Thursday, 31 May 2007

Imprisoning a Whole Nation by John Pilger

Israel is being allowed to destroy the very notion of a state of
Palestine and is imprisoning an entire nation. That is clear from the latest
attacks on Gaza, whose suffering has become a metaphor for the tragedy
imposed on the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. These attacks,
reported on Britain's Channel 4 News, were "targeting key militants of
Hamas" and the "Hamas infrastructure." The BBC described a "clash"
between the same militants and Israeli F-16 aircraft.
Consider one such clash. The militants' car was blown to pieces by a
missile from a fighter-bomber. Who were these militants? In my
experience, all the people of Gaza are militant in their resistance to their
jailer and tormentor. As for the "Hamas infrastructure," this was the
headquarters of the party that won last year's democratic elections in
Palestine. To report that would give the wrong impression. It would suggest
that the people in the car and all the others over the years, the
babies and the elderly who have also "clashed" with fighter-bombers, were
victims of a monstrous injustice. It would suggest the truth.
"Some say," said the Channel 4 reporter, that "Hamas has courted this
[attack] ..." Perhaps he was referring to the rockets fired at Israel
from within the prison of Gaza which killed no one. Under international
law an occupied people has the right to use arms against the occupier's
forces. This right is never reported. The Channel 4 reporter referred
to an "endless war," suggesting equivalents. There is no war. There is
resistance among the poorest, most vulnerable people on earth to an
enduring, illegal occupation imposed by the world's fourth largest military
power, whose weapons of mass destruction range from cluster bombs to
thermonuclear devices, bankrolled by the superpower. In the past six
years alone, wrote the historian Ilan Pappé, "Israeli forces have killed
more than 4,000 Palestinians, half of them children."
Consider how this power works. According to documents obtained by
United Press International, the Israelis once secretly funded Hamas as "a
direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO
[Palestine Liberation Organization] by using a competing religious
alternative," in the words of a former CIA official.
Today, Israel and the US have reversed this ploy and openly back
Hamas's rival, Fatah, with bribes of millions of dollars. Israel recently
secretly allowed 500 Fatah fighters to cross into Gaza from Egypt, where
they had been trained by another American client, the Cairo
dictatorship. The Israelis' aim is to undermine the elected Palestinian government
and ignite a civil war. They have not quite succeeded. In response, the
Palestinians forged a government of national unity, of both Hamas and
Fatah. The latest attacks are aimed at destroying this.
With Gaza secured in chaos and the West Bank walled in, the Israeli
plan, wrote the Palestinian academic Karma Nabulsi, is "a Hobbesian vision
of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed,
cowed, ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and
extremists, broken up into ethnic and religious tribalism and co-opted
collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of today ..."
On 19 May, the Guardian received this letter from Omar Jabary
al-Sarafeh, a Ramallah resident: "Land, water and air are under constant sight
of a sophisticated military surveillance system that makes Gaza like The
Truman Show," he wrote. "In this film every Gazan actor has a
predefined role and the [Israeli] army behaves as a director ... The Gaza strip
needs to be shown as what it is ... an Israeli laboratory backed by the
international community where human beings are used as rabbits to test
the most dramatic and perverse practices of economic suffocation and
The remarkable Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has described the
starvation sweeping Gaza's more than a million and a quarter inhabitants and
the "thousands of wounded, disabled and shell-shocked people unable to
receive any treatment ... The shadows of human beings roam the ruins ...
They only know the [Israeli army] will return and they know what this
will mean for them: more imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more
death and destruction in monstrous proportions."
Whenever I have been in Gaza, I have been consumed by this melancholia,
as if I were a trespasser in a secret place of mourning. Skeins of
smoke from wood fires hang over the same Mediterranean Sea that free
peoples know, but not here. Along beaches that tourists would regard as
picturesque trudge the incarcerated of Gaza; lines of sepia figures become
silhouettes, marching at the water's edge, through lapping sewage. The
water and power are cut off, yet again, when the generators are bombed,
yet again. Iconic murals on walls pockmarked by bullets commemorate the
dead, such as the family of 18 men, women and children who "clashed"
with a 500lb American/Israeli bomb, dropped on their block of flats as
they slept. Presumably, they were militants.
More than 40 percent of the population of Gaza are children under the
age of 15. Reporting on a four-year field study in occupied Palestine
for the British Medical Journal, Dr. Derek Summerfield wrote that
"two-thirds of the 621 children killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the
way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in
over half of cases to the head, neck and chest – the sniper's wound." A
friend of mine with the United Nations calls them "children of the
dust." Their wonderful childishness, their rowdiness and giggles and charm,
belie their nightmare.
I met Dr. Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist who heads one of several
children's community health projects in Gaza. He told me about his latest
survey. "The statistic I personally find unbearable," he said, "is that
99.4 percent of the children we studied suffer trauma. Once you look at
the rates of exposure to trauma, you see why: 99.2 percent of the study
group's homes were bombarded; 97.5 percent were exposed to tear gas;
96.6 percent witnessed shootings; 95.8 percent witnessed bombardment and
funerals; almost a quarter saw family members injured or killed."
He said children as young as three faced the dichotomy caused by having
to cope with these conditions. They dreamt about becoming doctors and
nurses, then this was overtaken by an apocalyptic vision of themselves
as the next generation of suicide bombers. They experienced this
invariably after an attack by the Israelis. For some boys, their heroes were
no longer football players, but a confusion of Palestinian "martyrs" and
even the enemy, "because Israeli soldiers are the strongest and have
Apache gunships."
Shortly before he died, Edward Said bitterly reproached foreign
journalists for what he called their destructive role in "stripping the
context of Palestinian violence, the response of a desperate and horribly
oppressed people, and the terrible suffering from which it arises." Just
as the invasion of Iraq was a "war by media," so the same can be said of
the grotesquely one-sided "conflict" in Palestine. As the pioneering
work of the Glasgow University Media Group shows, television viewers are
rarely told that the Palestinians are victims of an illegal military
occupation; the term "occupied territories" is seldom explained. Only 9
percent of young people interviewed in the UK know that the Israelis are
the occupying force and the illegal settlers are Jewish; many believe
them to be Palestinian. The selective use of language by broadcasters is
crucial in maintaining this confusion and ignorance. Words such as
"terrorism," "murder" and "savage, cold-blooded killing" describe the
deaths of Israelis, almost never Palestinians.
There are honorable exceptions. The kidnapped BBC reporter Alan
Johnston is one of them. Yet, amidst the avalanche of coverage of his
abduction, no mention is made of the thousands of Palestinians abducted by
Israel, many of whom will not see their families for years. There are no
appeals for them. In Jerusalem, the Foreign Press Association documents
the shooting and intimidation of its members by Israeli soldiers. In one
eight-month period, as many journalists, including the CNN bureau chief
in Jerusalem, were wounded by the Israelis, some of them seriously. In
each case, the FPA complained. In each case, there was no satisfactory
A censorship by omission runs deep in western journalism on Israel,
especially in the US. Hamas is dismissed as a "terrorist group sworn to
Israel's destruction" and one that "refuses to recognize Israel and wants
to fight not talk." This theme suppresses the truth: that Israel is
bent on Palestine's destruction. Moreover, Hamas's long-standing proposals
for a ten-year cease-fire are ignored, along with a recent, hopeful
ideological shift within Hamas itself that amounts to a historic
acceptance of the sovereignty of Israel. "The [Hamas] charter is not the Quran,"
said a senior Hamas official, Mohammed Ghazal. "Historically, we
believe all Palestine belongs to Palestinians, but we're talking now about
reality, about political solutions ... If Israel reached a stage where it
was able to talk to Hamas, I don't think there would be a problem of
negotiating with the Israelis [for a solution]."
When I last saw Gaza, driving towards the Israeli checkpoint and the
razor wire, I was rewarded with a spectacle of Palestinian flags
fluttering from inside the walled compounds. Children were responsible for
this, I was told. They make flagpoles out of sticks tied together and one
or two will climb on to a wall and hold the flag between them, silently.
They do it when there are foreigners around and they believe they can
tell the world.

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