Summer Rain over Gaza
by Frubious Bandersnatch
Consider this: an 8 km wide by 23 km long strip of arid land by the Mediterranean Sea containing a population of one and a half million people. This is Gaza, one of the most densely populated regions in the world, and the one of the most water poor, second only to Kuwait. Over half of the population are refugees, expelled from Israel following the 1948 and 1967 wars.
The Strip bears the scars of 40 years of military occupation. The economy is in crisis, with over 30 % unemployment (PCBS, 2005) and over half the population living below the official poverty line of less than $2 per person per day (PCBS, 2004). Despite efforts by the Palestinian Authority and international donors, infrastructure is completely inadequate to serve the needs of the population. The decaying water system was running at 50 % losses when it was passed over to Palestinian control after the peace agreements of the early 90s. The situation has not been improved by repeated Israeli missile strikes since 2000, smashing pipelines and destroying pumping stations.
The sewage system is even more inadequate. Only 60 % of the population are connected to any form of sewage network and there are only 3 poorly functioning treatment plants. Thus 80 % of wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment, infiltrating the ground and poisoning the groundwater, which is the only source of fresh water in the area (UNEP, 2003). The quantity of freshwater available does not come close to meeting the basic demands of the population and as a consequence, the aquifer has been heavily overabstracted for years, causing infiltration of sea water and deterioration of water quality. Currently only 10 % of the water distributed in Gaza meets World Health Organization drinking water standards (UNEP, 2003).
Demand for food for the inflated population is high and cultivable land is scarce. Hence agricultural practices are intense, relying heavily on toxic agrochemicals which wreak further environmental destruction. Even so there is no food security and a high dependency on imported food from Israel, a supply that can readily be cut off by the simple expedient of closing the border crossings. The water shortage is so severe and the demand for food so high that sewage water is sometimes used to irrigate crops, with obviously appalling health consequences. Put quite simply, Gaza is in a state of escalating humanitarian crisis: a large population with resources inadequate to sustain itself in a poisoned and deteriorating environment.
Consider this: Summer Rain over Gaza. A rain of missiles shattering roads, schools, powerstations, pipelines and people. Shooting fish in a barrel. In such a densely populated area, it would be difficult not to hit something important. Power stations and main transport routes have been deliberately targetted. The consequences? Inability to move food supplies, breakdown of water pumping stations and sewage treatment plants, further contamination of drinking water supplies as ruptured sewage pipes mingle their contents with drinking water supplies. Most of the water wells in Gaza and all of the sewage treatment plants were powered by the destroyed power station which also constituted the only source of domestic electricity in the region (CMWU, 2006). In short, a humanitarian disaster has been precipitated, as food and water supplies run dry and hunger, thirst and disease become the daily reality of the beleaguered population. Summer Rain over Gaza: what exquisite irony.
The reason that has been given by Israeli leaders for this deliberate targeting of Gaza's life support systems has been that it is necessary to "tear down the infrastructure of terrorism". This statement begs two vital questions: firstly, what is meant by "terrorism", and secondly, what is the "infrastructure of terrorism" or what sustains terrorism?
Terrorism is a controversial and subjective term with multiple definitions. One definition is "a violent action targetting civilians exclusively" (Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism). However, terrorism is defined by the US Department of Defense as "the unlawful use of -- or threatened use of -- force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives." The government of Israel, it seems, defines terrorism as any act of violence against any Israeli target, civilian or military, perpetrated by any Palestinian. Any use of force by Palestinians against Israelis is 'unlawful'.
The current Israeli invasion of Gaza was ostensibly caused by the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of one more (Gilad Shalit) by Palestinian militants connected with the elected Palestinian government (Hamas). There are two points that are extremely pertinent here. One is that the action was against a military target; and the other is that Palestine has no 'lawful' army. This being the case, actions undertaken by the military wing of the elected government against the deployed military personnel of an Occupying power are somewhat subject to interpretation in terms of their 'lawfulness' or otherwise.
The Israeli invasion, and indeed the entire military occupation of the Palestinian Territories, are themselves on similarly shaky ground with regard to their 'lawfulness'. Civilian individuals and infrastructure have been repeatedly targeted and multiple UN resolutions have been passed declaring the illegality of such actions. Furthermore, the objective of these actions, namely the furthering of the Zionist ideal, is political, religious and ideological, and few could argue that they do not constitute "coercion" of a democratically elected government. Hence under US Department of Defense definitions, Israel is certainly perpetrating acts of terrorism against the Palestinian government and society.
However, let us return to the question of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. Whilst there is some question as to whether the stated cause of the current conflict constitutes terrorism, the firing of Qassam rockets into Israeli civilian settlements and the suicide bombing of civilian population centres which have taken place in recent months fit more easily into generally accepted definitions of terrorism. So the question we must now ask is what drives such acts? Will destroying civilian infrastructure in Gaza help to prevent further terrorism?
It is doubtless true that terrorists, as human beings, are ultimately sustained by water, food and heat. Also, by Israeli definition, Gaza is a 'haven for terrorists'. Thus by denying water, food and heat to large sections of the Gazan population, Israel will almost certainly harm some terrorists. However, such a strategy could only really be effective in eradicating terrorism if the entire population of Gaza were annihilated along with the terrorists. In short: by genocide and ethnic cleansing. The absolute immorality of such a solution should be clear to the meanest intelligence. And yet, let us be clear, this is the strategy that Israel is currently pursuing.
This is quite simply not a sustainable solution to the problem and it is doubtful that it will be permitted by the International community. Hence if there is to be any resolution to the conflict, it is worth considering in slightly more depth what sustains Palestinian 'terrorism' against Israelis. What can drive people to have such a disregard for human life that they are prepared to indiscriminately murder people they have never met and will never know, to take their own lives in the process, to abandon home and family and all that so many of us hold dear in life? What is the psychological infrastructure of terrorism?
It is popularly held that Palestinian terrorists are motivated primarily by religious idealism and rabid anti-semitism; that they are determined to wage a 'jihad' against Israel and all things Jewish, possessed by an innate hatred of Jews in general. There is certainly an element of this in the rhetoric of a number of resistance groups operating in Palestine which is avidly seized upon by Israeli politicians to reinforce the notion that there is 'no partner for peace' in Palestine. Thus it is assumed that the roots of Palestinian terrorism lie in an unreasoning hatred of Jews and that there is nothing that can be done about this.
It is the 'unreasoning' and 'nothing to be done' parts of this interpretation that are fundamentally flawed. The roots of terrorism against Israelis lie in hatred of Israelis. However, to assume that this is just some innate quality of Palestinians, or even to assume that the motivation for this hatred is simple anti-semitism is to remove it from the context in which it occurs. It is inaccurate. In truth, what sustains terrorism and fuels anti-semitic rhetoric is the daily misery to which the people of Gaza are subjected. The wrenching grief and impotent fury of a caged, abused and traumatized population living in a rotting cesspool of poverty and despair. It is the lack of hope for a better life, the grinding poverty and the killing of loved ones that fuels terrorism. As of May 2006, 2162 Gazans had been killed by the Israeli military since the outbreak of the Intifada (PCBS, 2006). 451 of these people were children. In the past month the killing has accelerated and the destruction escalated. Re-read the opening paragraphs of this article. Put yourself in the place of a Gazan. This is not unreasoning hate. And it is not an insoluble problem.
Gaza has been for 40 years under the heel of Israeli occupation. Half the population are refugees. The overcrowding, the poverty and the environmental degradation are direct results of the expulsion of Arabs from Israel proper and of retarded development since then due to Israeli Occupation. Not only is it in Israel's interests to alleviate the suffering of the Gazans, but it is furthermore their moral responsibility. Only when the Gazans are given the opportunity to experience emotions other than impotent fury and crushing grief will the infrastructure of terrorism be torn down. The current Israeli strategy of communal punishment in reality strengthens that infrastructure, with every missile that falls, with every death.
The ghettoization of the West Bank is pushing the entire Palestinian population in the same direction, with Gaza standing as a stark and terrifying example of what lies ahead. From where we stand in Bethlehem, as the Wall closes around the city and incursions and targeted assassinations become more and more common occurrences; as the economic foundations of the society are undermined and the means of self-support confiscated and destroyed, we are forced to contemplate Gaza and wonder if, five or ten years down the line, the whole of the West Bank will be in the same state.
It is very clear that this strategy is quite simply ineffectual in terms of quashing terrorism. It does not make Israel safer; it in no way furthers reconciliation or peace, and it destroys the lives of thousands and millions of innocent people Summer Rain over Gaza waters only the seeds of hatred and the harvest will be bitter indeed.
PCBS (2006) Intifada Statistics. See Website.
PCBS (2005) Labour Force Survey Annual Report. Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), 2005.
PCBS (2004) Deep Palestinian Poverty in the Midst of Economic Crisis. Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), 2004
UNEP (2003) Desk Study on the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. United Nations Environment Programme, 2003.
CMWU (2006) Affect of Israeli Operations on the Water & Wastewater Sector in Gaza Strip. Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), Project Management Unit (PMU), Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), July 4th 2006.
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism
PCBS - http://www.pcbs.gov.psThe author is a Research Associate at the Applied Research Intitute of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and holds MPhil and BSc degrees in Environmental Science and Ecology.