Depredations on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have verged into outright violations of international law. And Israel’s security cabinet declared itself ready as an entire government to violate the norms of international conduct by turning off power and fuel to Hamas-ruled Gaza:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s security cabinet on Wednesday voted to declare the Gaza Strip a “hostile territory,” approving among other things the disruption of power and fuel supplies to the Strip, as a response to the ongoing Qassam rocket fire at Israeli communities.
The ministers decided, however, not to disrupt Gaza’s water supply.
The security cabinet unanimously approved a number of sanctions to be imposed on the Gaza Strip should the rocket fire on southern Israel continue. The steps are designed to create “civilian levers” that will pressure Gaza’s Hamas rulers to bring the rocket fire to a halt.
A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office after the meeting said that Hamas bore responsibility for the “hostile activity” emanating from the territory where the Islamic movement had seized power in June.
“Hamas is a terrorist organization that has taken control of the Gaza Strip and turned it into hostile territory,” the statement said. “This organization engages in hostile activity against the State of Israel and its citizens and bears responsibility for this activity.”
“The objective is to weaken Hamas,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said during the meeting, according to one participant.
This is a tactic enamored of the Israeli right–supposedly if you show the Palestinians you’re tough and you mean business they’ll shiver in their boots and reconsider their reprehensible conduct–in this case raining Qassams down on Sderot. It’s a funny thing but the punitive tactic never seems to work. But that doesn’t even really seem to be the point. After a while, it’s just a mental attitude of Israelis toward Palestinians: make life hell for them because they just deserve it.
So there’s certainly no longer any rationality in the approach. No Israeli in their right mind believes this flagrant violation of international law will actually have any impact. It’s like a parent with a wayward child for whom no discipline seems to work. After a while the parent doesn’t know what to do, feels boxed in by bad behavior, and imposes a punishment he/she knows will not have the desired effect. But you’ve committed yourself to it and you can’t go back on your word without looking foolish. So you just go through with it making both you and your child utterly miserable. It can get quite pathological.
The following shows the Israelis have no concept of what life is truly like for Gazans. Indeed, they probably do have a pretty good notion that it already is a living hell, which would make this statement utterly disingenuous and cruel beyond measure:
The PMO statement also said that there would be restrictions on “the passage of various goods to the Gaza Strip,” but stressed that all steps “will be enacted following a legal examination, while taking into account both the humanitarian aspects relevant to the Gaza Strip and the intention to avoid a humanitarian crisis.”
With practically no trade and no jobs for months already the Israelis are “sensitive” about not causing a humanitarian crisis. How noble of them.
Thank God there is a at least one honest diplomat out there who’s calling Israel’s bluff and seeing this policy for what it is:
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel on Wednesday to
reconsider its decision to declare the Gaza Strip a hostile territory, warning that any cutoff of vital services would violate international law and punish the already suffering civilian population.
In one of his toughest statements aimed at Israel since taking the reins of the UN on January 1, Ban said he was very concerned at the Israeli government’s declaration earlier Wednesday and its announced intent to interrupt essential services such as electricity and fuel to the civilian population.
“Such a step would be contrary to Israel’s obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law,” he said.
“I call for Israel to reconsider this decision,” the secretary-general said in a statement read by UN spokeswoman Michele Montas.
And by the way, if you were expecting Condi Rice to have anything to say about this that was useful, think again:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Israel Wednesday to prepare for the November, told a news conference in Jerusalem that Washington considered Hamas to be a “hostile territory.”
But Rice pledged the United States “would not abandon the innocent Palestinians”, a reference to humanitarian aid.
We don’t have the balls to call the Israelis on this publicly so an anonymous source squeaks out its faint voice of hesitation:
A senior United States official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter publicly, said American officials had urged the Israelis to consider the humanitarian consequences in Gaza. He said Ms. Rice was not informed of the decision before she arrived.
Here is how the NY Times portrays the issue of international law as it applies to the Israeli pronouncement:
Under international law, Israel is considered an occupying power in Gaza, even though it has removed its troops and settlers from the territory. Denying civilians access to the necessities of life is considered collective punishment and a violation of international law under both the Hague and Geneva Conventions, although the amounts of resources like electricity considered essential could be subject to dispute.
Electricity, water and gasoline are considered by many, like the Israeli rights lobbying organizations B’Tselem and Gisha, as well as Oxfam and other aid and rights groups, to be necessities. But the United States contended when it bombed power plants in Belgrade during the Kosovo war that electricity furthered Serbia’s war effort. Israel made a similar case when it bombed Gaza’s main power station in July 2006, after the capture of one of its soldiers.
“Regardless of how they might cloak it, cutting off electricity to a civilian population is collective punishment and a violation of international law,” said Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem. “It doesn’t really make a difference whether it’s cutting off the supply from Israel or bombing the power station.”
Those of us who care about Israel can now be truly proud that instead of violations of international law committed by individual soldiers, officers or even the entire IDF, we now have an entire government engaging in such grave conduct. As a progressive Zionist, it really makes you sick.