An excellent opinion piece on the current and ongoing crisis in Gaza. Says it better than I could. :) As alway, printed with the author's permission
Watching Gaza: "The Genovese Syndrome"
by James Zogby
Arab American Institute
Today I thought of Kitty Genovese.
Some of you won't remember her, but many in my generation will
recall the horror and shame they felt after hearing the story of how
she was raped and stabbed to death on a New York City street in
1964. What shocked the nation was the fact that 37 witnesses heard
Kitty's cries but did nothing to help. Years later, social
scientists, studying this disturbing passivity, termed it
the "Genovese Syndrome".
That's how I feel about what is happening in Gaza today. Israel is
getting away with murder and the world is letting it happen.
I can hear my critics bellow, "But what about Gilad Shalit (the
Israeli soldier captured and held since June 25th)?" "What about
Hamas and Islamic Jihad?" "What about the Qassam missiles?"
My response is simple: the kidnapping of Shalit was wrong and I have
repeatedly condemned the evil and stupid tactics used by those
groups who target innocent Israeli civilians. Having said that, I
must add two observations: there is no moral or political
justification for the collective punishment which Israel has imposed
on Gaza's entire population; and Gaza's humanitarian crisis began
long before the June 25th capture of Shalit.
Reports issued before May of this year, describe Gaza's situation in
dire terms. One of the most densely populated areas on earth, two-
thirds of Gaza's population live below the poverty level. There are
acute shortages of food, fuel and water. Malnutrition and disease
are rampant among the young and, for the most part, only basic
medical services are available.
This crisis in Gaza predates Hamas' victory in 2006. For the first
twenty-five years of Israel's occupation (1967-1993) Gaza was a
place of misery. As Sarah Roy brilliantly describes in her
book, "The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of Re-development",
Israel ruthlessly suppressed Gaza's people, while denying them
economic growth opportunities. During this time, no infrastructure,
(sewers, paved roads etc.) was built and the population was reduced
to, in the words of one Israeli Minister, "hewers of wood, and
bearers of water," i.e. demeaning day labor employment in Israel.
Gaza's only hope after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 was that
its economy and infrastructure could be developed and opened up to
the outside world. While many in the West blamed Palestinian
Authority (PA) mismanagement, the facts point in a different
direction. It was the persistence of the occupation from 1994-2005
that resulted in Gaza's continued stagnation. Despite "peace on
paper", Israel retained an iron grip on Gaza. Settlements remained,
as did the physical division of Gaza, north from south and from the
rest of Palestinian lands and the outside world. Being denied access
and egress meant difficulty in importing and exporting and,
therefore, no economic development.
When Israel unilaterally redeployed from Gaza in 2005 the situation
deteriorated even further Israel projected its removal of 7000
settlers as a "painful sacrifice for peace." But by refusing to
coordinate their departure with the PA or even to honor the
agreement they negotiated with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
(that should have guaranteed movement in and out of Gaza), Israel
left behind disarray and an angry and impoverished population. By
tightening their external controls on the tiny strip, Israel, in
effect, created one of the world's largest prison camps. Inside
Gaza, Palestinians were "free," troubled only by their own poverty
and armed gangs. Like prisoners, they could have occasional visitors
and receive gifts – but, for the most part, they remained cut off
from the outside world.
The economy, already crippled, worsened. With Israel refusing to
open Gaza's borders to goods, small Palestinian factories that had
once sub-contracted with larger Israeli firms, were forced to close.
And, this summer, tens of millions of dollars of Palestinian produce
rotted at the check points because Israel refused to allow them to
With the election of Hamas, in January 2006, Gaza's situation became
worse still. Having been reduced to dependency on international
donors for most of its operating budget, the Hamas-led PA now lost
even that. Tens of thousands of civil servants (the largest group of
salaried workers in the area) now receive no income. Hospitals
provide only basic services, with critically-ill patients or those
requiring emergency care left untreated, unless in a moment of
largesse, Israel decides to grant them admission.
Recognizing the need to resolve, at least, the crisis created by
Israel's and the West's refusal to deal with the Hamas government,
Palestinian leaders from across the political spectrum, launched a
number of initiatives in May and June. These were efforts to create
a new national consensus that, it was hoped, could lead to a new non-
Hamas government that might allow aid to be restored.
It was at this point that violence flared up again. Israel's
repeated assassinations of militants, done with callous disregard
for nearby civilians, resulted in the death of dozens of innocents
(many of them children). These attacks were met by daily Qassam
rocket attacks on an Israeli city just beyond Gaza's borders. And
then came the deadly June 25th attack on an Israeli military post
and the capture of Shalit.
Israel's response has been an overwhelming, though measured, display
of force. Stunned by negative reactions to their killing of
Palestinian civilians in earlier attacks, Israel has mainly focused
its strikes on Palestinian installations: the power plant, bridges,
ministries, a university, and various offices. But it has been the
state of siege, resulting in the complete suffocation of Gaza, that
has taken the biggest toll. The pre-existing humanitarian crisis in
Gaza has now been magnified with hospitals and social service
agencies reporting new casualties, resulting from alarming shortages
of food, fuel and medicine.
Shielded from criticism by a compliant US administration and press,
this siege is now in its second week. The administration has not
seen fit to publicly challenge the impact of Israel's siege on
civilians and the press has given only scant coverage to the
humanitarian crisis. Gaza is suffering -- and like Kitty Genovese's
37 witnesses, the rest of us watch in silence with varying degrees
of shameful paralysis.
Some ask, what is going on? There are no good answers and certainly
no justification for this massive act of collective punishment. The
response is disproportionate and cruel, even if one believes that it
is merely an effort by the Olmert government to free its soldier, an
excuse that even the Israeli press no longer believes. What is
occurring in Gaza today is nothing short of a crime against humanity—
unless, that is, you believe that the suffering of one Israeli
soldier outweighs the suffering being imposed on 1.5 million
innocent Palestinian men , women and children.
Worse still, if Israel's intention here, as some Israeli
commentators suggest, is to bring down the Hamas government, then
their behavior is tantamount to an act of terrorism—that is, the use
of violence against civilians without regard to their welfare in
order to force a political end. This is not the first time that
violence perpetrated by a reckless group has brought about a
disproportionate response that has had tragic consequences. No good
will come of this.
Two truisms come to mind: Palestinian violence cannot end the
occupation and Israeli violence cannot squash the Palestinian
resistance to that occupation. Only sanity and justice can bring
peace and security but, alas, sanity and justice like jobs, food,
and medicine are increasingly rare commodities in Gaza.
Meanwhile, like poor Kitty's 37, we watch.