Saturday, May 29, 2010

Engineering A Humanitarian Crisis

Those who get their news from the Trough of the Times would be hard pressed to discover that Israel intends to forcibly intercept a flotilla bringing much needed humanitarian supplies to besieged Gaza. Instead, in a "Jews are Nice Guys After All" story, Elizabeth Kershner reports that Israel has opened up a road in the West Bank to Palestinians. Awwwww....

What the rest of the non-Times world knows is that the United Nations, the European Union, and scores of NGO's, including the International Red Cross, have all condemned Israel's siege of Gaza which has destroyed its infrastructure, degraded civil existence, subjected the inhabitants to chronic malnutrition and put them at heightened risk for disease.

Israel's Foreign Ministry, however, derided the relief convey calling it an absolute provocation" and a "cheap political stunt", as there was no shortage of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Oh yeah?

FOUR years ago -- even before the Israeli Blitzkrieg known as Operation Cast Lead -- Israel initiated it's medieval siege of Gaza.

"The idea is to put Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger"

Let me repeat that: when asked how Israel should deal with the new Hamas government, Dov Weisglass, senior advisor to Israeli Prime Ministers Sharon and Olmert, said: "The idea is to put Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger,"

A year later, in 2007, Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Israeli agency that oversees supplies to Gaza, stated: “We will allow in the minimum amount of food and medicines necessary to avoid a humanitarian crisis,”

What kind of "humanitarian crisis"? A crisis like the one that afflicted Jews in Nazi Occupied Poland and Russia?

The brutal cynicism of the Israeli government follows close on the heels of the humanitarian brutality of the Nazis or Soviets, both of whom starved helpless civilian populations. But you will not a hear a peep from the Times. No; instead you will be treated to jejeune callousness as when Steven Erlanger reported that Gazans who had broken through the wall to get urgently needed food stuffs in Egypt were going on a "shopping spree." (Times makes Light of Desperation (2008).)

Israel's layered sophistry needs to be peeled back so as to reveal the fetid core. A "crisis" is something that happens, either foreseeably or unexpectedly. By using the word "crisis" Dror and Weisglass duck the fact that the "crisis" is entirely within Israel's control. The word "crisis" also occludes the fact that the "crisis" in question constitutes a conscious violation of humanitarian law. What Israel is saying is that it will starve the Palestinians in Gaza but stop short of producing a holocaust; ergo there is nothing for anyone to complain about.

There sure is.

Bringing Back the Ghetto & the Medieval Siege

It is illegal under international law to shoot or starve civilians. The idea is basically simple. Whatever bloody nonsense governments and belligerents may engage in, it violates every sense of moral right to injure the weak, the infirm, the defenceless. It is bad enough that healthy young men on two sides of a line blast away at eachother sending their body parts flying into the air, but do we have to stomp on babies or blow away women and hobbling grandfathers? The humane answer is, No.

As a correlative, international law also holds that, once one power has taken control over a territory and its inhabitants, it is responsible for their welfare. Just as it cannot mow down civilians, it cannot herd them into a corral and watch them starve to death. "We're not killing them; we're just not feeding them" is not the sort of thing decent people with a minimal moral sense say.

As one last correlative, it follows that civilians cannot be taken hostage and used as political or military bargaining chips. In order to maintain law and order over occupied territory, the occupying power is allowed to take limited reprisals against civilians as a response to partisan or guerrilla tactics. But the law of reprisal does not translate into collective punishment, mass-bombing or mass-killing; nor does it turn into rations-blackmail in order to wrest political concessions.

During the World War, the Nazis flagrantly violated each of these tenets of international humanitarian law. Putting aside all the "collateral errors" that occur during actual warfare, the post-battle occupation of Poland and then Russia began with targetted arrests and killings of intellectuals, priests, politicians and ideological opponents. These killings numbered in the tens or hundreds of thousands.

To maintain law and order in the occupied territories the Nazis resorted to draconian reprisals. In perhaps a majority of cases, these reprisals were actually legitimate responses to partisan, guerrilla or terrorist actions by so-called "resistance fighters." What was criminal in a majority of these cases was that the reprisals were excessive and/or entailed collective punishments. The levelling of the town of Lidice is the most symbolic example. Less known examples (for which the perpetrators were later hanged) was the shooting of 50 hostages instead of a more "reasonable" 10 or 20.

But the greatest of Nazi war crimes began with food and corrals. Upon taking over Poland the Nazis: (1) reduced the entire population's food rations and then (2) proceeded to herd Jews into ghettos. It is important to understand how these two procedures inter-relate.

The essence of "ghettos" was simply segregation -- cutting off one group of people from another. The segregation began with a poisonous classification: them vs us. This is the kernel of the evil because once a distinction is posited, differences in treatment (i.e. discriminations) invariably ensue. With the Nazis, what ensued was a materialization of the classification; i.e. putting "us vs them" into practice by "concentrating" Jews into ghettos. Not all ghettos were the same. Some ghettos were sealed; others were open. In rural areas numerous quasi-ghettos were established. Some Jewish communities, such as Szydlowiec, were transformed into what were, in effect, ghetto towns. Elsewhere, ghettos were not formed at all. But the segregating principle remained the same.

Where ghettos were established the salient feature was delapidation and overcrowding.

"The districts chosen to house the ghetto were inevitably situated in the most impoverished parts of cities and towns. The housing was dilapidated, often with no piped water or electricity. The number of people packed into the ghetto produced staggering levels of population density. In Warsaw, 30% of the population were forced to live in 2.4% ... The Germans calculated a density of 6-7 people per room in the Warsaw Ghetto." (See Overview of Ghettoization of Jews)

Another salient feature of the ghetto was its economic dependency. Although the ghettos were administered by "self-governing" Jewish councils, they lacked the material basis for anything like self-sustenance. As a result, the denizens of these enclaves were dependent on (1) German-provided rations as supplemented by (2) trading with the local population and (3) smuggling.

In such a situation, the critical factor is the government provided ration. During the four and a half year occupation, no single ration applied everywhere and, of course, those only interested in making a propaganda will turn the worst case into a general rule. But what is clear, as a general rule, is that the Nazis did establish a feeding hierarchy with Germans at the top, Poles in middle and Jews on the bottom. Where Jews were "concentrated" the ration was set at "prison fare".

It was the same in occupied Russia where, in August 1941, Hinrich Lohse, the Reichskommissar, ordered: "In the ghettos the Jews are to receive only as much food as the rest of the population can spare, but not more than is required for their bare subsistence. The same applies to the allocation of other essential goods."

In other words, Heinrich Lohse might just as well have said that:

"In the ghettos the Jews are to be put on a diet but not to make them die of hunger"

Prison fare is nothing to cheer about, but people have served out long life-sentences on "prison fare". The problem with setting minimum subsistence levels is not that one cannot "sustain" life but that such rations do not leave any margin for error -- for an unexpectedly severe winter,or interruptions in food deliveries and other events that either require more food or result in the delivery of less food.

In early 1941, precisely such a crisis took place in Warsaw where the the military Oberfeldkommandant reported on 20 May 1941:

"The situation in the Jewish quarter is catastrophic. The corpses of those who have died of starvation lie in the streets. The death rate, 80% from malnutrition, has tripled since February. The only thing that is issued to the Jews is 1.5 pounds of bread per week. No one has yet been able to deliver potatoes, for which the Jewish council made a prepayment of several millions..."

Of course, at that rate, the population would have died off by the end of the year. What the report points to is a breakdown in otherwise permitted deliveries and the situation was ultimately rectified sufficiently to sustain the ghetto (minimally) for another two years. Once it is borne in mind that a situation in May 1941 does not equate with a general condition for all of four years, what the report really teaches us is that when no margin for error is allowed, any error will result in a "crisis".

Thus, once we put aside propaganda spectacles of the appalling end results, what history teaches us is that it is no excuse to piously claim, "We gave them enough to live on." The monstruousness of the Israeli government's stated policy is that it sets the stage for a crisis and then deprives the Gazans of the very means of self help to avoid that very denouement.

In other words: once one sets a ration that is just "sufficient to avoid a humanitarian crisis" a humanitarian crisis will ensue.

To say as much is not to loose sight of the fact that "subsistence" food levels themselves constitute a chronic crisis.

People in the West, rest assured that "something is being done" when they see starving babies slurping some corn-porridge handed out by U.N. relief agencies. But the fact is, "nutri-mush" is not very nutricious. The second problem with subsistence rations is that while they may keep you alive they do not keep you well. They are imbalanced and over time produce that kind of malnutrition which leads to disease and earlier than necessary death. Rafael Lemkin, the Polish Jew whose seminal studies defined the concept of "genocide, provided the follwing table for Nazi food rations.

-------------- Group ------------- Carbohyd.---Proteins---Fats

---------------Germans...................... 100............. 97........... 77
---------------Belgians......................... 79 .............73........... 29
---------------Poles............................. 77...............62........... 18
---------------Norwegians................... 69..............65........... 32
---------------French........................... 58............. 71............ 40
---------------Jews............................... 27............. 20........ 0.32

It is somewhat surprising to see racially kindred Aryans being ranked under Poles; so that the foregoing table provides an implicit caution against reducing the issue to a simplistic question of "how many calories" a target population is provided. Diets vary between regions and ethnic groups, and a sustainable diet can be achieved through different ratios. Nevertheless, it is generally true, as Lemkin wrote, that "The result of racial feeding is a decline in health of the nations involved and an increase in the death rate."

Nor is the health of a population only a question of rations and calories. Fuel, water, heat, sanitation are all just as important. – in the Lodz Ghetto 95% of apartments had no sanitation, piped water or sewers. One ghetto denizen recalled: "We were very cold as we could not get any firewood to heat the house, so we tried to sneak out at night to break up wooden fences, but if you were caught doing this the Germans would shoot you." Of course, the Germans would shoot them. After all, they were committing illegal acts of vandalism. No authority can condone lawlessness!

The cynicism of the Nazi regime -- even before it tipped over into publicly avowed mass murder -- is not to be underestimated. Resources includes more than food. It includes the plow to sow the wheat, the oven to bake the bread, the axe to cut the wood to heat the oven... in short the whole network of human socio-economic existence. The Nazi Generalgouvernment of Poland understood very well that, precisely because the ghettos were simply human warehouses with no economic viability of their own, whatever "trade" the Jews carried out with the local population it would soon deplete whatever meager assets the Jews had left. At that point, the denizens of the ghetto would not only have no money for food, but no wherewithall for a button, a blanket, or shoe leather. The Jews would be animalized.

What history teaches is that genocide is carried out by creating conditions of dependent adversity. In the Nazi controlled ghettos, the intolerable population density, inadequate sanitary facilities – absence of fuel for heating, starvation rations and almost complete lack of medical supplies, combined to produce conditions in which sickness and epidemics were inevitable -- and did in fact ensue.

For those who propagate history-as-soap-opera, something called Auschwitz is held up as the emblematic paradigm of Nazi genocide. Under this historiography, Hitler from the cradle and the Nazis from the start, set out with the singular intent and purpose of exterminating Jews and everything they did was calculated and calibrated to that end.

It follows that everything has to be interpreted accordingly, and the critical lynch-pin is, of course, the gas-chamber. From the occurence of an end result it is asserted that the result must have been specifically intended. This intentionalist theory of history is typified by comments such as the one in the New York Times which excoriated Bishop Williamson for saying "he did not believe that six million Jews died in the Nazi gas chambers" [ here ].

Of course, no serious historian of any sort, would assert that six million Jews were gassed. But the inevitable result of "intentionalist" theories is to reduce that point of fact to a mere quibble. The argument is: since it was intended to kill 6 million or more Jews, it is irrelevant how they were killed and the gas-chamber, which was most coldly calculated to kill mass numbers, serves as an appropriate symbol for the killing. This is the essence of the Zionist narrative and its purpose is not to learn from history but to provide a demonization that is so inherently unique as to be useless for anything else save victimized self-justification.

Although "intentionalist" theories of history have gained a certain respectability the fact is that intentionalism is childish garbage. None other than Tolstoy makes a mockery of the view that the wellspring of Napoleon's "intent" caused "this" or "that" geopolitical event to happen. (See Epilogue to War & Peace.) There are individual intents at work in any series of events, but what happens "in history" is the result of a functional convergence of factors.

The leading historians of Nazi genocide, including Lemkin, Hilberg, Bauman, Broszat and Arendt, all maintain, despite differences on subsidiary issues, that the annihilation of European Jews was the result of a convergence of political, sociological and bureaucratic factors, none of which necessarily led to a particular result but all of which did produce the result. In other words, the outcome depends less on intents than on habits.

This form of analysis looks to see how factors tend to and do function together. It is an analysis based on propensities and risks concerning how things and humans operate. It is an analysis that requires an acuity of mind of which the intentionalists are, apparently, incapable. Above all, it provides a measure -- howsoever imperfect -- of human conduct and of what "signs" to look for.

By contrast, intentionalism in history is basically a prosecutors game. It coaxes out an accusation from a result. By the same token, it serves as a deflecting exculpation by arguing that, since a particular means is not employed, the same intention does not exist. It is by recourse to this line of sophistical argumentation that defenders of Israel, and the Israeli government itself, begs off doing anything wrong in Gaza.

Reduced to a nutshell, the argument goes: "We don't have gas chambers in Gaza, therefore, how can you possibly accuse us of genocide?" This is precisely the contrived indignation one routinely hears from Zionist apologists. Of course, Israel has not committed barbarities on the scale of the Nazis, but that is not the point. The point is rather that Israel has adopted tactics and policies which -- in addition to being callous and cruel -- are known precursors to genocide. At the time Rafael Lemkin wrote his seminal and defining study of genocide he had no knowledge of gas chambers. His entire focus was on social, economic, educational and material discriminations; and his argument was that genocide (a word he coined) was carried out primarily by means that fell short of actual mass killing.

A slightly more subtle apologetic is the Weisglass/Dror formula of: "...we will provide just enough food to avoid a humanitarian crisis...." In other words, Israel will starve the Gazans, but not enough to actually starve them to death. This line of sophistry crashes on the fact that precisely because Auschiwitz-Birkenau was set up as a labour camp, the food rations there were better than in the ghettos, at least until the last cataclysmic days of the war. But would anyone seriously argue that, because the rations were better for those deemed fit to work, Auschwitz was safe-harbour from a humanitarian crisis? The latest computations indicate that, in the end, the greater part of the casualties arose from starvation and disease rather than execution.

More salient than "just more than not enough" was Lemkin's point that when you corral a population, reduce its material conditions for sustenance, take away it's economic independence and make it dependent on a minimal dole of gruels, you are consciously and deliberately setting the stage for a humanitarian catastrophe. That you haven't "intentionally" crossed the line, is immaterial.

The conditions in Gaza are entirely attributable to the primary fact that Israel maintains the strip as a vast Ghetto, the conditions of which have been summarized in several Woodchip articles. (Let Them Light Candles ; It's not a Holocaust even when we Say it Is ; The Inns and Outs of Christmas .)

In addition to malnutrition, the imprisoned inhabitants of Gaza suffer degraded water and sewage system and suffer periodic shortages of electricity.

About half of Gazan households have access to running water for only one or two hours a day, and the area’s waste water system is only partially functioning, resulting in the dumping of 30 million litres of untreated sewage into the Mediterranean Sea (U.N. Report (Jan 2008) .)

In the Gaza Strip, 90 to 95 per cent of the water is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Yet, Israel does not allow the transfer of water from the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to Gaza. (Amensty Interntational Report (Oct. 2009).)

Electricity outages are frequent - power came on Sunday for the first time in eight days. One typical family of five is reduced to eating lentils, beans, and canned foods. Tomatoes are available, but have tripled in price, to 75 cents a pound. (Boston Globe (Jan. 2009).)

Think about it. Loosing electricity for eight days in the middle of the winter is no small inconvenience. A seashore swimming in sewage and "degraded" water is typhus waiting to happen.

According to the Israeli government the flotilla bearing 10,000 tonnes of food-stuffs is a "stunt" that will not provide any real relief. The cynicism is beyond belief. It is true enough that the "stunt" cannot repair the sewage systems, cannot open the acquifers, cannot provide electricity to hospitals, and building materials to repair flattened homes. It can do none of those things. But it can call attention to the fact that Israel's siege prevents all of those things.

Apologizing for Evil

In addition to begging off on the grounds that it is an "affront" to Jews to compare Israel's conduct with that of Nazis, Zionist apologists seek to excuse what Israel is doing in Gaza on a variety of other spurious and cynical grounds.

The most spurious -- and intellectually insulting -- is that Israel doesn't "occupy" Gaza. No... they don't; just as no Aryans could be found occupying space in the Jewish Ghettos. But the fact is that Israel completely controls access to and conditions within Gaza. Not only have they built a wall around Gaza, they control access by air and sea as well. Not only does Israel control access they control the utilities and even the collection and dispersing of the revenues of the so called Gaza Governing Authority.... which was planned to be no more "autonomous" than a Ghetto Jewish Council.

Assured of the world's stupidity, after denying "occupational control" over Gaza, Zionist apologists then do a volte face and argue that Israel is "justified" in imposing a "blockade" in response to Hamas' "barrage" of "rocket" attacks. What were the Jews in the ghettos if not "blockaded"?

But this justification fails precisely because blockading food stuffs to non-combatants is a war-crime, whether it is the British who do it to Germans (1917), or Soviets who do it to Kulaks (1932) or Israelis who do it to Gazans. Under international law, it is permitted to blockade a belligerent opponent in order to prevent it from receiving arms and war-making materials ("contraband of war"). The problem with the rule, evident by 1914, was that, on account of technological advances, just about everything -- including cotton or corn -- could be used to manufacture something that was a "material for war." This provided a god-send excuse to the murderous Shylocks of the world: "We have no intent to deny the occupants corn for food; we merely embargo corn for ethanol!" In a sad and brutal way Nazi candour was almost a relief from the cunning, hypocritical, pieties of the British Foreign Office.

But there is a humanitarian safeguard of sorts against the carte-blanche of blockade; namely, that an occupying power is responsible for the welfare of the people under its control and it is not permitted to hold civilians at ransom to extort political or military concessions from a belligerent opponent. What could be more morally revolting than holding a bowl of gruel beyond a starving child's reach while declaiming that "the blockade will stop, when the rockets stop." War is a nasty and vile business but there is a line past which even those failing in decency dont go.

What these summary considerations show is that, in tandem with its blockade, Israel has erected a wall of spurious legal technicalities the substance of which is that it is not an "occupying power" responsible for the Gazan's welfare and that is justified to "blockade" civilians within its tightened grip in order to stop a so-called barrage of so-called rockets "raining down" on defenceless Israelis. The projectiles are in fact little more than jumbo firecrackers that have killed a grand total of 7 people over five or six years. For this, Israel keeps 1.3 million people on the edge of starvation and disease. The Security Council has demanded an end to the blockade and virtually every agency that is not in the pay or control of Israeli apologists has concluded that Israel is in flagrant violation of humanitarian law.

To which the last and ultimate response of Zionist apologists is: "life is tuff". Yes it is. Might often asserts itself as right. It is perfectly true that in the chronicle of the "crimes, vices and follies of mankind" unjust wars have been unjustly waged. At the dawn of the Christian Millenium, Cicero called for the sparing of civilians. A thousand years later, the Pax Dei movement again sought to regulate the depradations of war by imposing an excommunication on those who abused civilians during hostilities. Five hundred years later, building on those precedents Vittoria (Spanish) and Grotius (Dutch), began the modern process of confining the ravages of war to those who actually fought in it. It is fair to say, that four hundred years of patient legal labours were blasted away -- by all parties -- in the cataclysm of the World War. But that fact hardly means that humanity has or ought to give up on trying to be -- if not "good" -- at least "better".

We all understand, that should there be another World War, there is no chance that it will be fought "justly". It is precisly the spectre of such a catastrophe that has resulted in a diminution of war to lesser conflicts over the past half century. That very diminution of the scale of war has in fact allowed for renewed efforts to strengthen the humanitarian restrictions on the way such wars are fought. We cannot control a tsunami; but we can contain lesser tides.

By no stretch of the imagination can Israel be regarded as fighting off a tsunami. It is engaged in a simple and classic war over disputed territory. There is, in short, no true necessity which impells dispensing with international humanitarian law. Given that fact, Israel's ultimate response that "life is tuff" is simply brutal cynicism. To this it may be answered that, yes, the struggle toward fulfilling our humanity is halting and hard, but it is important to know where each of us stands.

©WCG, 2010.


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