Ethnic Cleansing by Starvation


A 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 [1].

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 [2]. 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” [3]. 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” [4].

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.

[The author is an American Palestinian graduate student at The George Washington University and the Washington, DC regional coordinator for Palestine Media Watch.]


REFERENCES

[1] Preliminary Findings of the Nutritional Assessment and Sentinel Surveillance System For West Bank and Gaza (Aug 5, 2002) Funded by the United States Agency for International Development http://www.usaid.gov/wbg/reports/Nutritional_Assessment.pdf

[2] 80,000 Palestinians emigrated from territories (August 26, 2002) Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com By KHALED ABU TOAMEH

Approximately 80,000 Palestinians have left the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year, a rise of 50 percent compared to last year, a senior Palestinian Authority official said Monday.

The official, who asked not to be named, told The Jerusalem Post another 50,000 Palestinians are now trying to leave through the Jordan River bridges and the Rafah border crossing. “We are seriously talking about transfer,” the official added. “We are holding urgent deliberations with the brothers in Jordan and Egypt to try to stop the influx.”

He estimated that at least half of those who have already left would eventually decide to settle in another country.

The figures, which do not include Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who have Israeli-issued ID cards, are based on data provided by several PA ministries, which issue various travel documents for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Last week Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser revealed in an interview with the Post that about 1,000 Palestinians from his town had left the country over the past few months.

Thousands of Palestinians have been camping in the open air outside Jericho, waiting for their turn to cross the Allenby and Adam bridges into Jordan. Hundreds others are waiting near the Rafah border crossing.

According to the PA official, at one stage more than 40,000 would-be entrants were gathered near Jericho. Many of them have been waiting for weeks after Jordan decided to limit the number of West Bank Palestinians entering the Hashemite Kingdom.

The Jordanian authorities say they do not want to help Palestinians leave their homes for fear Israel will not allow them back. But Palestinians say they believe the Jordanians are afraid a large number of Palestinians want to live permanently in Jordan.

Under pressure from the PA and humanitarian organizations, some of which have supplied the stranded Palestinian travelers with tents and food, the Jordanian government earlier this month agreed to allow 1,000 people a day to enter Jordan.

The move came after the Palestinians complained that Israel was preventing them from returning to their homes in the West Bank.

A PA cabinet minister, who visited Jordan last month for talks with Jordanian officials on the restrictions, said he could understand the Jordanians’ fears. “They fear that [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon wants to expel the Palestinians to Jordan, where they would be able to establish a substitute state,” he told the Post yesterday. “This is understandable.”

The minister added that top Jordanian government officials told him Israel could seize the opportunity during an American military strike on Iraq “to try and get rid of as many Palestinians as possible.”

One of the measures currently being applied by the Jordanian authorities requires each Palestinian to deposit a sum of 1,000 Jordanian dinars ($1,400) to ensure that they do not settle in the kingdom.

Khaled Khatib, a leader of the Palestinian Democratic Union, an offshoot the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, warned that tens of thousands of Palestinians could be driven out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip when the US launches a military offensive against Iraq.

“Israel might exploit the situation to mount a wide-scale military operation to destroy the PA and expel tens of thousands of desperate Palestinians,” he said. “But this plot will not succeed because our people have learned from previous mistakes.”

In 1991 Jordan opened its borders to tens of thousands of Palestinians expelled from Kuwait and other Gulf states in retaliation for PA Chairman Yasser Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein.

“No one is opposed to Palestinians visiting Jordan,” said Jordanian writer and columnist Fahed Fanek. “But the fear is that many visitors do not want to go back and are seeking a refuge, be it in Jordan, the United States, Canada, Australia, or elsewhere.”

“One cannot blame them as individuals, because life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is intolerable for both economic and security reasons,” he added. “But we have a national duty to Jordan, first, and to Palestine, second, to block gradual transfer and prevent the Palestinian state from being relocated outside Palestine, specifically to Jordan.”

[3] New organization aims ‘to empty the state of Arabs’ (August 26, 2002) Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com By HAIM SHAPIRO

Meir Kihan says that, in the present situation, thousands of Palestinians want to leave the country. He wants to help them.

Kihan is the president of Hamotzi-Assisted Emigration Services, an organization which he says promotes an innovative solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: helping Arabs leave the country.

“We don’t want to force anybody,” Kihan says. According to the organization, since the beginning of the present conflict in October 2000, 380,000 Palestinians have emigrated from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Kihan says that he got the figure from “various sources,” which he cannot identify by name.

However, he notes that in at least one village with which he is acquainted, Ein Yabrud, near Ramallah, hundreds of people have left. They were able to go, he says, because they had money. Others would like to leave, but do not have the wherewithal to do so.

The organization’s Web site, at www.emigrations.net, cites a survey conducted by the Center for Palestinian Research and Studies in September 1999, about a year before the violence began, in which 27 percent of those questioned said that current Palestinian conditions forced them to consider permanent emigration. The survey had a margin of error of 3 percent.

The Web site offers help in financing, including advice on indirect ways to sell property to Jews, legal services, travel arrangements, and social services. Three countries are listed as possible destinations: the US, Argentina, and Brazil.

However, Kihan says that although many people have applied for help, the organization cannot give them any, because it has hardly any money.

He insists that most of the Palestinians he knows do not want to be involved in a war with Israel. Now that there is a war, they want to leave, he says. While he admits that Palestinians who contact his organization endanger their lives, he says the group promises complete secrecy.

He says the organization’s goal is to help 200,000 Palestinians emigrate from the West Bank by 2004 and then another 200,000 every year after that. To achieve this, he says, Hamotzi needs to raise $1,914,600 by December.

Kihan, who lives in Shavei Shomron, says that he cannot reveal who else is involved in the organization. Although he says it is apolitical, he admits that practically all those involved are on the right of the political spectrum, although he says at least one leftist has joined for humanitarian motives.

However, Kihan makes no secret of the fact that his aim is to change the demographic balance of the country. When asked whether this was not an unrealistic goal, he says that 60 years ago the demographic situation made it seem unrealistic to establish the State of Israel. “Our aim is to empty the state of Arabs,” he says.

[4] www.gamla.org.il/english

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