Suppose I were to leave my office here in Chicago and walk the short distance to the kidney dialysis unit down the road and pull out the tubes to which four elderly patients were attached, making them seriously ill or killing them. Suppose I said I did this because I disagreed with the Bush Administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, its use of torture, and its countless other profoundly undemocractic and illegal policies. What would that make me? A murderer for sure, a monster and a new vicious kind of terrorist. Such an action would be unconscionable in any moral system.
And yet this is what the so-called “international community,” a few powerful governments, feel entitled to do to Palestinians because those governments disagree with the policies of the elected Hamas authority. Ha’aretz reported on May 9 that “At least four people suffering from kidney diseases died in the Gaza Strip in April, after the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority Health Ministry cut the Shifa Hospital’s budget for the necessary dialysis treatments.” The Palestinian Authority is near to collapse due to a decision by the European Union, the largest donor to Palestinians under occupation, to cutoff vital aid. At the same time, the United States has moved aggressively to threaten anyone who tries to render assistance to suffering Palestinians, scaring banks from allowing cash transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
According to Dr. Juma al-Saka, 300 of Gaza’s 650 kidney patients are treated at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, and due to the sanctions, their treatments were cut from a required three per week to just two. Four have already died, others are sure to follow unless the EU-US sanctions against the Palestinian people end.
Ha’aretz adds that, “Kidney ailments are not the only diseases going untreated, according to the doctor, who said that some cancer patients have stopped receiving chemotherapy and other vital drugs due to money and equipment shortages.”
All of this is a flashback to the years after the 1991 Iraq war, when international sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, starting with the oldest, the youngest and the sickest. In US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s immortal words, this holocaust was “worth it” if it helped the US achieve its policy objectives. I naively thought the lesson had been learned. Now the Palestinians are to have their turn.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to build a comprehensive system of apartheid, to kill Palestinian civilians and to steal their land with total impunity. On Saturday, May 6, 65-year-old Mousa Salim Mousa al-Sawarka, was killed by shrapnel to the head, when Israel shelled the area in the northern Gaza Strip where he was grazing his animals. The next morning, Hassan Hussein Khader al-Shaf’ei, 55, was killed by shrapnel throughout the body, while he was farming his land near the same area, and a woman, Fatima Mohammed Sahweel, 59, was wounded with shrapnel to her right the eye. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has announced the construction of thousands of new Jewish-only settler homes in the occupied West Bank. (“Olmert: Settler blocs to be part of Israel forever,” Ha’aretz, May 4, 2006). Within Israeli society, the dehumanization of Palestinians continues to advance: a new poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 62 percent of Israelis support “government-backed Arab emigration” — in other words ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. (“More than half of Israelis want gov’t to help Arabs emigrate,” Ha’aretz, 9 May 2006)
As Israel’s onslaught goes unchallenged by the US, the UN leadership, European and Arab governments, it is encouraging to see that the UK’s largest university and college lecturers union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), is about to vote again on a resolution to recommend that its 67,000 members boycott Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that do not publicly declare their opposition to Israeli policy in the occupied territories. (Ha’aretz, May 9).
Ronnie Fraser, a NAFTHE delegate who heads a group called Academic Friends of Israel, objected that “Academic work should not be blocked on political grounds.” The UK Ambassador to Israel, Simon McDonald, reacted to the boycott plan saying, “we do not believe that such academic boycotts are productive - far more can be obtained through dialogue and academic cooperation.” Would that the British government was so willing to defend Palestinians’ rights as it is to protect the privileges of Israelis. It seems that Israeli professors should never be deprived of their ability to enjoy conferences in Oslo, London or Florence no matter how bad things get in Palestine, no matter how imprisoned Palestinians are in their ghettos and no matter how complicit major Israeli institutions are with the apartheid system.
The EU is now trying to deflect criticism by putting together a plan to channel aid to the Palestinians without going through Hamas. Desperate for any relief, many Palestinians have welcomed this, though the aid seems a long way from flowing as the EU has no idea how to achieve it. This palliative is merely another example of the EU stepping in to subsidize the occupation and mitigate its most pernicious effects so as to avoid actually having to do the hard work of confronting Israel and rolling back its colonialism.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada