The Collective Punishment of Gaza

It’s no secret that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is designed to collectively punish the 1.5 million people who live there. This blockade is now 2 years old, and causes immense suffering. Here is a quick summary from the Financial Times, Amnesty International, and the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart.

The blockade disproportionately hits the most vulnerable, including children (half the Gazan population), the elderly, the sick, and refugees.

Four in five Gazans are now dependent on humanitarian food aid. There is mass unemployment and extreme poverty. According to the United Nations, the number of refugees living in abject poverty has tripled since the blockade began, and more than 60 per cent of households are currently “food insecure”. Families lack the means to purchase even the most basic items, including soap, school materials and clean drinking water. More than 90 per cent of Gaza’s factories have shut or are operating at less than 10 per cent of capacity. Exports have been reduced to almost zero – since the blockade began in June 2007, only 260 trucks of goods have left Gaza, down from 70 trucks a day beforehand. Fishermen are not allowed to travel more than three miles from the coast, dramatically reducing their catch.

The blockade restricts the entry of basic goods, including food and fuel. Much of the available food is smuggled in and sold at exorbitant prices. People cannot come or go – this applies to students and seminarians in the west bank. People with medical conditions that cannot be treated in Gaza must apply for permits to leave, but the Israelis frequently refuse or delay these requests, leading to death in some cases. Electricity is in seriously short supply – 8-12 hours of power cuts each day are common. Israel only allows in half the weekly fuel needed for Gaza’s only power plant, and less than half of needed monthly gas supply.

And despite what the Israelis claim, it is not the case that all humanitarian aid is allowed in – World Health Organization trucks of medical equipment for hospitals have repeatedly been turned away without explanation. UN agencies have said that additional storage and transportation costs from delays due reached $5 million in 2009.

And the blockade itself seems random and inconsistent, all designed to increase the power of the Israelis over the population. So what is allowed and what is banned? The distinction is bewildering. A small sample of what is banned: jam, chocolate, biscuits, potato chips, fresh meat, coriander, industrial margarine, musical instruments, pens, notebooks, toys, cars, fridges, computers, cement, iron, gravel, marble, wood, sage, french fries, dried fruit, fabrics, empty flowerpots.

The embargo is also corrupt. Beinart: “When Israeli farmers have surplus supply, they seek loopholes for the goods they wish to sell. Israeli officials allow Gazans to import Israeli products, but not the materials necessary to make those products themselves, since that would threaten Israel’s hold on the Gazan market. ..Gazans can buy Israeli-made tomato paste, but cannot buy the empty cans necessary to preserve and market their own, which would compete with Israeli suppliers“. As always, it’s about keeping the Gazans down.

And then there is the matter of the war itself. As we know, the Goldstone report issued a damning indictment of Israel’s behavior during the most recent Gaza war.  As noted at the time by Catholic priests on the ground, Israel’s actions amounted to war crimes. Its policy of blockade amount to collective punishment and “a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation”. During the war itself, “the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population”.

Basically, the Israeli response was highly disproportionate, and targeted non-combatants. The report notes that the Israelis regularly used white phosphorus (including to “directly and intentionally” attack hospitals), launched indiscriminate mortar attacks into densely populated areas, directly shot civilians (including some with white flags), bombed houses full of occupants, and fired a missile into a mosque during evening prayers. In sum, ”the direct targeting and arbitrary killing of Palestinian civilians is a violation of the right to life”.  The Israelis also destroyed industrial infrastructure, food production, water installations, sewage treatment plants, and housing. And after destroying much of Gaza’s infrastructure, Israel now refuses to allow the material necessary for rebuilding to enter the territory.

In sum, this is the immoral collective punishment of a civilian population. It strips the 1.5 million human beings who live in Gaza of their basic human dignity. And yet some – including those who call themselves pro-life – are actually defending what Israel is doing. They defend collective punishment.

Israel knows what it is doing. It knows that far from undermining the incompetent rule of Hamas, it is rallying people around them. But Israel is anything but stupid. This is all deliberate, and the 1.5 million suffering people in Gaza are expendable pawns in the game. As Beinart puts it, “the embargo must be tight enough to keep the people of Gaza miserable, but not so tight that they starve“.

Daniel Larison says something similar: “The blockade is a policy aimed at the steady immiseration and deeper impoverishment of Gazans. This not only deflects attention from Hamas’ abuses and misrule, but it also ensures that there will not be enough prosperity in the future to foster any sort of viable political opposition against Hamas. That tells me that Israel is actually quite willing to tolerate a Hamas-run enclave on its doorstep so long as it can keep the people living there poor and dependent“.

End this evil blockade now. Collective punishment can never be supported.

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  • Pam S.

    Egypt also has a blockade against Gaza. Where is your call for Egypt to end it’s blockade?

  • DarwinCatholic

    I think the blockade is probably making things worse for everybody and making peace even more distant than it was before, and should thus be ended.

    However, I’m not clear where you’re going with:

    Israel knows what it is doing. It knows that far from undermining the incompetent rule of Hamas, it is rallying people around them. But Israel is anything but stupid. This is all deliberate, and the 1.5 million suffering people in Gaza are expendable pawns in the game.

    What exactly is this long game that the Israeli’s are supposedly playing? Simply that they want the Gazans to suffer as much as possible by keeping them hungry (without starving them) and encouraging them to support Hamas militants?

    While that might satisfy some by painting the Israelis as both devilishly clever and fiendishly evil, I’m not clear how credible that is. It seems a lot more likely to me that they originally imagined that they could successfully push the Gazan population into toppling the Hamas regime, and get someone in power who would be more interested in taking care of the Gazan people than in lobbing rockets at Israel, and that as this has proved not to be the case, they’re unsure how to back down without granting Hamas a “victory” and appearing to back down. (An excessive reluctance to lose face is not laudable, but it’s hardly unique in the Middle East.)

    I don’t see any reason to believe that the Israelis would not prefer a stable and peaceful regime in Gaza to a militant one bent on attacking them — they’re just not sure how to get such a thing.

    As for why people defend the blockade — probably because they hold onto the forlorn hope that it will somehow achieve the end of sapping Hamas’ ability to attack Israel (or even result in Hamas losing power) while causing less loss of life than the other obvious means of fighting Hamas: via tanks and airstrikes.

  • digbydolben

    Darwin Catholic, they are playing for WAR–that’s what the Zionists are playing for:

    Both sides are conducting a form of political theatre–the Palestinians’ audience is Europe and some Americans, and their design is to isolate and demonize the Zionists; the Likudnik fascists who govern Israel have only one intended audience, however: their own people, from whom they want acquiescence, and American Jewry, from whom they want political support, to stay Obama’s hand in demanding cessation of their annexation of Palestine and in attempting to bring Iran to heel with sanctions. They don’t believe in the efficacy of sanctions, and they are obviously preparing their “constituencies” for their air strikes against Iran.

  • Groaning at the Naïveté

    Israel just tried to deliver the aid supplies from the flotilla to Gaza, as had always been their intent.

    Hamas turned them away, refusing the aid. Because getting aid into Gaza was never their intent.

    From the beginning, Israel asked the flotilla not to turn away entirely, but to dock elsewhere, and allow the Israelis to deliver the aid themselves, via an indirect route. But the flotilla were determined to go directly to Gaza (which is what triggered the Israeli interdict).

    Why the importance of the direct route to Gaza?

    Well, for reasons now obvious to everyone paying attention: The point of the flotilla docking directly at Gaza was never to deliver aid to Gaza. It was to begin a stream of ships delivering aid to Gaza amongst which large arms could be delivered to Gaza without passing through the hands of Israeli security en route. (As they would have to do, if the ships were brought in to any Israeli port away from Gaza itself. Armaments of the small variety are the only things which can currently be secreted into Gaza via smuggler’s tunnels. It takes ships and trucks to deliver larger weaponry, and if ships’ cargo must be carried overland to its final destination by Israeli security, it’s much harder to smuggle missiles.)

    Had the flotilla been the start of a busy stream of aid ships, Iran would have been able to surreptitiously deliver more impressive weapons than the nearly guidance-free little rockets which Hamas currently volleys at schools and malls. Arming Hamas with more impressive weapons systems was the whole point of the flotilla from the start, of course…not that many of the patsy “peace activists” on board were aware of that. One can afford to sacrifice pawns.

    Israel, however, killed the direct-to-Gaza shipping stream in its cradle, diverting the first several ships in the flotilla to an alternative port without incident. Only the eighth ship, with its crowd of well-organized, thuggish, terror-supporting ringers, prepped with metal bludgeons and ready for a bit of shindy, proved to be a problem.

    Now the violence that erupted wasn’t, in Iran/Hamas’s view, quite as desirable as a shipping channel open for weapons delivery. But since that violence put egg on Israel’s face in a serious if short-lived way, it wasn’t half-bad as a consolation prize for the terrorists.

    So the whole thing was a trap, and like all the cleverest traps, it was a “heads I win, tails you lose” choice between two bad options.

    Israel wisely selected the better of the two bad options, and kudos to them for doing so.

    Sure, they incurred a P.R. hit in the process, but that’s hardly their fault, as the naïveté of Hamas’s useful idiots in the western media made a P.R. hit utterly unavoidable. Better, then, to write off the press reaction as a lost cause and proceed as required for security.

    Which they did. And as I already said: Kudos to them for doing so.

  • Curt

    The broader picture is how many Protestants view
    Israel and their belief in the rapture.
    Protestants raise money to send Jews back to
    Israel, to live in Israel, so they can rebuild the temple. I am not saying all Protestants believe
    or do this. So American voters pressure
    politicans to always support Israel.
    Regardless if it is a flotilla incident,
    Gaza, Jerusalem, etc., some Protestants solution
    is just for all the Palestinians to leave.

    I think it is naive to ever think the US
    will ever have an impartial voice.

  • Josh Brockway


    Egypt announced within hours it would be opening its blockade.

  • Maximos

    Israel is quite content to perpetuate and extend the immiseration of the Palestinians, even knowing that – predictably – they will rally around Hamas, because this affords a pretext to avoid any serious, good-faith efforts to achieve peace.


    Because the unchanging objective of Israel as a political project, as Benny Morris discusses in his Righteous Victims, is to possess the whole of the land.

    It isn’t any more complicated than that. Everything else is sophistry intended to obfuscate and legitimize conquest and ethnic cleansing – the rule of the stronger.

  • Curt

    Groaning at the Naïvete, where are you getting
    your information? You have proof? While it may
    be true, that is quite a lot to throw out.
    Does Israel never play the victim card?

    I have proof of my assertion:

    First paragraph: Support the fulfillment of the Prophetic return of Jews to Israel.

    Does it bother you Americans raise money to
    send Jews back to Israel so their belief
    that the world will turn into hell on earth
    will occur?
    Is this more benign than sending rockets to

  • Harry

    The USA insisted on elections as part of the “peace process”; Hamas was elected into office.
    Hamas didn’t “take over”; it was elected into office.
    Then, because the USA didn’t like the result of the elections the USA insisted on, we refused to deal with them.
    Just to be clear.

  • digbydolben
  • Rodak

    Anti-fascist sentiment from a dweller-at-a-fascist-blog?

  • DarwinCatholic

    If what Israel wanted was war and ethnic cleansing, what exactly is stopping it right now? Their military power and economic resources are completely unrivaled in the region. If they wanted to stage a pogrom and drive the Gazans out of Gaza, who exactly would stop them?

    It’s hard to see how the claim that they’re focused on conquest and ethnic cleansing fits with the facts. The facts seem to point much more towards the idea that they want to have their current borders and be left alone.

    BTW, Maximos, have you read any of what Benny Morris has written recently about the Gaza situation? It doesn’t fit with what you’ve taken from his book.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Neither Likud nor Hamas want peace. Peace means loss of power. Jewish extremists and Muslim extremists are cut from the same cloth. Since Israel is far more powerful, it’s a case of assymetrical warfare, forcing more suffering on the weaker party, thereby making them more susceptible to supporting Hamas.
    When the one group of idiots, I mean men exhibiting traditional manly virtues, fires gimpy rockets it’s terrorism, when the other comes with a high tech army it’s self defense. Civilian casualties ? Oh thats just unfortunate but not intended winkwinknudgenudge. Because in a manly world, armies are acceptable, honorable, they aren’t condemned by Jonny-Wayne-come-latelies. Violence must be neatly organized and performed in spiffy uniforms to be acceptable. Hamas is just too unkempt. Oh and, lest we forget the Israeli army might bring back Jesus so Sarah Palin can go to Valhalla, can’t forget about that. 

    You may ask, what would Jesus do? Ill tell ya. Apart from supporting singers and football teams to win Grammies and bowls, Jesus loves nothing more than militarism, which is why he referred to himself as the Prince of War and had 12 generals.” Go forth and enslave men of all nations’l he commanded them. He famously said, ” if you live by the sword I’ll run you through with mine.” He added that everyone should turn their plowshares into swords. In a personal 20th century revelation, he updated that to “Praise Me and pass the ammunition.” Never one to back down, he cast the first stone many times. He turned a ragtag band of fishermen into special ops, using their existing skills by instructing them to gut men like fish.

     So, clearly, Zionist Evangelicals are his personal favorites. The average Catholic is just too feminized. Except for Erik Prince of course, who hears the Mass in Jesus’ native language, Latin. 

    He doesn’t care much for Palestinians, back in the day he famously told the Samaritan woman to get lost. Besides, they’re poor and as we know, he said, “Verily, verily I say unto you, if you do anything for the least of these you’re a socialist pansy.” not to forget, he also said “if a man asks you for bread, tell him to get a job.” 

    He was a manly man. Mary Magdalene he only liked for her Matzah balls. He really admired a man in uniform. Did he not patent the chestplate of righteousness and the Sword of the Spirit that could take off a head with ease ? He’s been keeping up
    with technology, though. This explains the Shrine of the  Immaculate Bombardment aka the Airforce Academy. Being in a bomber at high altitudes gets you that much closer to heaven, especially when you wear a WWJD bracelet. Who knows, you might get raptured right out of the cockpit and the plane will hit some pinko pansy’s house.


  • digbydolben

    DarwinCatholic, all you are doing is listening to the Zionists’ words–which, like most credulous Americans, you are a sucker for; you are not watching the broad arc of their history or their actions:

    They are imperialists and racists, as well, and the Holocaust is their “gift that keeps on giving.” Most Europeans have seen through it, but it’s taking the Americans forever. Interestingly enough, though, the group in America who are coming to their senses the fastest are young Jews.

  • Gerald August Naus

    Digby, that’s of course why there are Holocaust deniers. Mind you, they deem it just splendid, they just don’t like the “carte blanche” that comes with it.

  • Maximos

    BTW, Maximos, have you read any of what Benny Morris has written recently about the Gaza situation? It doesn’t fit with what you’ve taken from his book.

    No, I have not, because it seemed to me that Morris slipped the tether binding him to the ethical inheritance of mankind around the time of the last Lebanon war, or rather, criminal expression of insensate fury. I know a family, from my parish, who were trapped in Lebanon during that exercise in applied moral obscenity, and nearly killed, along with their daughter, who is about the age of my older son – six. They were nowhere near anything having to do with Hizbollah. I have neither the time nor the forbearance for the arguments of those who would defend such war crimes, collective punishments imposed, in essence, because the Lebanese refused to endure another civil war in order to do Israel’s bidding and rid the country of Hizbollah.

    I realize that the analogy will prove inadequate, but it’s rather like libertarianism, especially of the Randroid variety, as when American “conservatives”, who have never conserved anything except the hegemony of the rentier class and the American imperium, warn ominously that they might “Go Galt” if marginal tax rates increase from 35% to 39%: I henceforth disregard anything uttered by those in thrall to such moral inversions. Life is short; I’m tired; and some people are morally retarded, and best avoided.

  • digbydolben

    This explains well why the rest of the world–except for America–is sick and tired of Israel:

  • Pingback: First Things Defends Consequentialism « Vox Nova()

  • Rodak

    For anyone interested, I flesh out my personal anecdote of heavy-handed treatment by Israeli officials (previously presented in another comment box) here.