Gaza Is a Concentration Camp
By Ellen Cantarow, AlterNet
Posted on January 16, 2009, Printed on January 16, 2009
Gaza is an immense concentration camp — 1.5 million people squeezed into 140 square miles hemmed in on all sides by 25-foot-high walls separated by a vast expanse of bulldozed earth. The 2005 “pull-out” left Gaza still controlled by Israel from air and sea, its entries and exits prisonlike mazes electronically controlled and under constant surveillance. Bombing it, assaulting it with tanks and Uzis, is like shooting animals in a pen. The claptrap about “pinpoint” accuracy and “avoiding civilians” is a lie so flagrant, so transparent, that any child — certainly any Gaza child — could grasp it.
There have been eight military assaults on Gaza since 2004; blockades started in 2005, and then a siege of medieval proportions in 2006, punishment for Gazans’ having elected the wrong party for Israel and its U.S. patron. By December 2008, Richard Falk, special rapporteur on the Occupied Territories for the United Nations, reported an overall Gaza malnutrition rate of 75 percent, a childhood anemia rate of 46 percent and a devastated infrastructure. (For more, see Richard Falk’s “Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe.”)
This latest war — called Operation Cast Lead — is the “holocaust” promised by Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai last spring when he said Israel would create a shoa if Qassem rockets kept dropping on Israeli towns like Sderot. Shoa, Hebrew for holocaust, is a serious word denoting the extermination of an entire people. Vilnai embarrassed the Israeli government, and no official has used the term since.
But since Dec. 27, Israel has bombed Gaza’s government buildings, universities, mosques, schools, medical clinics. It is impossible to keep pace with the death and injury toll, which rises as I write: on Jan. 13, the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem reported 900 Palestinians killed, with more than 4,200 injured. The Israeli toll: three civilians and seven soldiers killed, more than 82 civilians and 61 soldiers injured. As for Israeli civilians killed by rockets, the Israel Project lists 25 dead during the past seven years.
On the broadcast program Democracy Now, a Norwegian doctor, Mads Gilbert, who had just returned from Gaza to Denmark, told host Amy Goodman that “90 percent of those killed are civilians.” Gilbert reported 971 dead, of whom 1 in 3 is a child under 18. He has worked in Gaza for years and was there for the first weeks of Israel’s assault.
The Times of London, Human Rights Watch and B’tselem all report the illegal use of white phosphorous to strike civilians. When white phosphorous adheres to flesh, its flames continue to burn for five to 10 minutes, often penetrating to the bone.
Gilbert and other experts think Israel is also using a new weapon called dense inert metal explosive. It was developed by the United States to create lethal, powerful blasts within small areas. DIME inflicts wounds never before seen by surgeons in Gaza. According to Gilbert, conventional shrapnel damages limbs and other body parts as if they’d been cut by a huge knife. DIME, on the other hand, leaves “no signs of shrapnel,” but rather “small pieces of some kind of substance” (DIME is made of nickel and cobalt). It crushes “the whole limb,” not just part, with “multiple severe fractures, muscles split from bones.” Some classify DIME weapons as nuclear because they are based on a fusion process. (Democracy Now, Jan. 14.)
“Take some kittens … in a box. Seal up the box, then jump on it with all your weight and might, until you feel their little bones crunching, and you hear the last muffled little mew,” a surgeon named Jamal tells Italian writer Vittorio Arigoni. Bloodstained boxes are fetched; Jamal opens one. It contains “amputated limbs, legs and arms, some from the knee down, others with the entire femur attached . . . from the injured at the Al Fakhura United Nations school in Jabalia, which resulted in more than 50 casualties.”
Jamal says, “Israel trapped hundreds of civilians inside a school as if in a box, including many children, and then crushed them with all the might of its bombs. What were the world’s reactions? Almost nothing. We would have been better off as animals rather than Palestinians. We would have been more protected.”
Arigoni also described the account, by ophthalmologist Dr. Abdel, of strange and terrible wounds he’d never seen before: “Dr. Abdel told me that at Al Shifa hospital, they don’t have the medical and military competence to say for sure whether the wounds they examined on certain corpses were indeed provoked by white phosphorous bullets. But on his word, in 20 years on the job, he had never seen casualties like those now being carried into the ward.”
These included “traumas to the skull, with fractures to … the jaw … cheekbones, tear duct, nasal and palatine bones [all showing] signs of the collision of an immense force against the victim’s face. What he finds inexplicable is the total lack of eyeballs, which ought to leave a trace somewhere within the skull, even in the case of such violent impact. Instead, we see Palestinian corpses coming into the hospitals without eyes at all, as if someone had removed them surgically before handing them over to the coroner.”
Since no international observers are allowed in, judgment about the weapons inflicting such trauma will depend on further reports from Gaza, and corroboration from experts like Gilbert. (Arigoni is an international who reached Gaza by boat during the siege. His report was sent to e-mail lists Jan. 9.)
The Israel of Operation Cast Lead is still the Israel of Plan Dalet, under which 750,000 Arabs were expelled from Palestine in 1948. It is the Israel of massacres under Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir on April, 9, 1948, at Deir Yassin; of the Phalangist massacre of 1,500 Palestinians in the Beirut refugee camps Sabra and Shatila, overseen by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. Held “personally responsible” and cashiered from his post, he later rose to prime minister to resume his malignant policies in the West Bank and Gaza. The late Israeli writer Tanya Reinhardt predicted in 2002 that Israel was starting to finish what it began in 1948. This 60-year-long legacy rages on in Gaza under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to the applause of a vengeful Israeli public (see Jan. 13 story in the New York Times.)
Operation Cast Lead is one of the great war crimes of our era. It was planned six to 18 months in advance, according to journalist Jonathan Cook. The war design “required directing artillery fire and air strikes at civilian neighborhoods from which rockets were fired, despite being a violation of international law. Legal advisers, Barak noted, were seeking ways to avoid such prohibitions, presumably in the hope the international community would turn a blind eye.”
Operation Cast Lead fulfills at least three of the points under Article 2 in the Convention on Genocide: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
So to President-elect Barack Obama in his silence; to our senators and representatives who obediently parrot American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s lines, forgiving the occupier and blaming the occupied, I’d address European Parliament member Luisa Morgantini’s closing words in her open letter to European leaders:
“Israel has a right to exist as a normal state, a state for its citizens, along the 1967 borders, much wider than those of the partition plan passed by the United Nations in 1947. But I would have liked to hear your outrage and your humanity, and to hear you shouting for the pain of so many deaths and so much destruction, for such arrogance, for so much inhumanity, for so many violations of international and humanitarian law. …
“My God, what a terrible world we live in!”
Ellen Cantarow has reported on the Middle East since 1979.