Jul 21st 2014

The Nightmare of Gaza Continues

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

I can only imagine the horror in Gaza today as Israel intensifies its assault of that overcrowded, impoverished strip. It is a continuing nightmare story of pain and loss, of trauma and devastation. The heartbreaking numbers by themselves tell part of the story— with hundreds killed, thousands wounded, tens of thousands without homes, and now 600,000 without water. But the story of Gaza is more than these numbers and this current assault.

Even in earlier times, Gaza could be a nightmare. In the early 1990's I spent time in Jabalia— a sprawling refugee camp that is home to more than 80,000. During 25 years of Israeli occupation, nothing had been done to improve the infrastructure of the camp. The roads were unpaved, sewage ran into puddles in the streets and flowed directly into the sea, leaving the beaches polluted. The defining characteristic of the place was grinding poverty. In 1994, the then Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, visited Gaza after completing a tour of South Africa. Upon his return, he told an audience that what he saw in Jabalia was worse than Soweto.

During the years of direct occupation, Israel treated Gaza as one might a prison camp. Palestinians were seen as nothing more than cheap labor, with restricted rights and severe constraints on their movements. When they resisted, the results were horrifying brutality. During this period, thousands of homes were destroyed, hundreds were illegally deported, prisoners were tortured, and daily life was filled with fear of the occupier.    

During the occupation, Jewish-only settlements built in the heart of Gaza had access to land and water that was denied to Palestinians, as was access to some of the Mediterranean's loveliest beaches. I will never forget the pictures after Oslo of the joy on the faces of young Palestinians frolicking for the first time on these once forbidden beaches.

From 1967 to 1994, Israel had de-developed the West Bank and Gaza making the economies of both territories largely dependent on Israeli imports, exports, and employment. As a result, the single largest source of wealth for Palestinians in Gaza was day labor work in Israel. These were low-paying jobs in construction, agriculture, and service— but since Israel did not allow an independent Palestinian economy to develop, they provided the only means of support for hundreds of thousands of people. 

If the work was demeaning, getting to work proved to be an even more humiliating experience. Because Israeli law prohibited Palestinians from spending the night in Israel, prospective laborers had to gather near the border each morning by 6:00 a.m. to see if they would be selected. Once selected, they went through security. I visited the cattle chute security screening structures erected at the border and watched an unbelievable scene unfold before me as Palestinians were herded through the chutes holding their ID's over their heads as young armed Israeli soldiers straddled the chutes above them shouting at Palestinian men to hold their papers higher and "don't look up at me, keep your head down."   

When Israel decided to close the borders in the mid-1990's, tens of thousands of Palestinians lost access to employment. And because Israel did not allow Palestinians to freely import raw materials and export finished products, there were no new jobs created in Gaza for those who lost their access to day-labor work in Israel. Throughout the next decade, youth unemployment in Gaza hovered between 70-80 percent— meaning that for three-quarters of all young men under the age of 30, there was no work and no prospect of work, no income and no chance of a normal life.

When Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, it replaced its direct control with indirect control, making it complete with the total blockade they later imposed on the Strip. Since then, Israeli bombardments of and incursions into Gaza have become biannual affairs. The current assault is the fifth since 2006. Israelis euphemistically call these onslaughts "mowing the lawn", as in, "putting the natives back in their place." Each time, the devastation has taken a horrendous toll in human life and the psyches of the once again traumatized Palestinians.

I recently read two separate "smart" papers produced by Washington think tanks about ISIS. The authors were arguing against U.S. involvement making the case that we should use caution lest our intervention reinforce or reward either the Iraqi or Syrian strongmen (Maliki or Assad) who were responsible for the emergence of this extremist group that now controls sections of both countries. ISIS, they argued, is the product of these regimes— their brutal repression and systematic denial of rights, their dehumanization of their subjects and the despair that change might be possible that they have created by their hard-headed resistance to reform.

As I read these pieces, I thought of the decades-long nightmare that is Gaza and its despairing people. I thought of Hamas and its extremism and use of terror. Like ISIS, Hamas owes its lineage to the brutality of the occupation and despair of the Palestinian people. Like average Syrians and Iraqis, Palestinians want to live normal lives. They want to be able to provide for their children and see their children's children grow and prosper. But for decades now, they have been denied the fulfillment of these simple human aspirations. It is not, as the Israelis would say, that the Palestinians have chosen death. Rather, it is that the Israelis have never allowed them the chance to choose life. Like people everywhere, give Palestinians hope and freedom, independence and peace and they will choose life. 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "