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The children of Gaza cannot escape Israel’s siege. And Netanyahu knows it.

This is collective punishment of 2 million Palestinian civilians.

A fireball erupts during Israeli bombardment of Gaza City on October 9, 2023. [Photo Credits: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel has declared war on Hamas and ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas’ attacks on Israeli military bases and the massacring of hundreds of civilians in a coordinated offensive over the weekend. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” will be allowed into Gaza. “We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly,” he said.

Such fiery rhetoric elides a devastating reality. Though Hamas’ exact strength isn’t known, Israel has estimated the group has around 30,000 fighters — a tiny fraction of the 2.3 million Palestinians crammed into Gaza. This siege will mark a collective punishment of civilians, whether Gallant wants to admit it or not.

Tom Dannenbaum, a professor of international law at Tufts University, said, “Gallant is ordering a massive war crime” and “very likely a crime against humanity,” noting that the presence of combatants within a civilian population does not affect its civilian character. As Human Rights Watch notes, those crimes are not any more acceptable under international law even if they are committed as part of a retaliatory operation. “Parties to a conflict are also obligated to abide by international humanitarian law irrespective of the conduct of the other belligerent parties,” the group states. “That is, laws-of-war violations by one side do not justify violations by the other side.”

In addition to cutting off vital supplies to Gaza, the Israeli government’s rhetoric suggests that the country is planning maximal force against the entire Gaza Strip without regard for civilian life. The Israel Defense Forces say its airstrikes on Gaza are not focused on ”precision” but on causing “damage.” Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, “Residents of Gaza: Leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere,” Netanyahu, of course, knows that Israel’s blockade means Gazans have nowhere to go. That means Palestinian civilians will be stuck in the middle of this conflict — again. They deserve more than to be used as political pawns or civilian shields.

About 25 miles long and 5 miles wide, Gaza is one of the most densely populated strips of land in the world. Israel withdrew settlers and military forces from the territory in 2005, but retains a land, air and sea blockade on Gaza, with support from Egypt. It controls most of the electricity in the territory, intensely surveils it, and dictates the flow of goods in and out, including medicine. Palestinians are not allowed out of Gaza except in extremely rare cases such as urgent, life-threatening medical conditions.

The result is a Palestinian population that is young, poor and caged. UNICEF estimates that about half of the population is children. Over 60% of the population lives under the poverty line, and about the same proportion faces food insecurity. Nearly 80 percent of young people are unemployed. The United Nations estimates that the blockade has cost Gaza nearly $17 billion in economic losses from 2007 to 2018. It’s no wonder that Human Rights Watch has described the territory as “an open air prison.”

Israel rationalizes the blockade as necessary to protect itself from Hamas, the militant group that controls the territory and which Israel helped fund and strengthen for decades in a bid to undermine the Palestinian secular nationalist group Fatah. But the United Nations has stated that the conditions Palestinian civilians face under the blockade constitute a “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Now it looks like mass civilian suffering in Gaza is on the brink of getting far worse. Israel is already striking civilian infrastructure, and has displaced over a hundred thousand civilians who say they don’t know where to go to avoid airstrikes. Israel has called up over 300,000 reservists and is potentially preparing to enter Gaza with a ground offensive. Israel reports that over 1,000 people have been killed in the country since Saturday, and the Palestinian Health Ministry said that at least 830 people in Gaza and the West Bank have been killed.


(c) 2023, MSNBC


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