Guilt and Impunity: Gaza and COVID-19

(Mohammed Abed - AFP)

Judith Deutsch

CounterPunch  /  April 14, 2020

Plague has entered the Holy Land. During the week of Easter and Passover there is an uncanny conjuncture of dire threat and insouciance. Easter in the West is a cheery time of pastel eggs, chocolate, and death denial, of not grappling with Jesus’ last cry to God-the-Father: “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Nor is there any soul-searching, or torment, about the cry of Passover to “Let my people go” and dayenu – “enough suffering.” Passover celebrates Jewish people fleeing from enslavement to save their firstborn sons, while the State of Israel and its willing complicitors, for 13 years, has laid siege to Gaza, an open-air prison that holds two million people hostage to a pandemic, to military assault, to immiseration.

The week’s festive religious sentiments could not be more distant from the reality. The sentiments of Easter and Passover smooth away guilt and responsibility.  Jesus, we are reminded each year, died to expiate our sins, and many among the self-proclaimed progeny of the Exodus see themselves as exceptions, entitled to perpetrate radical destructiveness because of having been victims. Former Prime Minister Golda Meir’s deranged eye-for-an-eye talion displaces Israeli guilt for killing children onto the Palestinian parent: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” In the 2014 war, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 551 Palestinian children were killed compared to one Israeli child. God-the-Father and Golda Meir, patriarch and matriarch, kill children.

Parenthood is different: in psychoanalytic work with families, we find that the capacity for usable guilt is the distinctive indication of readiness for parenthood. [1]

Gaza is cruelly exploited in the neoliberal global order in which Israel plays a pivotal role in exporting battle-tested technology and strategies for population control. In this neoliberal nightmare, the common people are characterized by public intellectuals like Chomsky, Galeano, Arundhati Roy, Mike Davis, Jeff Halper, as disposable, unpeople, superfluous, warehoused, nobodies. Corporations are legal persons and their shareholders accrue increasing power, wealth, and legal impunity. Worldwide, millions of people are incarcerated in occupied territories like Gaza, in prisons, detention centers, refugee camps, and at borders. These are places that provide minimal provisions for survival. And despite years of national and international laws, salutary institutions, and political actions to serve people, the situation worsens. Trapping people is a death sentence at a time of COVID-19. This is conceivably preventable because most people are decent and able to realistically understand emergency. 

THE CURRENT COVID-19 SITUATION IN GAZA

As of April 4, there were twelve COVID-19 cases in Gaza. There is little space for social distancing because of high population density. Jabalia is the largest of Gaza’s eight refugee camps; 110,000 people live in an area that is 1.4 square km. The Hamas government has ordered the closure of all restaurants and cafes, wedding halls, and the suspension of Friday prayers and weekly markets. Food is still entering Gaza through Karm Abu Salem crossing.

At this time, a field hospital partly funded by the World Health Organization has been established at the Rafah Crossing. It has a 38-bed treatment facility including 6 ICU beds. There are only 70 ICU beds in all of Gaza and 2500 hospital beds altogether. So far, only 92 tests have been administered. This video from We Are Not Numbers describes current pharmaceuticals in Gaza.

In order to treat patients with COVID-19, Gaza will need equipment that is prohibited by Israel from entering. There is an immediate need for some 150 ventilators. Dr. Mona El-Farra, the health chair of the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Gaza, said “We have, up to this minute, just around 20 kits for diagnosis [and] at the moment we have 2,500 people in quarantine.”

According to Munir al-Bursh, head of the pharmacy department at Gaza’s Ministry of health, hospitals, pharmacies and clinics are short of 149 medicines, equipped with only 69 percent of what is needed. Food insecurity affects 72% of households and half the population relies on food distribution by the United Nations. Exports from Gaza are almost completely blocked, imports and transfers of cash are severely restricted, and the flow of all but the most basic humanitarian goods are suspended.

Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s water and sewage system makes it much harder to maintain the required standards of hygiene.

Physicians for Human Rights/Israel has called for the immediate provision of basic antiseptics, intensive care beds, ventilators, and alternatives for patients who need critical surgery or treatment that is currently unavailable. Read more.

Qatar has begun distributing aid to hundreds of residents in the Gaza Strip who are in isolation centers as part of the continued effort in the coastal enclave to deal with the coronavirus. The Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Muhammad al-Amadi, said that the aid is part of the $150 million aid that the Emir of Qatar recently announced, which will be distributed over six months. The assistance provided includes food, appliances, and power supply to the isolation centers.

PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS SIEGE AND WAR

The modern history of Gaza is well researched, starting with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that was in the planning stage before WWII. The 1948 partition and subsequent war led to the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian people from their villages, with between 160,000 and 190,000 people fleeing to the Gaza Strip. The second large wave of refugees into Gaza came with the 1967 Six Day War. At this time Israel took control of all water sources in Palestinian territories. Military order #92 gave the military all authority over water. Order #158 gave the military authority over the permit system for houses, roads and water infrastructure, allowing the military to confiscate water resources and destroy wells and rooftop cisterns. Israel prohibits Gaza from developing and using the offshore natural gas fields discovered in the 1990s.

In 2005 Israel unilaterally dismantled 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza but maintained full control of all land, sea, and air access to Gaza. Israel claimed that it was no longer an occupying power answerable to international law, but every UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories affirmed that Israel remains the occupying power, subject to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. After this 2005 disengagement, Israel plan-fully diminished the capacity of Gaza’s health system and prohibited  a long list of so-called “dual-use” items, claiming possible military purposes. These include medical supplies like glycerine and hydrogen peroxide, which is used as a disinfectant. By 2006, there were no first line paediatric antibiotics available, most diagnostic laboratory equipment was not functioning, and 19% of essential medicines were unavailable.

After Hamas was democratically and lawfully voted into power, Israel launched four wars against Gaza, and in 2007 Israel imposed a draconian siege: Operation Summer Rains (2006), Cast Lead (2008-9), Pillar of Sand (2012), and Protective Edge (2014). In these wars, Israel used disproportionate force against a civilian population that had nowhere to flee, used unconventional weapons, and destroyed the power infrastructure which disabled water purification and sanitation.

In these wars, Israel targeted the health sector, bombing hospitals and ambulances, the medical depot of Shifa Hospital, killed medics and clearly identified doctors, prevented evacuation of the wounded, and used unconventional weapons such as white phosphorus and Dense inert Metal Explosives (DIME). The 2014 war against Gaza left 500,000 displaced people, the destruction or severe damage of more than 20,000 Palestinian homes, 148 schools, and 45 primary health-care centres. As many as 247 factories and 300 commercial centres were destroyed. Israeli propaganda, hasbara, propagates lies about these wars, but there are many accurate accounts; see for example Henry Siegman’s Israel’s Lies, or Finkelstein’s Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom. Israel’s military targets clearly identified medical workers in the Great March of Return.

Under the siege, 70% of infants aged nine months suffer from anaemia. 13% to 15% of Gaza’s children are stunted in growth due to malnutrition. In late 2008, Amnesty International reported that Israel barred infants from leaving Gaza for life-saving cardiovascular surgery. About 290 Palestinian patients died within two years after the imposition of the siege, with 35% of the deaths being children. To date, parents of children admitted to Israel for medical care are generally prohibited from accompanying their children.

Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children is particularly malicious. In Israel’s wars, children were targeted and killed as they played on the beach or on the rooftops of their homes. Defense for Children International has long documented Israel’s punitive judicial and military practices against Palestinian children. Israeli air force nightly sonic booms over Gaza caused night terrors and bedwetting. From 2000, it was reported that Israeli soldiers targeted the knees and eyes of children and adults, intentional injury that caused lifelong crippling.[2] The late Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai memorializes the killing of a Palestinian child by an Israeli sniper and writes of the militarized brutality infusing Israeli society in his poem J’Accuse.

AN INCREMENTAL GENOCIDE

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has called Israel’s strategy the “incremental genocide” of Palestinian people. There are many examples of intentional planning by senior Israeli officials. Senior Israeli General Gadi Eisenkot describes the terrifying “Dahiya Doctrine”: “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases… This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.” Reminiscent of Nazi doctors, in 2012 it was revealed that in early 2008, Israeli authorities drew up a document calculating the minimum caloric intake necessary for Palestinians to avoid malnutrition so that Israel could limit the amount of foodstuffs allowed into Gaza without causing outright starvation.

Also well-documented is silence and complicity from the international community: despite extensive documentation of Israel’s atrocities, powerful nation states, the UN Security Council, innumerable professional bodies, anti-nuclear weapons organizations, and even human rights NGO’s obfuscate, exceptionalize Israel, or remain silent about Israel’s crimes.

Israeli leaders brazenly and sadistically, overtly and covertly, carry out their matrix of control, securitization, and incremental genocide. This article raises the question of guilt. Eyal Weizman [3] explores the moral depravity wherein a lesser evil is justifiable if it prevents a greater evil. Michael Ignatieff, human rights scholar and once the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, defended the use of torture on this basis, and also said that he did not lose sleep over Israel’s massacre of 57 people, including 37 children, in the Lebanese village of Qana in 2006. Israel has bombed, with impunity, the entire life-sustaining infrastructure of Gaza, and unless the siege is entirely dismantled, there are many warnings that the Covid-19 pandemic could well be a holocaust.

The question is, of course, what to do to end the siege. The Left is now confronted with emergencies that require urgent global action against great economic and military power. In January 2009 Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote “someone has to stop this rampant madness. Right now.”[4] There is no one sure-fire strategy, but there is also no backing away and delaying.

notes

[1] Erna Furman. (1988) Helping Young Children Grow. Madison, Ct. International Universities Press.

[2] Tanya Reinhart. (2005) Israel/Palestine: How to end the war of 1948. New York. Seven Stories Press. P. 112-16.

[3] Eyal Weizman. (2011), The Least Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza. London. Verso.

[4] Gideon Levy. (2010) The Punishment of Gaza. London. Verso. P. 106. 

Judith Deutsch is a member of the Socialist Project, Independent Jewish Voices, and  former president of Science for Peace; she is a psychoanalyst in Toronto