Gaza crisis: Where is the ‘West’?

I have been reading the latest round of upsetting reports (portal here) on the horrendous effects on Gaza’s 1.45 million people of the greatly escalated collective punishment that the US-funded and US-backed Government of Israel has been inflicting on them in recent days.
The fact of this collective punishment is not new. It has been sustained in a systematic and intentional way since 2000, if not before. It saw one noticeable escalation after the Palestinians’ January 2006 parliamentary elections– in what was quite clearly a move to punish the Gaza Palestinians for the choice they made in those elections. It saw a further escalation in the past two weeks– even while President Bush was touring the region expressing promises about the imminent arrival of “independence” for the Palestinians.
Three things are going on between the well-established and well-supported State of Israel and the extremely vulnerable and effectively stateless community of Gaza Palestinians:

    1. The State of Israel’s collective punishment against all the Gaza Palestinians: men, women, and children.
    2. The State of Israel’s pursuit of continued military operations against suspected militants inside Gaza, using its army’s very considerable firepower in a way that has also– and quite predictably– killed and wounded many Palestinian noncombatants. And
    3. The use by Palestinian militants from a number of organizations including, now, Hamas of military operations, generally of a very low-tech variety, and including the launching of primitive– and in practice, almost untargetable– rockets of a low degree of lethality against areas of southern Israel that include both civilian and some military targets.

Every single harm suffered by noncombatants in this asymmetrical contest is to be deeply regretted. All parties to armed conflict, whether states or non-state actors, are under an international-law obligation to do their utmost to avoid entangling noncombatants in their military contest.
The Israeli paper HaAretz recently noted that 810 Palestinians were killed by the IDF in Gaza in the two years 2006 and 2007, with some 360 of those judged by HaAretz to have been civilians. Meanwhile, in the seven years since 2001 twelve people in Israel have been killed by military actions launched from Gaza. That’s how asymmetrical the military aspect of this contest in. International actors who treat the IHL violations of the two sides as broadly commensurate fail to understand that.
And then, in addition to their very numerous casualties from that military contest, the Palestinians are also suffering the casualties from the collective punishment regime imposed on them by Israel.
So what has been the response to this situation from governments, intergovernmental bodies, and non-governmental organizations in the currently dominant “western” portion of the world?
From the US government: silence.
From the US-based “human-rights” organizations, as far as I can see: silence.
From the EU’s Commissioner for External Relations, Bentita Ferrero-Waldner today, this:

    I condemn the rocket fire into Israel and we fully understand Israel’s need to defend its citizens. I have called for an immediate ceasefire.
    However, the recent decision to close all border crossings into Gaza as well as to stop the provision of fuel will exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and risks escalating an already difficult situation on the ground…

Notice there that, regarding military actions, she doesn’t even mention Israel’s numerous and extremely damaging military operations against Gaza!
Notice, too, the unsatisfactory nature of the policy prescription she ends with:

    “Neither the blockade nor the recent military strikes are able to prevent the rocket attacks [against Israel.] Only a credible political agreement this year, as foreseen at Annapolis, can turn Palestinians away from violence. That is why we must support Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas in their current efforts.”

I agree with her first sentence there. But note that she then specifies that only the Annapolis-based peace process is capable of “turning the Palestinians away from violence.” But the Gaza Palestinians were in no way represented at Annapolis. Plus– and this an even greater error here– she is assuming that it is only the Palestinians who need to be “turned away from violence”???? That this whole pesky problem in Gaza has arisen because only the Palestinians have this primitive urge to use violence?
I wonder what she calls the things Israel has been doing to the Palestinians? Non-violence?
Here was UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-Moon’s statement on Friday:

    The Secretary-General appeals urgently for an immediate end to the violence now engulfing Gaza and affecting communities in southern Israel. He repeats his earlier calls for an immediate cessation of Palestinian sniper and rocket attacks into Israel, and for maximum restraint on the part of the Israel Defense Forces. He reminds the parties, once again, of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law and not to endanger civilians.
    Of particular concern today, in addition to the upsurge in violence, is the decision by Israel to close the crossing points in between Gaza and Israel used for the delivery of humanitarian assistance…
    The Secretary-General expresses his deep concern that the hostilities taking place on the ground will undermine the hopes for peace generated by the political process begun at Annapolis.

That statement was, I think, somewhat more balanced and politically realistic than Ms. Ferrero-Waldner’s.
Speical kudos, meanwhile, should go to Oxfam for their continued following of the (anti-)humanitarian effects of Israel’s continued tightening of the blocade on Gaza, including this statement today.
And to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, John Dugard, for this statement from January 18, which rightly foregrounds the effects on Palestinian civilians of Israel’s military actions in Gaza and is worth quoting in its entirety:

    The killing of some forty 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 and its commitment to the peace process. Recent action violates the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also violates one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law that military action must distinguish between military targets and civilian targets. Israel must have known about the wedding party in Gaza near to the interior ministry when it launched missiles at the ministry building. Those responsible for such cowardly action are guilty of serious war crimes and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes. The United States and other states which attended the Annapolis conference are under both a legal and a moral obligation to compel Israel to cease its actions against Gaza and to restore confidence in the peace process, ensure respect for international law and protect civilian life.

Readers may ask why Dugard did not mention the casualties from the Palestinians’ rocket attacks against Israel. I imagine this is because his mandate is precisely to look at the human rights situation in the occupied territories. Evidently, though, in any broader consideration of the Gaza-Israel military conflict and its effects, the casualties among Israelis should of course be fully noted.
But it is also worth recalling just why the UN felt it needed to appoint a special rapporteur on the situation of the people of the OPTs. That was, I think, precisely because the members of the UN General Assembly recognized the particularly vulnerable situation of people who are still stateless and cannot rely on having any state intervene to protect their interests or even their lives.
Kudos, too, to B’tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and its allies, who have been petitioning the Israeli High Court to issue an interim order requiring Israel to allow the return of the supply of fuel oil to Gaza to its usual level. This request, B’tselem says, “was filed as part of a petition against the sanctions on the Gaza Strip, from October 2007.”
And meantime, let’s not forget the many dimensions of the assault that Palestinians in the West Bank continue to suffer at the hands of the military occupation regime that has ruled over them for 40.5 years now.
AFP reported yesterday that,

    The number of Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank excluding annexed Arab east Jerusalem rose by 5.1 percent last year, figures released by the Israeli interior ministry on Sunday showed.
    The Jewish population increased to 282,362 in January this year compared to 268,163 in January 2007 and 253,371 in the first month of 2006.
    The figures exclude a further 200,000 or so settlers in east Jerusalem which Israel annexed following its capture in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

So much for Israel’s obligations under Annapolis and the “Road Map”…

16 thoughts on “Gaza crisis: Where is the ‘West’?”

  1. Helena,
    Gaza crisis: Where is the ‘West’?
    Don’t put your all balms on the West Helena, what we as Arab saying here again and again long time:
    Gaza crisis: Where is the ‘ARABS’?
    Where is the Arab gasoline to operate that ONE dammen power station?
    Egypt exporting gas, cement to Israel but for Palestinians in Gaza no gas for them!!
    Palestinians came back from Hajj they detained s on the borders not allowed to pass?
    What a time we living in?

  2. H,
    See GISHA’s statements here:
    I write to express concern over Israel’s restrictions on the supply of EU-funded industrial diesel to Gaza’s power plant, which have caused deep and dangerous cuts in electricity supply to the Gaza Strip.
    On Saturday, January 5, 2008, Gaza’s power plant reached the “red line” of its fuel reserves and was forced to cut electricity production by 30%, causing rolling blackouts throughout Gaza of up to 8 hours per day on average. The plant had been dipping into its reserves since October 28, 2007, when Israel restricted the supply of industrial diesel to Gaza to no more than 250,000 liters per day – even though the plant now needs up to 500,000 liters per day.
    On Thursday night, January 3, Gisha and Adalah, leading a coalition of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups (HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Al–Haq, and Mezan Center for Human Rights) who have petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court, submitted a request for an urgent injunction against the cuts to industrial diesel, supplied by the European Union, warning that Gaza’s power plant had exhausted its reserves. We argued that, considering the court’s decision to stop the cuts in electricity provided directly by Israel, pending further clarifications, it should also stop the cuts in the industrial diesel that creates the electricity generated by the power station. We also noted that the industrial diesel cannot be “redistributed” – it is ! used only for the purposes of electricity generation at the Gaza power plant. The court gave the state until Tuesday morning, January 8, 10 am local time, to respond.
    Yesterday, we asked the court for an order even before the state is due to submit its written response, out of consideration for the urgency of the situation.
    Since Saturday, water wells, hospitals, schools, and other vital services have been experiencing longer and more frequent power outages, especially in central Gaza, which is supplied by the power plant.
    The European Commission finances 100% of the industrial grade diesel fuel required for producing electricity at the Gaza Power Plant, whose transformers are still being repaired after being destroyed by the Israeli Air Force in June 2006. The fuel is purchased from an Israeli company, Dor Alon, and shipped directly to the power plant. Israel controls Gaza’s borders and does not permit fuel to enter Gaza, except via Israeli-controlled crossings. On October 28, 2007, Israel imposed limitations on the amount of fuel it would permit the EU to send to Gaza.
    According to a January 3, 2008 affidavit by Power Company Project Manager Rafiq Maliha, following the cutbacks made to the fuel supply, the Gaza Power Plant began dipping into its reserves of fuel in order to cover the deficit between the normal level of consumption and the current provision of fuel. Maliha reported that on January 3rd, fuel levels in the power plant’s storage tanks had reached critical levels and that without a replenishing of supply, the station would be forced to reduce productio! n on one or both of its functioning diesel turbines. A third diesel operated turbine is not currently functioning also due to lack of fuel. In addition to reduced capacity, the shortage of fuel has the potential to result in damage to equipment and increased maintenance costs.
    In a second affidavit filed on January 6, 2008, Maliha told the court that on January 5, fuel reserves reached the red line, and production capacity was reduced by 30%, from 65 to 45 megawatts via a technically complicated and dangerous method, managed by the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO), in which the electricity load is reduced in order to control the network. The power plant serves the central Gaza area, including Gaza’s largest population center, Gaza City, and the Shifa Hospital, the Gaza City sewage treatment p! lants, water wells, and health clinics.
    The Gaza Power Plant was built with the intention of providing independently generated electricity to Gaza residents. It has been struggling to rebuild following Israel’s bombing of the facility in June 2006. This latest measure to again restrict the capacity of the power plant is illegal and will only increase dependency on the electricity directly provided by Israel, whose supply is also being threatened with reduction.
    We note that the power plant has the capacity to produce up to 80 megawatts of electricity – still less than its capacity prior to the June 2006 bombing, but certainly an improvement over the current situation. Yet so long as Israel refuses to allow the European Union to supply the full amount of industrial diesel needed – Gaza residents will continue to face severe shortages.
    Israel has repeatedly failed to define how it will monitor the impact of fuel and electricity cuts to vital services, even after being directed to do so several times by the court. We are insisting that the best way to “avoid a humanitarian crisis”, as Israel says it will do – is to stop deliberately pushing Gaza residents to the brink.
    We believe that the EU should demand, in clear and stringent terms, that Israel stop restricting the supply of industrial diesel needed to run all of the Gaza power plant’s turbines in order to ensure that capacity is restored. We believe that Israel should stop its dangerous and illegal policy of collective punishment.
    Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks on civilian targets inside Israel, attacks which violate international law. But deliberately disrupting the functioning of Gaza’s hospitals, water wells, sewage pumps, and schools is also prohibited by international law, and it serves no legitimate security interest. It only makes more innocent people suffer.
    For more information please follow this link to a press release issued yesterday or contact us with questions.
    Best regards,
    Sari Bashi
    Executive Director
    Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
    Not Spin – Israel Intentionally Turned-Off the Lights
    As early as January 3, Israel was alerted to the severe shortage in industrial diesel – but refused to relent from its punitive measures
    Human Rights Groups Submitted an Urgent Request to the Supreme Court Demanding that the State Allow Gaza Residents to Receive the Industrial Diesel Necessary to Produce Electricity
    Gisha: This is an Intentional Crisis, Well-Planned in Advance.
    Mon., Jan. 21, 2008: Human rights groups submitted today an urgent request demanding that the Supreme Court issue an interim injunction preventing Israel’s military from continuing to restrict the supply of industrial diesel to the Gaza Strip. The request was submitted after Gaza’s power plant was forced to completely stop the production of electricity, on Sunday, January 20, 2008, at 20:00, due to the shortage in industrial diesel. Currently, the Gaza Strip is suffering a 43% deficit in electricity. There is only 120 mega-watts supplied by Israel and 17 megawatts supplied by Egypt to Rafah. During the winter, the demand for electricity in the Gaza Strip is approximately 240 mega-watts, or more, depending on the weather. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) is unable to provide the electricity needed to operate hospitals, water pum! ps and schools.
    Hospitals in Gaza have declared a state of emergency and have shut down operating rooms, the water system is struggling to operate, and power outages are scheduled for 16 hours a day or more.
    According to Gisha: “This is an intentional crisis, well-planned in advance. For months, we have warned that Israel is not allowing Gaza residents to purchase the amount of industrial diesel they need in order to produce electricity. At the beginning of January, we warned that the reserves were depleted. The arithmetic is simple: if Israel prevents the power plant from obtaining the amount of diesel it requires, the plant cannot operate. This is an intentional decision designed to harm civilians, in flagrant violation of international law”.
    Chronicle of Deliberately Turning Out the Lights
    On January 3, 10 human rights groups submitted an urgent request to Israel’s Supreme Court asking for an injunction against the industrial diesel cuts. The groups warned that fuel reserves had been exhausted in Gaza’s power station, which serves Gaza City and the Middle area, home to 800,000 residents. The groups included an affidavit from utility officials in Gaza warning that Gaza’s power plant would have to reduce production if the restrictions on its ability to obtain industrial diesel were not lifted. Israel controls Gaza’s borders and does not permit supply except via Israeli-controlled crossings. On January 5, Gaza’s power plant reduced electricity production by 30% because of the shortage in usable industrial diesel. Access to drinking water was interrupted, and the functioning of hospitals was compromised. On January 10, Israel announced that it would temporarily permit Gaza residents to purchase industrial diesel at the level they ordered prior the October 28, 2007 cut (2.2 million liters per week). On January 11, the human rights groups warned that 2.2 million liters/week is insufficient, because in the winter months, the power plant needs more fuel to run the turbines. The groups told the court that in order to operate properly, the power plant needs 3.5 million liters industrial diesel per week and approximately 2 million liters to replenish its exhausted reserves. On January 13, the court rejected the petitioner’s request for an injunction against the industrial diesel cuts, and on January 16, the court rejected their request for reconsideration. On January 16, the human rights groups warned the State Attorney’s office that the amount of industrial diesel supplied to Gaza is insufficient and that the power plant risks shutting down one of its two turbines, for lack of fuel. On the morning of January 20, the human rights groups warned that one turbine had already shut down because of the shortage in industrial diesel, and that the second one would stop working, too, if the power plant was not permitted to receive additional industrial diesel immediately. On the evening of January 20, at 8 pm, Gaza’s power plant ceased production. Despite Israel’s commitment to allow Gaza residents to receive 2.2 million liters industrial diesel per week (insufficient in itself), the week of Jan. 13-Jan. 20, Israel permitted Gaza residents to receive only 1.975 million liters, and it has not allowed any diesel to be supplied January 20 and 21. Gaza’s power plant needs 3.5 million liters industrial diesel per week plus 2 million liters reserves.
    To read affidavits from Gaza utility officials, click here and here.
    To see pictures of Gaza in the darkness, click here.

  3. Where is the west? Gaza’s people are just a bunch of dirty palestinians…while I deplore the hundreds of rocket attacks, the Israeli air strikes, all in the name of embracing “Western values”…these are not my values…I also ask, where is Egypt? Why does Egypt not step up to provide power, fuel, electricity to Gaza? Not that this negates one parties responsibilities, however, it is a fair question? The international community could have helped Gaza to build its own infrastructure…rather, we do nothing…except fund, conditionally who knows what…

  4. It is outrageous and immoral that the people of Gaza and Sderot have to live like this and the world pays little attention and does nothing.

  5. Truesdell,
    I agree completely. Absurd, useless human suffering. I have written about a peacekeeping force for Gaza several times…to no avail. Truesdell are you from the US?

  6. “Insanity” said a world famous Jew, “is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If the purpose of the Israeli “targeted killings” and collective punishment is really to stop the rocket attacks – a big question in its own right – then their conduct certainly matches this description. Has collective punishment ever had the effect desired by the perpetrator, even ignoring the fact that it is a war crime? With some 4,500 Palestinians killed since the start of the second intifada, there should be no leadership left and no one to launch rockets. Is Israel just killing the wrong people? Hamas has offered a truce long ago which Israel refuses. Why? Are the many Palestinian and few Israeli lives that would be saved not worth it? After 60 years isn’t it time for Israel to try a different tack rather than 100 eyes for an eye?

  7. Note that virtually all discussion of the Gaza crisis in the mainstream media assume that the Palestinians are the aggressors and that Israel is defending itself against terrorists — even if their methods are a little too brutal.
    This looks to be the exact opposite of the truth. The rocket attacks are a feeble attempt to retaliate against Israel for the almost daily killing of Palestinians together with an economic siege aimed at forcing them to surrender and either leave the country or become virtual slaves of the Zionist “master race”.

  8. After 60 years isn’t it time for Israel to try a different tack rather than 100 eyes for an eye?
    And perhaps that works both ways?

  9. Here’s Olmert, who thinks that Gazans lead a pleasant normal life, openly admitting to collective punishment:
    “We won’t allow a situation in which people in Sderot walk around in fear day and night, while Gazans lead a completely normal life,” Olmert told his faction members. “We won’t allow for a humanitarian crisis, but have no intention of making their lives easier. And the harder their lives, excluding humanitarian damage, we will not allow them to lead a pleasant life.
    “As far as I am concerned, all of Gaza’s resident can walk and have no fuel for their cars, as they live under a murderous regime.”
    The link:,7340,L-3496947,00.html

  10. JES, I met two Israelis and talk went to the conflicts they insisted that as people(Arab Israelis) have no problem between them and if they left without interferences fro both politics power they will living in peace but its all politics.
    Did this view correct? What’s your take about it?

  11. Have you been following the saga of Mohandas Ghandi’s grandson?
    In 1994 he went to Palestine, where he was going to teach the Palestinians nonviolent resistance.
    Apparently, after six days there, he realized that the zios are not like the brits.
    Recently, he posted a fairly brief statement in the Washington Post entitled “Jewish Identity Can’t Depend on Violence” wherein he told the Israelis that “you believe you can create a snakepit. . . and expect to live in the pit secure and alive.”
    The usual hail of “anti-semitic” descended on Arun, and he was forced to resign from his position as President of the M K Ghandi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochemster.
    Another blemish of shame on the jewish front.

  12. Hi Helen,
    I have read your article and the article regarding your foreign affairs column at I thought this event would be of interest to you and possibly to your column and also the Boston Review.
    This is a great example of female leaders! Would you be interested in interviewing one of our speakers?
    Please forward this event to others who you feel it would benefit.
    We have a wonderful event to celebrate Women’s History Month in March.
    Celebrating Women’s History and International Women’s Day, March 8th!
    The program is hosted by the YWCA of Greater Rhode Island, and the Women
    Protecting US exhibit project at Battleship Cove.
    Please view for additional information.
    Any assistance you can provide to us with forwarding this information would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you for your attention.
    Johanna LeClair
    Event Co-Chair
    YWCA Greater Rhode Island

  13. A very _balanced_ statement from the American Task Force on Palestine
    Press Release
    ATFP calls for ceasefire in Gaza, lifting of siege
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (January 22, 2008)
    Contact: Hussein Ibish, Ghaith al-Omari
    Phone: 2028870177
    Washington, DC, Jan. 22 – The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) today called for an urgent ceasefire between Israel and militia groups based in the Gaza Strip, and an end to measures that threaten to impose a humanitarian crisis on the population in Gaza. In particular, ATFP called for an immediate end to the latest moves by the government of Israel including cutting of fuel supplies for Gaza’s only electricity plant, and other restrictions threatening international aid supplies of food and medicine. ATFP urged the Bush Administration to use its leverage with the Israeli government to take urgent steps to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
    ATFP stressed that while it is unacceptable for the civilian population of Gaza to be subjected to such illegal and harsh measures and collective punishment, all parties have responsibilities in easing the situation. Israel should take steps forthwith to lift the siege of Gaza, restore power and help ensure that international efforts to provide food and medicine to the population are not impeded.
    Palestinian militia groups should immediately and permanently end all rocket attacks on Israel.
    ATFP reiterates its earlier suggestion for the assumption of responsibilities for key border crossings, currently in the hands of Hamas, by the Palestinian National Authority with international assistance. This would be an important first step towards the restoration of law and order to the Gaza Strip and the resumption of normal functioning of these crossing points to the benefit of the civilian population.

  14. Hi Salah,
    I believe that this is substantially correct, however I would add “religion” to politics. For example, whenever there is a move in the Knesset to try and impose religious coercion (for example, attempts to ban the sale of pork)on the population, the ultra-orthodox Jewish parties have been generally joined by the Islamic Fundamentalist movement in supporting such initiatives.
    Just as an anecdote, several months ago my wife and I went to Haifa to visit the Haifa Museum of Art (which, in itself, is a refreshing example of cooperation and co-existence). There was a large group of Arab junior high students there on a field trip, and we were struck by how similar they were, in dress and behavior, to secular Jewish kids of the same age, apart from the language.
    Hope that answers the question.

  15. Kassandra,
    I believe that the statement that caused problems was not the one you chose to quote, rather it was the title of his short diatribe (“Jewish Identity Can’t Depend on Violence”) and his closing sentence:
    We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
    While this statement may, when referring to Israel, be considered as only criticism of Israeli policies (although I think that it is exaggerated and unfounded to assert that Israel is “the biggest player”), generalizing this quality to all Jews certainly seems to be something much more malignant.
    It is fine to protest charges of anti-semitism when directed against all critics of Israel. It is quite another – and very dangerous – matter to assume that anti-semitism isn’t a part of some criticisms of Israel, and when that crticism includes a generalization to an entire people, well it’s really no different than referring to New York City as “Hymie Town”, or asserting that blacks only care about wearing loose shoes and having a warm place to defecate.
    I would expect reasonable people to protest such remarks, even if their author’s last name is “Gandhi”!

  16. we were struck by how similar they were, in dress and behavior, to secular Jewish kids of the same age, apart from the language.
    Thanks JES,
    If that the case, as I know the majority of Israelis looks for peace thus as a democratic system why then steps for piece are so hard to advancing and comeforward?
    I know you may accusing Arab side but as for start Saudi offer, I thing is genuine one and there is hope if both sit together things can be solved specially the refugees issue.

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