Thursday, February 22, 2024

Where is the ‘never again’ for Gaza? | Opinions

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Last week, we passed the 100th-day mark of Israel’s latest episode of aggression against the people of Gaza. It was a depressing milestone to consider. A hundred days of Palestinians being mercilessly exterminated in all kinds of brutal ways: Israeli bombs ripping them apart, Israeli bullets piercing their skulls, and the Israeli-imposed siege starving them or killing them through otherwise treatable infections.

A hundred days in which the countries that said “never again” almost 80 years ago did nothing to stop our extermination. A hundred days in which we pleaded, humanitarian organisations pleaded, the United Nations pleaded and people in the streets across the world pleaded, but we were all ignored.

Perhaps we should not be surprised at the silence. After all, Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation was allowed to go on for decades till it beat all records and became longest-lasting in modern history.

Throughout this time, the Israeli occupying state, its governments and army have controlled virtually every aspect of Palestinian life: political, economic, social and – you may not believe it but – love life, too.

Israel has been telling us what we can eat, what we can drink, what we can buy, where we can go, where we can travel, where we can live, where we can garden, where we can graze our cattle, where we can fish, where we can go to school, where we can get health services (if at all), and yes, who we can fall in love, get married to and settle with.

Israel has even tried to tell us who we are as a nation. It has told Palestinians that they are Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze or Circassian, but not Palestinian. It has done everything and anything to break up the Palestinian social fabric.

Israel has also persistently sown divisions between political forces in Palestine; in the past 15 years, it has made sure that any mediation seeking a unity government between the two biggest Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, has failed. Political disunity has caused immense damage to the Palestinian community, ultimately leading to conflict and weakness from within.

Israel has also made sure that we remain poor and vulnerable not only through continuous dispossession – land theft, expulsions, and home demolitions – but also through economic dependence.

It has purposefully kept the Palestinian economy on the brink of collapse, suffocating economic activity and private business. This has resulted in high unemployment rates and forced many Palestinians to work for the occupiers – sometimes even in illegal Jewish settlements literally built on their stolen land.

Israel has also consistently undermined Palestinian agriculture – traditionally one of the strongest economic sectors in Palestine. Restricted access to land and water resources has led to a dramatic reduction of Palestinian agricultural output, fundamentally disrupting traditional livelihoods.

In Gaza, the economic devastation has been even worse, courtesy of the 17-year-long blockade imposed by Israel. It severely restricted imports and exports, effectively killing most trade with the outside world and wrecking the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Israel even counted the calories of foods it was allowing into Gaza to ensure we barely have enough to survive.

When we have resisted – peacefully or otherwise – the Israeli occupation has shown no mercy. It has killed, maimed, imprisoned, tortured and collectively punished.

In the ongoing aggression against the Gaza Strip, this drive to decimate the Palestinian people has taken on genocidal proportions.

In 100 days, in the killing fields of Gaza, Israel managed to slaughter at least 31,000 Palestinians – 23,000 who have been officially counted and at least 8,000 who could not be because their bodies are still under the rubble with no one to take them out.

The rest of us, who have survived, have faced the deadly combination of fear, hunger and thirst under Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and total siege.

Over the past 100 days, the Israeli occupation has denied the entry of food, water, and medicine to the Gaza Strip. Not only that, but Israeli air strikes have targeted every source of life. From water wells and water treatment plants to bakeries, farms, electricity generators, and solar panels, Israel has systematically targeted any means of relief for the people of Gaza.

It is important to note that the aid that comes into the Gaza Strip right now cannot cover the needs of even a small proportion of the population. People have become so desperate due to hunger and thirst that aid trucks that come in are sometimes attacked and ransacked. These goods are then sold in the streets for three to five times the regular price and thus never reach the most vulnerable who desperately need them.

This is, of course, one of the intended outcomes of the siege. Another one was outlined by Member of the Knesset Tali Gottlieb in October.

“Without hunger and thirst among Gazan population, we will not be able to recruit collaborators, we will not be able to recruit intelligence, we will not be able to bribe people, with food, drink, medicine, in order to obtain intelligence,” she said, demonstrating just how emboldened Israeli officials have become in displaying their genocidal goals in public and how secure they feel in their impunity ensured by the backing of the United States.

To aid the process of “obtaining intelligence”, the Israeli occupation forces have regularly dropped leaflets from the sky, offering Palestinians food, medicine and safety in exchange for “cooperation”.

But there is another even more sinister goal that Israel is pursuing. The unpredictability and harshness of daily life in Gaza are producing a sense of helplessness and despair. Many Palestinians, especially children, suffer from depression, anxiety, and stress disorders; many had not healed from traumas from past agressions before this one started. Israel wants not only to break and destroy our bodies; it wants to break and destroy our minds and souls.

If we dig a little into history, we will find that these brutal tactics have been used before. The ancestors of part of the Israeli population experienced them during the Holocaust.

In the 1940s, Jews across Europe were forced into ghettos and concentration camps where they faced starvation, abuse and mass death. The Nazis used hunger as a method of control and dehumanisation. The constant threat of violence, deportation, and death destroyed bodies and souls.

Tales we have heard about the ghettos and concentration camps echo today in Gaza, where 2.3 million of us are crammed into ever-dwindling areas and forced to endure unliveable conditions. When you put side by side the accounts of atrocities both of these peoples faced, you will see that history is repeating itself, only this time the entire world is watching and it is doing nothing to stop it.

The solemn vow of “never again”, birthed from the ashes of the Holocaust, was meant to prevent the repetition of its horrors. The commitment etched into the collective conscience of the world was a promise to vulnerable peoples across the world that they would be protected, that their tormentors would be stopped.

Yet, as we turn our gaze towards the ongoing Palestinian struggle, this pledge rings hollow. The shadows of past atrocities linger in the present-day experiences of the Palestinian people.

Still, as we marked 100 days of relentless slaughter, there was a spark of hope. South Africa stood up for the principle of “never again” and took the state of Israel to court, accusing it – before the eyes of the whole world – of committing genocide. South Africa has our eternal love and gratitude for standing up for what is right, for giving us hope when we had fallen into despair.

In these dark times, “never again” cannot remain a mere phrase of remembrance; it must become a call to action. The world must act on its pledge to uphold the dignity and rights of all people, in every corner of the world and prevent yet another genocide from taking place.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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