“With [traditional Israeli defense strategists] it’s all about tanks and land and controlling territories . . . and this hilltop and that hilltop. All these things are worthless.” -Incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert-
Soon after the sand settled following the Six Day War in 1967, Jewish settlements began dotting the hills in the occupied territories. These settlements are typically located on the high ground to better control the surrounding landscape. Today there are 127 Jewish settlements with a population exceeding 468,000 in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and in the suburbs of East Jerusalem—the last of nearly 8,000 settlers were removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
According to a recent Amnesty International report, “In the first six months of 2008 Israel has expanded settlements in the West Bank/East Jerusalem at a faster rate than in the previous seven years.”
Unbeknownst to most Americans, Israel’s westernmost settlement is not located in Palestine-Israel, but is 6000 miles away on the high ground overlooking Foggy Bottom in Washington D.C.
This Capital Hill settlement of pro-Israel lobbies and think tanks strategically controls the high ground overlooking the United States’ Middle East policy landscape by having made kibbutzniks of most members of the executive and legislative branches of the government—including President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden, and future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
While Israel’s hilltop settlements in the occupied territories—violating over 30 UN Security Council resolutions since 1968—are “facts on the ground” that make the two state peace solution unlikely, their hilltop settlement in the center of the world’s only superpower makes it equally unlikely that Israel’s right-wing government will feel compelled to end their “self defensive” brutalization of the Palestinian people, which has been condemned by the international community (UN, EU) as crimes against humanity.
John Holmes, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that Israel’s blockade of vital supplies to the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rocket attacks “amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law.”
Collective punishment is forbidden by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.” A “protected person” is someone who is under the control of an “Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Only the most ideologically blinkered individual would fail to recognize the Gaza Strip as occupied territory.
Israel’s current blockade of Gaza, which began on November 4, is resulting in what the UN Relief and Works Agency is calling a humanitarian catastrophe. Before the blockade, 1000 truckloads of food, fuel and essential supplies per day were necessary to sustain the 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned behind the concrete and barbed wire of the 25-mile long border. Eighty percent of Gazans live on two dollars a day and depend on international aid to survive. Since the border crossings were sealed, less than 100 truckloads have been permitted through.
The imprisoned Palestinians—50 percent of whom are younger than 15—are slowly starving. They lack the fuel to generate electricity for lighting, water purification, and sewage treatment. The erratic, intermittent electrical power puts the lives of patients in intensive care wards and those who are connected to live-sustaining equipment in grave peril. The lack of basic medicines such as antibiotics and insulin pose an equally fatal threat.
Twenty human rights organizations and all Israeli and international journalists have been barred from entering the Gaza Strip since the blockade began. A letter of protest signed by most major news organizations was sent to Prime Minister Olmert. Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror responded to the letter by saying that Israel was afraid journalists would inflate the Palestinians’ suffering. No one is allow to speak out on behalf of this beleaguered population.
President-elect Obama has been speaking out “swiftly and boldly” about the economic catastrophe threatening our 401Ks, but his silence regarding the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe threatening the lives of Palestinians is both deafening and telling of the price he’s willing to pay to maintain his status as kibbutznik-in-good-standing in Israel’s westernmost hilltop settlement.
Obama’s unconditional support for Israel’s policy of “self defense,” preemptive attacks, and repressive occupations is not one iota different from that of George W. Bush, an internationally recognized war criminal. This is not an encouraging beginning for a man whose battle cry was “change we can believe in.”
By any rational, humanitarian standard, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians amounts to collective punishment and crimes against humanity. Perpetrators of such crimes, whether they are individuals or governments or willing allies, are criminals who should one day sit in the dock of the International Court of Justice in The Hague—just as defendants sat in a Nuremberg court 60 years ago—and be held accountable for their crimes.
Until Israel’s hilltop settlement in our nation’s capital is dismantled, allowing for the possibility of a just and lasting peace in Palestine-Israel, its influence on both branches of our government and its insidious affect on US Middle East policy will continue to make willing—or unwitting—kibbutzniks of all Americans. We will be held as complicit, and as culpable, as the citizens of the country whose leaders sat in the dock at Nuremberg.
The world will ask, “Why didn’t you do something to stop it?” The majority of us will reply, “We didn’t know!”