We've just passed the first "anniversary" -- if such a word can even be used with such a catastrophe -- of Operation Protective Edge, Israel's third invasion of the Gaza Strip in recent years. That small bit of land has now suffered more devastation than just about any place on the planet. In the wake of the third war since 2008, more than 100,000 displaced Gazans remain homeless or crowded in with relatives. Whole neighborhoods, destroyed in the conflict, have yet to be rebuilt. A year later, there is still next to no electricity, the area's sole power plant having been taken out by Israeli air strikes, and the situation when it comes to sewage and potable water, is disastrous. Blockaded and devastated by repeated wars, Gaza's manufacturing sector has almost disappeared, while its economy is "on the verge of collapse," according to the World Bank. In short, by any standard, Gaza is not a livable place and yet 1.8 million people (more than half of them under 18 years old, 43% under 15) are crammed into it with nowhere to go and in most cases nothing to do. After all, Gaza now has what may be the highest unemployment rate on the planet at 44%, with youth unemployment reaching 60%.
The great Israeli reporter Amira Hass, author of the classic book Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege, recently put the matter this way: "In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp... This is not a novelty... This did not start, unlike what many people think, with the rise of Hamas... This policy of sealing off Gaza, of making Gazans into... defacto prisoners, started [in 1991]... So if I want to sum up the reality of Gaza: it is a huge prison... It is an Israel-meditated, pre-meditated, pre-planned, and planned project to separate Gaza from the West Bank."
Max Blumenthal's new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, catches the nightmare of the third war in this tiny piece of land in the last six-and-a-half years in a uniquely gripping way. In its pages, you follow him directly into the devastation of the Israeli invasion. (He entered Gaza during the first extended truce of the war.) I doubt there could be a more vivid account of what it felt like, as a Palestinian civilian, to endure those weeks of horror, massive destruction, and killing. Today at TomDispatch, he looks back on that experience and forward to what he doesn't doubt will be the fourth war of its kind. If he's right, then sadly, in the years to come, some reporter will be writing yet another book on a Gaza war. Tom
The Fire Next Time
Before Homes Are Even Rebuilt in the Ruins of the Gaza Strip, Another War Looms
By Max Blumenthal
"A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable," declared Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in February. His ominous comments came just days after an anti-tank missile fired by the Lebanon-based guerrilla group Hezbollah killed two soldiers in an Israeli army convoy. It, in turn, was a response to an Israeli air strike that resulted in the assassination of several high-ranking Hezbollah figures.
Lieberman offered his prediction only four months after his government concluded Operation Protective Edge, the third war between Israel and the armed factions of the Gaza Strip, which had managed to reduce about 20% of besieged Gaza to an apocalyptic moonscape. Even before the assault was launched, Gaza was a warehouse for surplus humanity -- a 360-square-kilometer ghetto of Palestinian refugees expelled by and excluded from the self-proclaimed Jewish state. For this population, whose members are mostly under the age of 18, the violence has become a life ritual that repeats every year or two. As the first anniversary of Protective Edge passes, Lieberman's unsettling prophecy appears increasingly likely to come true. Indeed, odds are that the months of relative "quiet" that followed his statement will prove nothing more than an interregnum between Israel's ever more devastating military escalations.
Three years ago, the United Nations issued a report predicting that the Gaza Strip would be uninhabitable by 2020. Thanks to Israel's recent attack, this warning appears to have arrived sooner than expected. Few of the 18,000 homes the Israeli military destroyed in Gaza have been rebuilt. Few of the more than 400 businesses and shops damaged or leveled during that war have been repaired. Thousands of government employees have not received a salary for more than a year and are working for free. Electricity remains desperately limited, sometimes to only four hours a day. The coastal enclave's borders are consistently closed. Its population is trapped, traumatized, and descending ever deeper into despair, with suicide rates skyrocketing.
One of the few areas where Gaza's youth can find structure is within the "Liberation Camps" established by Hamas, the Islamist political organization that controls Gaza. There, they undergo military training, ideological indoctrination, and are ultimately inducted into the Palestinian armed struggle. As I found while covering last summer's war, there is no shortage of young orphans determined to take up arms after watching their parents and siblings be torn limb from limb by 2,000-pound Israeli fragmentation missiles, artillery shells, and other modes of destruction. Fifteen-year-old Waseem Shamaly, for instance, told me his life's ambition was to join the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. He had just finished recounting through tears what it was like to watch a YouTube clip of his brother, Salem, being executed by an Israeli sniper while he searched for the rest of his family in the rubble of their neighborhood last July.
Anger with Hamas's political wing for accepting a ceasefire agreement with Israel in late August 2014 that offered nothing but a return to the slow death of siege and imprisonment is now palpable among Gaza's civilian population. This is particularly true in border areas devastated by the Israelis last summer. However, support for the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas that carries the banner of the Palestinian armed struggle, remains almost unanimous.
Palestinians in Gaza need only look 80 kilometers west to the gilded Bantustans of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to see what they would get if they agreed to disarm. After years of fruitless negotiations, Israel has rewarded Palestinians living under the rule of PA President Mahmoud Abbas with the record growth of Jewish settlements, major new land annexations, nightly house raids, and the constant humiliation and dangers of daily interactions with Israeli soldiers and fanatical Jewish settlers. Rather than resist the occupation, Abbas's Western-trained security forces coordinate directly with the occupying Israeli army, assisting Israel in the arrest and even torture of fellow Palestinians, including the leadership of rival political factions.
As punishing as life in Gaza might be, the West Bank model does not offer a terribly attractive alternative. Yet this is exactly the kind of "solution" the Israeli government seeks to impose on Gaza. As former Interior Minister Yuval Steinitz declared last year, "We want more than a ceasefire, we want the demilitarization of Gaza... Gaza will be exactly like [the West Bank city of] Ramallah."
Keeping Gaza in Ruins
Behind the quasi-apocalyptic destruction exacted on Gaza by the Israeli military during Operation Protective Edge lies a sadistic strategy whose aim is to punish residents of the besieged coastal enclave into submission. The "Dahiya Doctrine," named after a southern Beirut neighborhood the Israeli air force decimated in 2006, is focused on punishing the civilian populations of Gaza and southern Lebanon for supporting armed resistance movements like Hamas and Hezbollah. In "Disproportionate Force," a 2008 paper published by the Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank closely linked to the Israeli military, Colonel Gabi Siboni spelled out its punitive, civilian-oriented logic clearly: "With an outbreak of hostilities, the [Israeli army] will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy's actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes."
In the aftermath of Protective Edge's massive destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza, the Israeli government set out to obstruct any reconstruction process and extend the suffering of Gaza's civilian population. When diplomats including American Secretary of State John Kerry gathered in Cairo last October to discuss repairing and rebuilding some of the $7 billion in damage caused by Protective Edge, then-Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz assured them that their efforts were ultimately futile. "The Gazans must decide what they want to be: Singapore or Darfur," Katz said, ominously invoking the threat of Sudanese-style genocide. "If one missile will be fired, everything will go down the drain." The nature of his warning was not lost on the diplomats in Cairo, where one complained of "considerable donor fatigue."
"No one can expect us to go back to our taxpayers for a third time; to ask for contributions for reconstruction and then we simply go back to where we were before all this began," a diplomat complained to a reporter. Another conceded: "There isn't a terrible amount of political commitment or hope."
In the end, only a minuscule fraction of the $5 billion pledged at the conference has actually made its way to Gaza's devastated masses. Instead, much of it has been diverted into the coffers of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, whose mission requires it to spend around 30% of its budget on "security," or policing fellow Palestinians, on behalf of their occupier.
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