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War crimes in Gaza

The Israelis are not the first to practice collective punishment against a subjugated people. In 1857, the British slaughtered thousands indiscriminately after putting down an uprising in India, while American troops destroyed entire villages in Vietnam if they suspected a sympathiser of the National Liberation Front had lived there.

Israel’s barbaric treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza - where the area’s only power station shut down yesterday because of an economic blockade – has its own shocking aspect. The Israeli state draws its legitimacy largely from the horrific crimes inflicted on Jews by the Nazis. In World War II, Nazis also carried out forms of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there.

As a result, under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, collective punishments were made a war crime. Article 33 of the Fourth Convention states: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed,” and “collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” Yet what is taking place in Gaza is exactly this.

The Israeli government does not like the Hamas regime in Gaza. It took part in isolating the Hamas government internationally after it fairly won the January 2006 elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Britain and the US joined Israel in favouring democracy only if it produced the right result. Aid to Palestine was cut by the European Union and the Israelis began a systematic attempt to destroy the economy in Gaza. Driven into a corner by the major powers, Hamas staged its own coup in Gaza last year and its militants took to firing rockets into Israeli territory in response to air strikes and military incursions.

All this entirely suits the interests of Israel’s Zionist rulers, who have no intention whatsoever of reaching a settlement with the Palestinians despite all the hot air spoken during the recent visit by President Bush. With their nonsensical Old Testament exclusive claims to the area, the Zionists view the Palestinians as essentially inferior, and treat those who live inside Israel itself as second-class citizens. In carrying out their arrogant oppression of Palestinians, they also reinforce every anti-Semite on the planet while doing great disservice to another, humanist, progressive history of the Jews.

That is personified in people like the Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, who has accepted Palestinian citizenship and an honorary Palestinian passport. “I hope that my new status will be an example of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence,” he said after a concert in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Saturday. The Argentine-born conductor is the first Israeli to be granted citizenship by the Palestinian Authority. Along with the late Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said, Barenboim formed the West-Eastern Diwan Workshop, which brings together young Israeli and Arab musicians. Barenboim appears regularly in the Palestinian territories.

In December, he called off a concert at a Gaza Strip church after Israeli authorities refused to allow a Palestinian musician to enter. Predictably, there are now calls for Barenboim to be stripped of his Israeli citizenship. Meanwhile, in Gaza there is no power supply and a blockade that makes the territory a prison camp for its 1.4 million souls. A war crime if there ever was one.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
21 January 2008

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