Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Richard Falk on Gaza

Yesterday's statement by Richard Falk, the UN "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967" and a former Princeton professor,  on the situation in Gaza:
Last week, Karen AbyZayd, who heads the UN relief effort in Gaza, offered first-hand confirmation of the desperate urgency and unacceptable conditions facing the civilian population of Gaza. Although many leaders have commented on the cruelty and unlawfulness of the Gaza blockade imposed by Israel, such a flurry of denunciations by normally cautious UN officials has not occurred on a global level since the heyday of South African apartheid

And still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease. Such a policy of collective punishment, initiated by Israel to punish Gazans for political developments within the Gaza strip, constitutes a continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
This man appears to be stuck in the same dream he was dreaming when he predicted that the Iranian revolution would provide a "humane model of governance" for the Third World. Who exactly are these "cautious UN officials" to which Falk refers? Are they the same officials who have made careers out of attacking Israel and defending some of the world's vilest dictatorships simply because they are "anti-Western"? 

As for the Gaza siege, the Hamas government has a very simple solution at its disposal: stop the rocket attacks and recognize Israel.


Noah K said...

Isn't there a bigger issue about collective punishment that needs to be discussed?

Amos said...

Fair enough. I do want to know more about conceptions of collective punishment, especially in international law.

It seems to me that we tend to accept as just or unavoidable some form of collective punishment when we agree with its strategic aims and when we believe that the victims are closely linked to real crimes, even if they are not directly complicit in them.

Thus, many people believe that the Allied bombings of German civilian centers were justified - although, of course, there is a debate on this. On the other hand, almost no one would argue that the razing of the Warsaw ghetto by the Nazis, or the Nazis' countless other acts of collective punishment - e.g., in retaliation to the acts of resistance fighters - were justified.

The essence of our moral opposition to those Nazi policies, however, is not based on our abhorrence of collective punishment alone. Rather, we rightly recognize all Nazi aims and measures as having been fundamentally evil and lacking in legitimacy.

We do not have to go to such extremes to answer the question as it pertains to the situation before us. Instead, I would ask, how Israel's "blockade" (it is in fact not a real blockade) of Gaza differs from, say, American sanctions on Iraq before Gulf War II?

Amos said...

I should add that I disagree with the depiction of Israel's policies vis-a-vis the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as "collective punishment." Falk, as usual, reaches for the harshest understanding of Israeli actions possible, in order to handicap the state's ability to protect its citizens.

In fact, I think this has been a very powerful strategy of professional Israel-haters all along. Like strong negotiators, they begin with the killer accusations - apartheid, racism, collective punishment, ethnic cleansing, genocide. They get away with this by cloaking themselves in the language of the progressive left. I think we should be far more skeptical of these distortions of language, instead of beginning with a defense against the charges.

Ariel said...

In the abstract the concept of "collective punishment" is indefinite and vague. As Amos points out, various contextual factors, such as the fundamental agenda underlying the action, or the possible tactical alternatives, are just as important as the features of the action itself in determining its legitimacy. Secondly, it is an open question in any given situation to what extent the supposedly uninvolved populace is actually complicit or not in the hostilities. Moreover, in certain cases any blanket proscription of "collective punishment" is bound to be a dead letter, as when facing guerrilla or otherwise irregular forces that easily blend into the general population.

noam said...

The siege went on even when there were no rockets fired. The simple truth is that Israel is starving the Gaza population in order to cause a political change there.
Now, some people might think this is an effective policy – though it never worked for us in the past – but that has nothing to do with the fact that it IS a crime (and a violation of the Geneva Convention).

Amos said...

Hamas stopped firing rockets when it suited the organization to abide by a truce. It never expected this ceasefire to end the siege, because it has never shown any willingness to make the ideological concession required for an end to the blockade. The political change that Israel seeks in Gaza is completely legitimate. No state has an obligation to support an organization that is pledged (in writing) to its destruction.

While most of the accounts of starvation in Gaza are exaggerations, any deprivation in the Strip should be blamed squarely on Hamas. This is a political organization that could have secured a decent life for the inhabitants of Gaza after Israel's withdrawal. From the beginning of the post-evacuation period it has shown more interest in continuing to threaten and kill Israeli civilians than in improving the lives of ordinary Gazans.

noam said...

Amos, you missed the point. Of course The change of policy Israel seeks from Hamas is legitimate. One can even say, like you do, that “the political change that Israel seeks in Gaza is completely legitimate”. It is the means in which we try to achieve this change that I question. Do we have a problem with Hamas? - yes. Does it give us the right to starve 1.5 millions? - absolutely not.

Two more things:

First, the idea that by putting the pressure on the population we can effect the Arab leaders always failed us – both with the Palestinians and in Lebanon.

And Second, I believe both you and I don't live in Gaza, so I wonder what makes you so sure that “most of the accounts of starvation in Gaza are exaggerations”.

Amos said...


First of all, I agree that the attempts to effect regime change by putting pressure on civilian populations in the Middle East have so far been resounding failures. I don't anticipate an anti-Hamas revolution in Gaza any time soon.

Having said that, I believe this whole discussion (in the comments above) has been precisely about the means. I am arguing that they are legitimate, and I disagree with your claim that Israel is "starving" 1.5 million Gazans. This is hyperbole. Rather, Israel is enforcing a particular set of sanctions against the Hamas government in an attempt to coerce it to comply with two reasonable and easily fulfillable demands:

1) recognize Israel (without the usual equivocations), and

2) stop the rocket and other attacks on its civilians.

noam said...


So, the way I see it, the discussion goes down to the question whether or not the people in Gaza are starving (or what “starving” means). Because we both agree Israel shouldn't cause hunger in the strip just to achieve it's political goals.

So why dismissing the UN reports so easily?

Amos said...

Falk himself does not argue that the blockade is causing a famine in Gaza, if you read the statement.

My point is that Israel is not CAUSING people to go hungry in the Gaza Strip; it is Hamas, more than Israel, which is doing that.

Israel is not "just achieving its political goals." It is trying to protect its citizens in the short and long term from a government that would rather see its population endure shortages in food and consumer goods than surrender its (declared) dream of destroying Israel.

Anonymous said...

how can you argue the merits of the gaza blockade[collective punishments].according to international law the blockade is illegal,as with the illegal settlements, the apartied wall, occupation of palestine,stealing arab land ,oppressing the palestinians ,etc,etc ,etc, etc.
no other country has defied the UN more than israel. maybe israel should have some form of collective punishment imposed on the population to force the people to overthrow the government and install a new leadership which will abide by international law.you zionist need to take a good look at your racist hypocritical policies