Party to Murder
[Israel's Bombing of Gaza]
by Chris Hedges
www.TruthDig.com, December 30,
Can anyone who is following the Israeli
air attacks on Gaza-the buildings blown to rubble, the children
killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses,
the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians
not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out
of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous
indifference to this widespread human suffering-wonder why we
Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves
and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have
become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We
are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing.
We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a
reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate
and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth
different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures.
We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. "Expose
thyself to what wretches feel," King Lear said, entering
the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, "and show the heavens
Privilege and power, especially military
power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear
the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become
gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians,
and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on
Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, said Israel is
engaged in a "war to the bitter end" against Hamas in
Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels
to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population
that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons,
no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control,
no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.
The U.N. special rapporteur for human
rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton
University law professor Richard Falk, has labeled 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
Falk's unflinching honesty has enraged
Israel. He was banned from entering the country on Dec. 14 during
his attempt to visit Gaza and the West Bank.
"After being denied entry I was put
in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems,"
he said. "At this point I was treated not as a U.N. representative,
but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch
body search, and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have
ever witnessed. I was separated from my two U.N. companions, who
were allowed to enter Israel. At this point I was taken to the
airport detention facility a mile or so away, required to put
all my bags and cell phone in a room, taken to a locked, tiny
room that had five other detainees, smelled of urine and filth,
and was an unwelcome invitation to claustrophobia. I spent the
next 15 hours so confined, which amounted to a cram course on
the miseries of prison life, including dirty sheets, inedible
food, and either lights that were too bright or darkness controlled
from the guard office."
The foreign press has been, like Falk,
barred by Israel from entering Gaza to report on the destruction.
Israel's stated aim of halting homemade
rockets fired from Gaza into Israel remains unfulfilled. Gaza
militants have fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into Israel,
killing four people and wounding nearly two dozen more, since
Israel unleashed its air assault. Israel has threatened to launch
a ground assault and has called up 6,500 army reservists. It has
massed tanks on the Gaza border and declared the area a closed
The rocket attacks by Hamas are, as Falk
points out, also criminal violations of international law. But
as Falk notes, "... 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 has said of the ongoing Israeli blockade
of Gaza. "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."
Before the air assaults, Gaza spent 12
hours a day without power, which can be a death sentence to the
severely ill in hospitals. Most of Gaza is now without power.
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 of
the blockade. "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
The point of the Israeli attack, 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.
"This is a crime of survival,"
Falk said of the rocket attacks by Palestinians. "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. Dozens
of tunnels had been the principal means for food and goods, connecting
Gaza to Egypt. Israel had permitted the tunnels to operate, most
likely as part of an effort to further cut Gaza off from Israel.
This ended, however, on Sunday when Israeli fighter jets bombed
over 40 tunnels along Gaza's border with Egypt. The Israeli military
said that the tunnels, on the Gaza side of the border, were used
for smuggling weapons, explosives and fugitives. Egypt has sealed
its border and refused to let distraught Palestinians enter its
"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
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. A
family that loses a child in an airstrike 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.