Ethnic Cleansing by Starvation

USAID has found that 1 in 5 Palestinian children under the age of five now suffers
from chronic or acute malnutrition. This is on par with Chad and Nigeria, and
actually surpasses Somalia and Bangladesh. The situation in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories, however, is clearly a man-made disaster intended to specifically target whole civilian
populations. The report points to Israeli-imposed closures and sieges of major
civilian centers as the direct and primary cause.

2002.09.09

US-financed assessment of the overall malnutrition
level among Palestinian children, released this month by the
US Agency for International Development (USAID), found that one
in five Palestinian children under the age of five now suffers
from chronic or acute malnutrition. This astonishing statistic
is on par with impoverished nations such as Chad and Nigeria,
and actually surpasses rates of child malnutrition in Somalia
and Bangladesh. Such figures, the report noted, are "considered
an emergency by most humanitarians and public health officials."
The report points to Israeli-imposed closures and sieges of major
civilian centers as the direct and primary cause.

We typically think of famines as being
caused by natural disasters (droughts, overgrazing) or by crises
that result in the displacement of large populations from their
lands (wars, ethnic strife). The situation in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories, however, is a startling aberration since it is clearly
a man-made disaster intended to specifically target whole civilian
populations. Most importantly, it can easily and immediately
be reversed.

Today, Israeli military sieges are literally
imprisoning families within their homes for days at a time. People
cannot leave their homes to work, buy food, go to the doctor,
or send their children to school. Military checkpoints and roadblocks
are restricting commerce and the transport of food supplies.
Workers cannot travel between Palestinian towns, and farmers
and manufacturers are unable to deliver their goods to shops
and markets. People have exhausted the money they can draw on
from relatives and connections on the outside.

The USAID report also revealed that about
one quarter of West Bank Palestinians have had to sell personal
possessions to put food on the table. The World Bank recently
determined that as many as 62 percent of Palestinian families
are now living on less than two dollars a day. As a result of
these obstacles, increasing numbers of families are skipping
meals or reducing their food intake because eventually they run
out of money and assets to sell.

Even before the current Israeli re-occupation
which began on June 20, many Palestinians relied on aid from
the Palestinian Authority and the UN World Food Program (UNWFP).
With its ministries and institutions flattened, the PA can no
longer serve in this role, and the UNWFP has recently announced
an emergency operation to cope with what they call "dramatically
deteriorating living conditions in the Palestinian Territories."

But how can the slow starvation of a
whole population be stopped when that very starvation is being
altogether denied by the Israeli government and ignored by the
US Administration? Major General Amos Gilad, Israel’s coordinator
of government affairs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was hardly
ruffled by the USAID findings. In fact, he asserted that "hunger
is when people have swollen bellies and fall over dead. There
is no hunger yet."

Discovering that dismissive denial of
facts is not working, the Israeli authorities are now moving
to soften criticism with much-hyped symbolic gestures. Israel
recently announced its intention to release about seven percent
of the 600 million dollars in Palestinian tax revenue it has
seized since the start of the Intifada, as well as its intention
to reissue work permits for Palestinians to cross from the West
Bank and Gaza to their jobs inside Israel.

These measures, however, are hardly sufficient.
Much more needs to be done. It is important to understand that
the collective punishment policies pursued by Ariel Sharon’s
government against the Palestinians are not reactive but deliberate,
and are intended to serve a specific and well-defined political
purpose. Sharon is the head of the Likud Party, which to this
day vows never to permit the establishment of a Palestinian state
west of the Jordan River.

Sharon’s solution is to depopulate as
much as possible the Occupied Palestinian Territories by making
life for its citizens unbearable. And what could be more unbearable
than watching your children cry themselves to sleep from hunger,
night after night? What is most alarming is that Sharon may very
well be having his way. As recently reported in the Jerusalem
Post (an English-language Israeli daily), 80,000 Palestinians
have allegedly left the Occupied Palestinian Territories for
Jordan and other nations to seek economic relief for their families.

In parallel, private Israeli efforts
have been pursuing their missions of "helping" any
Palestinian who wishes to leave the West Bank or Gaza. As the
president of one organization which seeks to assist Palestinians
to "permanently emigrate" put it: "Our aim is
to empty the state of Arabs".

Another group, Gamla, founded by former
Israeli military officers and colonists, has published similar
recommendations on its website in a nine-thousand-word manifesto
titled "The Logistics of Transfer." It argues that
the mass expulsion of every Palestinian is "the only possible
solution" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and further
makes the claim that this is "substantiated by the Torah".

The starvation of captive Palestinians
is nothing less than the muffled ethnic cleansing of a whole
people. As always, these matters should be of serious concern
to US citizens given that our diplomatic, military, and financial
support have long allowed Israel to pursue with impunity such
policies which contradict our own cherished political values
and commitment to human rights. It is time for us to speak up.
We must not be complicit in the decimation of a whole people.

Rania Awwad
can be reached at: raniaawwad@hotmail.com

Author: Rania Awwad

News Service: CounterPunch

URL: http://www.counterpunch.org/awwad0909.html