Saturday, February 2, 2008

Gaza: From Prison to Zoo

From Laila El-Haddad

"Excellent article by good friend Darryl Li following his most recent visit to Gaza. In it, he describes the inhumane new Israeli policy of "essential humanitarianism":

In place of any legal framework the state has proposed – and the court has now endorsed – a seemingly simple standard for policy: once “essential humanitarian needs” are met, all other deprivation is permissible. If it is possible to ration fuel for hospitals and the sewage network, then Gaza’s economy need not play a role: “We do not accept the petitioners’ argument that ‘market forces’ should be allowed to play their role in Gaza with regard to fuel consumption.”

This logic reflects the radical transformation of Israel’s policy of blockade since the summer of 2007: from frequent and crippling closure to indefinite blockage of all but “essential humanitarian items.” Israel has shifted from trying to punish the Gazan economy to deciding that the economy is a dispensable luxury.

The policy shift is akin to treating Gazans not as prisoners but rather as animals; the Occupier as zoo-keeper, rather than prison warden.

The metaphor of the Gaza Strip as the world’s largest prison is unfortunately outdated. Israel now treats the Strip more like a zoo. For running a prison is about constraining or repressing freedom; in a zoo, the question is rather how to keep those held inside alive, with an eye to how outsiders might see them. The question of freedom is never raised.

The ongoing electricity crisis helps to illuminate this shift, so to speak.

In 2006, Israel decided that the best way to punish Gazans for the capture of one of its soldiers was a one-off, spectacular act of violence that would lead to widespread deprivation. Now it seeks similar results – the loss of electricity and the resulting disruption of everyday life – through more calibrated, long-term means. This shift in approach is akin to the difference between clubbing an unruly prisoner over the head to subdue him and taming an animal through careful regulation of leash and diet.

The Israeli court is complicit in all of this, acting more, he says, "as administrator than as adjudicator, a partner in the calibration of how much pain Gazans are to be made to feel."....."

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