Inmates at world’s largest open air prison are in peril

by B. R. GOWANI

Gaza has five governorates: North Gaza, Gaza City, Deir el-Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah. It shares border with Israel (51 km or 32 mi) and border with 11 km (7 mi) Egypt. IMAGE/Wikipedia
IMAGE/Al Jazeera

The largest “open air prison” on our planet has 2.3 million inmates (US has 2.1 million prisoners– the world’s largest). This open-air prison is managed by one of the most technologically advanced and ruthless group of prison guards: the Israelis. The Gaza is a narrow strip of 365 sq km (141sq ml) that houses 2.3 million people, about the same as population of Houston, Texas. Gaza’s length is 41 km (41 mi) and the width varies between 6 to 12 km (3.7 to 7.5 mi). It’s one of the world’s most densely populated areas. The drive from any one end to another in Gaza takes less than an hour.

Noam Chomsky describes blockade of Gaza:

“It hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison.”

In 2012, Chomsky pointed out that Palestinians are terrorized, punished, and humiliated by the Israelis just for the heck of it.

Such cruelty is to ensure that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed, and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement granting basic human rights will be nullified. The Israeli political leadership has dramatically illustrated this commitment in the past few days, warning that they will ‘go crazy’ if Palestinian rights are given even limited recognition by the U.N.”

This horrible treatment of Palestinians by Israel has been going on for decades. The United Nations resolutions critical of Israel have been vetoed at least 53 times by the United States.

A summary of the June/July 2023 Report of the Special Rapporteur by Francesca Albanese on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967 describes it adroitly:

“In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Francesca Albanese, finds that arbitrary and deliberate ill-treatment is inflicted upon the Palestinians not only through unlawful practices in detention but also as a carceral continuum comprised of techniques of large-scale confinement -physical, bureaucratic, digital- beyond detention. These violations may amount to international crimes prosecutable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and universal jurisdiction. Israel’s occupation has been a tool of settler colonial conquest also through intensifying methods of confinement against an entire people who – as any people would – continuously rebel against their prison wardens.”

She recommended a just solution:

“This macroscopic violation of fundamental principles of international law cannot be remedied by addressing some of its most brutal consequences. For Israel’s carceral regime to end, and its inherent apartheid with it, its illegal occupation of Palestine must end.”

Albanese has been a target of people not wanting to face the ugly truth. In May 2023, Albanese had drawn attention to the inhumane conditions Palestinians were subjected to by the Israeli occupying forces.

In my first year as #SRoPt, I saw too many deaths, too much arbitrariness, zero accountability. No different from @MichaelLynk5, @rfalk13, John Dugard, I saw spurious accusations agst my mandate, rise and fade: hideous words, deemed to hide a much more hideous reality.
Avanti. https://t.co/8oOupYGztG

— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) May 3, 2023

Israel ignored the report as it has ignored all the UN resolutions of all these decades. Like its staunch supporter the United States, Israel is always in a defiant mood. As two of the most technologically sophisticated and militarily powerful states, they have long projected themselves as invincible powers.

However, the US saw its impregnability shattered in 2001 and Israel experienced it’s invulnerability wrecked on October 7, 2023. The illusion breakers were/are small actors with not very many means. Of course, Palestinians in Gaza will suffer death and destruction tens of fold. In case of US, it destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq, and also wrecked havoc on several other countries. The more powerful the bully, the bigger is the ego, and the greater the feeling of shame, and so most destructive is the vengeance.

The prison guards had never experienced such a humiliation as the one they underwent on October 7, 2023. The success prisoners gained was beyond their expectation.

The US House of Foreign Affairs Committee’s chairman Michael McCaul:

“We know that Egypt has warned the Israelis three days prior that an event like this could happen.”

If it’s true then why didn’t Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu act? Could it be that Netanyahu expected the usual Hamas attack which he could then use to divert people’s attention from the corruption inquiry going on against him in Israel, and, use it to retaliate against Hamas with unprecedented fury?

On October 9, 2023, major Western countries issued a statement:

Today, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States of America released the following joint statement following their call: 

Today, we — President Macron of France, Chancellor Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Meloni of Italy, Prime Minister Sunak of the United Kingdom, and President Biden of the United States — express our steadfast and united support to the State of Israel, and our unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism.

The above statement brings to mind the famous Pakistani poet Habib Jalib*

We were gheraoed by every Age,
No one ever came to our rescue!
Then, one day, we gheraoed them,
And every tyrant shouted his rage.

(Gheraoed means besieged or encircled in Hindi/Urdu.)

Western tyrants, indeed, came out in full support of the guards.

President Joe Biden shouted a genocidal green light to Israel:

“This is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage. The world is watching.”

Actually it is the USS Gerald R. Ford, world’s largest aircraft carrier, that is watching to see that no one stops or interferes in Israel’s frenzy.

To make his case stronger, Biden also added some false claims.

In May 2021 too, Biden’s cruelty and open favor to Israel was on full display.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who is in Israel said:

“My message is this: As long as America exists, we will always be there by your side.”

Hamas is no match for heavily armed Israel. Israel can handle Hamas on its own, it has one of the most powerful armies. Additionally, it gets plenty of military aid from the US — $3.8 billion every year! Then, there is money people send to Israel. Israel also possesses nuclear weapons. However, this is a good opportunity for Israel to get as much free US taxpayer money as possible in the name of its national security. The Israel Lobby in the US is very strong and also plays a role in promoting Israeli interests.

To show solidarity with Israel, the European Commission in Belgium has raised an Israeli flag over its headquarters. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Bulgarian parliament building, and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin have been lit up in Israeli flag colors. Not to be left out, Sydney Opera House draped itself in the colours of apartheid.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party BJP have come out in support of Israel. Modi is also using similar tactics in suppressing the rights of the Kashmiri Muslims.

The supporters of Palestinians residing in the Western world have to be very careful in advocating the Palestinian cause.

Dozens of student groups at Harvard University condemned Israel. Their argument is that Hamas’ attack on October 7, 2023 “did not occur in a vacuum.” Many supporters of Israel’s got upset. Author Ian Bremmer tweeted on X:

“Large number of harvard student organizations blaming israel solely for hamas terrorist attacks killing 700 civilians.

“Can’t imagine who would want to identify with such a group. harvard parents—talk to your educated kids about this.”

It’s not the Harvard “educated kids” who need a talk from their parents but it is Bremmer who needs a bit of history education. If Bremmer is not too keen on reading then he should just glance at the map of Palestine and will learn in no time how the Palestinian territory is being continually usurped by Israel, yet Israel never misses a chance to portray itself as a “victim” and Palestinians as “terrorists.”

Perhaps, Bremmer is averse to truth as so many Israelis and their supporters are. Back in October 2015, the US TV channel MSNBC showed Palestinian loss of land since 1946, and the present map which depicts how a non-existent Israel came up on the map as Palestine got progressively reduced to a narrow Gaza Strip on the left and some disjointed land on the right called the West Bank that is further being reduced in West Bank as Israel has been building many settlements that further diminish Palestinian land. Israel is built on stolen land. MSNBC had to, under pressure, lie that the map was incorrect!

A group of progressive congresspersons, from Biden’s Democratic Party, such as U.S. Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and many other House members have come under fire for suggesting to avoid further escalation of war which could bring more deaths and devastation. When White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked to remark on the steps the progressive House members have recommended, she flared up:

“We believe they’re wrong. We believe they’re repugnant and we believe they’re disgraceful.” “Our condemnation belongs squarely with terrorists who have brutally murdered, raped, kidnapped, hundreds, hundreds of Israelis. There can be no equivocation about that. There are not two sides here. There are not two sides.”

Journalist John Nichols observes that in US history it is seldom that White House press secretary has used such language for the members of president’s own party who wanted a peaceful resolution to the conflict. He doesn’t find anything “repugnant” in the congresspersons’ suggestions.

Jalib had expressed hope that one day the besieged will overcome the besiegers.

No reason to worry:
We shall rise soon despite the pain.
And every city which is now dark
Will see the light once again.

But the odds are heavily against the prisoners/Palestinians as Mark LeVine points out. From Frantz Fanon’s book The Wretched of the Earth, Levine quotes Fanon:

“Colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.”

Levine appreciates Fanon’s understanding of how the colonized and the colonizer are affected psychologically because of the violence committed by the later. However, Levine differs:

“Colonialism, especially settler colonialism – and even more particularly Zionist settler colonialism – is very much a “thinking machine” with very powerful and longstanding logic and rationalities that are the key to its success.”

So far, 1,200 Israelis and 1,537 Palestinians have died. According to the UN, more than 338,000 people have been displaced. Gaza is under siege and more Palestinians will die as Israeli bombing continues. There are only 3 gates for Gazans to leave and enter and all three are closed. Water and Electricity has been cut off to Gaza on Netanyahu’s order. Israel has stopped all food, water, and humanitarian aid.

Human Rights Watch has confirmed that Israel is using white phosphorus on Gaza, that has horrific effects especially on the defenseless Gazan civilian families.

Airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus fall over the Gaza city port, October 11, 2023.  IMAGE/ © 2023 Mohammed Adeb/AFP via Getty Images/Human Rights Watch

“White phosphorus ignites when exposed to atmospheric oxygen and continues to burn until it is deprived of oxygen or exhausted. Its chemical reaction can create intense heat (about 815°C/1,500°F), light, and smoke.”

The US is not going to stop Israel till they both feel enough Palestinians have been killed and Hamas has been weakened completely.

If Hamas is gone, someone else will emerge in its place and the tragedy will continue creating more hatred and violence. Unless, the US and Israel decide to solve the problem.

The other option is if Saudi Arabia and UAE ask US and Israel to solve the Palestinian problem. Israel has diplomatic relations with UAE and is eager to establish relations with Saudi Arabia.

*(English translation by Tariq Ali in An Indian Dynasty: The Story of the Nehru-Gandhi Family (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1985), pp. 180-81). The poem was written for Indian workers who indulged in “gherao” or “encircle and besiege”, that is, not letting the owners and managers out of factories and offices unless they agreed in writing to workers’ demands.)

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

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