Impressions of Gaza
By Noam Chomsky
November 07, 2012 "Information Clearing House" - Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.
intensity of this commitment on the part of the Israeli political leadership
has been dramatically illustrated just in the past few days, as they warn that
they will “go crazy” if Palestinian rights are given limited recognition at the
UN. That is not a new departure. The threat to “go crazy” (“nishtagea”) is
deeply rooted, back to the Labor governments of the 1950s, along with the
related “Samson Complex”: we will bring down the
The purposeful humiliation is also not new, though it constantly takes new forms. Thirty years ago political leaders, including some of the most noted hawks, submitted to Prime Minister Begin a shocking and detailed account of how settlers regularly abuse Palestinians in the most depraved manner and with total impunity. The prominent military-political analyst Yoram Peri wrote with disgust that the army’s task is not to defend the state, but “to demolish the rights of innocent people just because they are Araboushim (“niggers,” “kikes”) living in territories that God promised to us.”
Gazans have been selected for particularly cruel punishment. It is almost miraculous that people can sustain such an existence. How they do so was described thirty years ago in an eloquent memoir by Raja Shehadeh (The Third Way), based on his work as a lawyer engaged in the hopeless task of trying to protect elementary rights within a legal system designed to ensure failure, and his personal experience as a Samid, “a steadfast one,” who watches his home turned into a prison by brutal occupiers and can do nothing but somehow “endure.”
Shehadeh wrote, the situation has become much worse. The
of Gazans became still more severe in January 2006, when they committed a major
crime: they voted the “wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world,
electing Hamas. Demonstrating their passionate “yearning for democracy,” the
committed a still greater crime a year later by blocking the coup attempt,
leading to a sharp escalation of the siege and military attacks. These
culminated in winter 2008-9, with Operation Cast Lead, one of the most cowardly
and vicious exercises of military force in recent memory, as a defenseless
civilian population, trapped with no way to escape, was subjected to relentless
attack by one of the world’s most advanced military systems relying on US arms
and protected by US diplomacy. An unforgettable eyewitness account of the
slaughter — “infanticide” in their words — is given by the two courageous
Norwegian doctors who worked at
President-elect Obama was unable to say a word, apart from reiterating his heartfelt sympathy for children under attack — in the Israeli town Sderot. The carefully planned assault was brought to an end right before his inauguration, so that he could then say that now is the time to look forward, not backward, the standard refuge of criminals.
there were pretexts — there always are. The usual one, trotted out when needed,
is “security”: in this case, home-made rockets from
The pattern of bombing under Cast Lead was carefully analyzed by the highly informed and internationally respected Gazan human rights advocate Raji Sourani. He points out that the bombing was concentrated in the north, targeting defenseless civilians in the most densely populated areas, with no possible military pretext. The goal, he suggests, may have been to drive the intimidated population to the south, near the Egyptian border. But the Samidin stayed put, despite the avalanche of US-Israeli terror.
goal might have been to drive them beyond. Back to the earliest days of the
Zionist colonization it was argued across much of the spectrum that Arabs have
no real reason to be in
Sourani and other knowledgeable sources observe that the discipline of the Samidin conceals a powder keg, which might explode any time, unexpectedly, as the first Intifada did in Gaza in 1989 after years of miserable repression that elicited no notice or concern,
Merely to mention one of innumerable cases, shortly before the outbreak of the Intifada a Palestinian girl, Intissar al-Atar, was shot and killed in a schoolyard by a resident of a nearby Jewish settlement. He was one of the several thousand Israelis settlers brought to Gaza in violation of international law and protected by a huge army presence, taking over much of the land and scarce water of the Strip and living “lavishly in twenty-two settlements in the midst of 1.4 million destitute Palestinians,” as the crime is described by Israeli scholar Avi Raz. The murderer of the schoolgirl, Shimon Yifrah, was arrested, but quickly released on bail when the Court determined that “the offense is not severe enough” to warrant detention. The judge commented that Yifrah only intended to shock the girl by firing his gun at her in a schoolyard, not to kill her, so “this is not a case of a criminal person who has to be punished, deterred, and taught a lesson by imprisoning him.” Yifrah was given a 7-month suspended sentence, while settlers in the courtroom broke out in song and dance. And the usual silence reigned. After all, it is routine.
And so it
is. As Yifrah was freed, the Israeli press reported that an army patrol fired
into the yard of a school for boys aged 6 to 12 in a
My initial impression, after a visit of several days, was amazement, not only at the ability to go on with life, but also at the vibrancy and vitality among young people, particularly at the university, where I spent much of my time at an international conference. But there too one can detect signs that the pressure may become too hard to bear. Reports indicate that among young men there is simmering frustration, recognition that under the US-Israeli occupation the future holds nothing for them. There is only so much that caged animals can endure, and there may be an eruption, perhaps taking ugly forms — offering an opportunity for Israeli and western apologists to self-righteously condemn the people who are culturally backward, as Mitt Romney insightfully explained.
By coincidence or not, that is when Israel intensified its naval blockade, driving fishing boats toward shore, by now to 3 miles or less.
favorable prospects were aborted in 1948, when the Strip had to absorb a flood
of Palestinian refugees who fled in terror or were forcefully expelled from
they were being expelled even four years later, as reported in Ha’aretz
(25.12.2008), in a thoughtful study by Beni Tziper on the history of Israeli
Ashkelon back to the Canaanites. In 1953, he reports, there was a “cool
calculation that it was necessary to cleanse the region of Arabs.” The original
name, Majdal, had already been “Judaized” to today’s
That was in 1953, when there was no hint of military necessity. Tziper himself was born in 1953, and while walking in the remnants of the old Arab sector, he reflects that “it is really difficult for me, really difficult, to realize that while my parents were celebrating my birth, other people were being loaded on trucks and expelled from their homes.”
are easy to see, even on a brief visit. Sitting in a hotel near the shore, one
can hear the machine gun fire of Israeli gunboats driving fishermen out of
Accords laid plans for two desalination plants, a necessity in this arid
region. One, an advanced facility, was built: in
plan is being scrupulously followed. Sara Roy has provided extensive evidence
in her scholarly studies. Recently, after several years of effort, the Israeli
human rights organization Gisha succeeded to obtain a court order for the
government to release its records detailing plans for the diet, and how they
are executed. Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook summarizes them: “Health
officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories needed by
of imposing the diet, Mideast scholar Juan Cole observes, is that “[a]bout ten
percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have had their growth stunted
by malnutrition ... in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over
two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of
pregnant mothers.” The US and
to be kept in mind,” observes Raji Sourani, “is that the occupation and the
absolute closure is an ongoing attack on the human dignity of the people in
Gaza in particular and all Palestinians generally. It is systematic
degradation, humiliation, isolation and fragmentation of the Palestinian
people.” The conclusion is confirmed by many other sources. In one of the
world’s leading medical journals, The Lancet, a visiting Stanford
physician, appalled by what he witnessed, describes Gaza as “something of a
laboratory for observing an absence of dignity,” a condition that has
“devastating” effects on physical, mental, and social wellbeing. “The constant
surveillance from the sky, collective punishment through blockade and
isolation, the intrusion into homes and communications, and restrictions on
those trying to travel, or marry, or work make it difficult to live a dignified
hopes that the new Morsi government in
she continues, “the crossing does not lead to the
effects are painfully evident. In the Khan Yunis hospital, the director, who is
also chief of surgery, describes with anger and passion how even medicines are
lacking for relief of suffering patients, as well as simple surgical equipment,
leaving doctors helpless and patients in agony. Personal stories add vivid
texture to the general disgust one feels at the obscenity of the harsh
occupation. One example is the testimony of a young woman who despaired that
her father, who would have been proud that she was the first woman in the
refugee camp to gain an advanced degree, had “passed away after 6 months of
fighting cancer aged 60 years. Israeli occupation denied him a permit to go to
Israeli hospitals for treatment. I had to suspend my study, work and life and
go to set next to his bed. We all sat including my brother the physician and my
sister the pharmacist, all powerless and hopeless watching his suffering. He
died during the inhumane blockade of
Disgust at the obscenity, compounded with guilt: it is within our power to bring the suffering to an end and allow the Samidin to enjoy the lives of peace and dignity that they deserve.
Noam Chomsky - Professor Emeritus in Linguistics at MIT; world renowned author
and leading intellectual visited the
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