Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Am I Not Human?" Blog Campaign: Gaza & The Palestinians

Electronic Village has initiated a blogging campaign for human rights, touching such crucial issues as the genocide in Darfur, held on the 27th of each month. Thinkbridge blog is proud to participate in this campaign, featuring today the human rights debacle that is Gaza in the Palestinian Territories.

Israel's continuing policy of collective punishment is in effect destroying Palestinian families' health and welfare, preventing them from making a living or even living. It is like living in a prison without being fed, clothed, medically attended to and denied access to all of the above. It is like slavery to a master who does not even acknowledge one's usefulness as, say, a worker. It is to be a community of pariahs, hated and condemned simply for being Palestinians, the original inhabitants of the lands including Israel. It is an occupation that grows like a cancer in the form of settlements, homes built for richer and more powerful Israelis who simply decide to bulldoze a couple, or a dozen, of the 4th-class "sub-human" Palestinian ancestral homes, in order to make way for what for all practical appearances looks like the Master Race, or at least the first-class citizens.

Of course, this kind of discussion is absolutely forbidden. From some of the history, many fear they could be targeted by a hit squad just for stating that this policy is racist, cruel, inhuman, oppressive, immoral, unfair, unjust, and despicable. It defies belief that the very people, the Jews, who suffered the most horrendous mass murder and torture and humiliation that anyone could have imagined under the Nazi regime in Germany, could now treat an entire people as sub-human, denying them basic human rights for medical care, trade, food, water, and fuel - all under the guise of "anti-terrorism". The Nazis, too, considered the Jews a "threat" to the German nation. They were a "security threat" in a way hauntingly parallel to the way Palestinian Arabs are seen as a "security threat" to the state of Israel.

Except the Jews were not the original inhabitants of Germany and were not displaced by German immigrants. This point is lost on most people, though.

In fact, the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is in itself a type of Holocaust denial. What possible lessons could one gain from the Holocaust, if not the moral depravity of racism and of singling out one ethnic community for slaughter, torture, and denial of the right to basic human rights? Of course, Israel is not slaughtering or torturing Palestinians on the same scale the Nazis did to the Jewish people. But it is nonetheless absolutely denying Palestinians' human rights. And this, in fact, creates more enemies, hence a far greater security risk. Aside from the humanitarian issue. Are not Palestinians, too, human after all?

It seems the United States does not truly consider Palestinians human in the sense that Israeli Jews are human, except in carefully worded rhetoric. Whenever a single Jew is threatened or injured, the U.S. government is quick to condemn the "terrorists". Whenever a group of Palestinians are killed, even if they are children or minors, they are always depicted as "terrorists" or "militants" or, at best, "suspects". The word "terrorist" is the newest racist tool to deny a community its humanity. If they are "terrorists" or even "terrorist suspects", they are immediately and completely denied any right to be considered human.

Aside from that, the rest are, at best, "collateral damage". So the inhabitants of Gaza are "collateral damage", forgotten at the moment, their lives, sorrows and troubles are not our business, not of our interest. They have nothing to offer us, the idea goes. They are "terrorists", they are "Islamic militants" - another new term to deny humanness in others - and any attempt to defend themselves or their dignity is considered a "threat" which must be "subdued", usually by guns or air strikes. It is the very threat to their peace and the denial of their right to make a living or trade or even seek medical help that kills hope, the hope of being thought of as human.

While the Presidential candidates hold the world riveted until election day, places like the Gaza strip are very much forgotten and very much in the same progressively worse misery they were when some attention reached them. Thankfully, human rights groups inside Israel, and in other parts of the world are trying to do something.

A group of international experts Sunday blasted Israeli authorities for denying their entry into the Gaza Strip for a mental health conference, urging the international community to end Israel's actual occupation.

"We strongly protest the decision by the Israeli authorities to deny entry permits to 120 international academics and concerned professionals" who had been invited to attend the "Siege and Mental Health, Walls vs. Bridges" conference originally scheduled in Gaza City, said Professor Alice Rothschild from U.S. Harvard University at a press conference.

The Oct. 27-28 conference, sponsored by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP) in cooperation with the Gaza office of World Health Organization (WHO), is aimed to examine the impact of the conflict in the Palestinian enclave on local children, families, and communities and to support the development of appropriate mental health and psycho-social services, said GCMHP in a statement.

The group said the WHO office handed over its request for entry permits for 80 experts and health professionals, mostly from Europe and North America, in late September, and 40 others submitted their applications via other channels.

In mid-October, the Israeli military authorities informed the WHO office that all requests were turned down, without giving any reason, according to the conference organizers.

Israel holds a knife at Palestine's throat, and anyone who wants to get in has to pass by that knife. Very few ever get past.

Miri Weingarten, a spokeswoman of the Physicians For Human Rights-Israel organization, said that her group contacted the relevant authorities and found that the denial was a political rather than security decision.
Meanwhile, the press conference also said that 16 doctors from Britain who planned to enter the poverty-stricken strip in November to treat local patients have also run into a closed door.

Note that many Jews are furious at this policy. It is not, certainly, a Jewish policy, but rather a right-wing Israeli policy. Note that the right-wing Israelis are aligned with the neocons in the Republican party in the U.S. It's time that these two right-wing movements stop being the Party of the Mean-Spirited and Cruel and face up to the fact that these policies are totally counterproductive.

And the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians has not improved the conditions of Palestinians in Gaza from a humanitarian standpoint. The only beneficiary of this cease-fire has been Israel.

“If anything, existing evidence discloses a harsher regime of confinement and siege imposed on the Gazan population,” Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, told the General Assembly’s third committee (social, humanitarian and cultural) yesterday.

He said Palestinians continue to face difficulties in obtaining exit permits to receive specialised medical treatment in Israel or elsewhere that is not available in Gaza.

“Such delays and denial of permission has resulted in a growing number of tragic deaths, severe mental and physical suffering, and constitutes a violation of the duty of the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and well-being of the population under occupation, with exceptions only to the extent absolutely necessary for upholding security.

These restrictions appear unrelated to credible security claims, and hence a punitive form of collective punishment, which is consistent with the overall maintenance of the siege that has been applied to Gaza since July 2007.”

Israel's claim of "security threats" seems excessive in this case, and the tragedy that is Gaza is unconscionable. Meanwhile, some Israeli settlers continue their violence even against Israeli authority when it curtails their extremist behavior. Just yesterday, October 26,
Israel's outgoing prime minister on Sunday called for a crackdown on extremist Jewish settlers who attacked and threatened Israeli troops and vandalized Palestinian property.

The settler rampage on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Hebron came after Israeli forces demolished an illegal settlement outpost that had been set up by a well-known ultranationalist extremist, Noam Federman.

But it's not an isolated incident - it's a movement.
Settlers also vandalized a nearby Muslim cemetery and slashed the tires of two dozen Arab-owned cars, the Israeli military said.

Israeli human rights groups and senior military officials have expressed concern about growing violence by the most militant among the about 300,000 West Bank settlers in recent months.

The Israeli army commander in the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, warned in a newspaper interview earlier this month that the number of settlers engaged in violence has ``grown into the hundreds.''

Critics have long complained that settler vigilantes are allowed to act with impunity and that the security forces often look the other way, particularly when it comes to settler violence against Palestinians.

And it is this very movement that the less-extreme in Israel have to make concessions to, or at least think so. And act on that thought.
And so, when it comes to Gaza, things like education are almost an impossible dream:
The right to education is a fundamental human right - one not often honoured in the occupied Palestinian Territories, where thousands of students are blockaded by the Israeli authorities who refuse them the right to freedom of movement.

Rami Abdu, who last month succeeded in crossing the Rafah border to take up his PhD in finance at Manchester Metropolitan University, is one such victim. “I got a full scholarship to Manchester one and a half years ago. I tried to cross the border four times and I sent messages to human rights groups, but like many students I was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, death is all too often the result of denied human rights. More than education or trade, the very right to live is being denied to an entire people.
At least 255 Palestinians, including approximately 100 children, died in Gaza awaiting Israeli-issued permits to leave for outside treatment. Medical facilities in the Strip are subpar with a lack of supplies, medicines and working equipment. Without imports repairs cannot be made and simple treatments are difficult to administer.

In Gaza, 81% of residents are living below the poverty line. And as for justice, picking up Palestinians or attacking their families and then arresting them is commonplace. After arrest?
According to B’Tselem some 85% of Palestinian detainees have been tortured during interrogation.

And in one year alone, 68 Gazan children were killed as a result of collective punishment by the Israeli government.
Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have killed more than 860 children in the OPT, the majority of them in the Gaza Strip.

In response to these IOF killings of children, and IOF consistent use of excessive lethal force against Palestinian children, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is launching "Blood on Their Hands" -- a major investigative report on child killings perpetrated by the IOF in the Gaza Strip.

"Blood on Their Hands" examines IOF killings of children in the Gaza Strip from June 2007 through June 2008. During this period, IOF killed 68 children in the Gaza Strip. (For the purpose of this reports, PCHR defines a child as a boy or girl younger than the age of 18 who is not taking part in hostilities.) The report provides data, analysis and testimonies on the killings of these children, including detailed testimonies from eye-witnesses and bereaved families, which highlight the horrific nature of these IOF child killings. The report also examines the psychological impact of child deaths on other children in the Gaza Strip, especially those children who have witnessed IOF killings.

Is this the way the "Sole Democracy in the Middle East" is shining a "light" to the supposedly "dark" neighbors??? Is this America's best friend? Or is Israel the tin man, in desperate need of getting back his heart?


SjP said...

Much obliged for such an informative post and taking part in the Am I Not Human? Campaign. I must admit that I do not understand the relationship between America and Israel and particularly the Jews. I just don't understand why there is just so much hate between and among us all that causes so much death and destruction.

I invite you to read my Am I Not Human? Campaign post here

Omyma said...

Thanks, Sojourner! I love your site, too - great post, as I mentioned there. Please visit again when you get the chance.

Yes, there's a lot of history in the Mideast conflict which adds to the complications there, not to mention power struggles over resources. But when one side crosses over the line, we need to let the world know. Hopefully, that will bring relief to the oppressed.