international pressure and the concerns of human rights organizations, Israeli officials announced January 21 they would temporarily ease the closure to allow some limited shipments through--while simultaneously denying there is any humanitarian crisis and also boasting of the hardship they have created.

"There is not a humanitarian crisis," said senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad, who accused Palestinians of waging a "propaganda campaign" that exaggerates the extent of the difficulties.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bragged that targeting Gaza's civilian population was an important part of the decision to place Gaza under a stifling siege.

"We are trying to hit only those involved in terrorism, but also signaling to the population in Gaza that it cannot be free from responsibility for the situation," said Olmert. "As far as I'm concerned, all the residents of Gaza can walk and have no fuel for their cars because they have a murderous terrorist regime that doesn't allow people in the south of Israel to live in peace."

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IN ADDITION to the slow strangulation of Gaza's residents, Israel is continuing its military onslaught as well.

In the words of John Dugard, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories, the "killing of some 40 Palestinians in Gaza in the past week, the targeting of a government office near a wedding party venue with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians, and the closure of all crossings into Gaza raise very serious questions about Israel's respect for international law."

But Israel's drive to crush all resistance from the indigenous Palestinian population makes such human rights atrocities a badge of honor in the worldview of Israel's military leadership.

"Some top Israelis make it clear that they do not actually believe that Palestinian civilians even exist," wrote author Ali Abunimah of ElectronicIntifada.net. "Yuval Diskin, head of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), or Shin Bet secret police, responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions of Palestinians, told the cabinet on 13 January that the army and Shin Bet agents had 'killed 1,000 terrorists in the Gaza Strip in the past two years.'

"By B'Tselem's [an Israeli human rights organization] count, Israel had killed 816 Palestinians in Gaza in the previous two years, of whom 152 were children and many others were adult civilians 'who took no part in the hostilities.' Thus, B'Tselem concluded, the 'head of the ISA defines every Palestinian killed by Israel in the Gaza Strip as a terrorist.'"

Such complete disregard for Palestinian life exposes Israel's true aim--a relentless war against all aspects of Palestinian society designed to impose a total surrender to Israel's project of colonial domination.

Palestinian rights organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere are calling for an urgent response to the growing humanitarian crisis.

Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition called on its "chapters, supporting organizations and individuals to organize to break the silence about the ongoing Israeli war crimes being committed against Palestinians in Gaza...The world community has denounced the government of Israel for using its military for the purpose of collectively punishing the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, a clear war crime and violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions."