Gaza has frequently been referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison, housing about two million inmates. If anyone thought that this was just hyperbolic language, the events of the past week would have put paid to that since Israel was able to instantaneously cut off all food, water, and electricity to everyone living there. That kind of action can only be done with the kind of control that prison authorities have.
The attack by Hamas that killed large numbers of ordinary Israeli people and took many as hostages was a horrendous act that has deservedly been widely condemned. But those of us who are familiar with the history of the region knew that Israel routinely enacts collective punishments and would react to this with disproportionate force, just as it has done in the past. But to cut off the basic elements of existence to two million people, essentially causing an entire population to die slow and painful deaths of thirst and starvation, is an unconscionable act that violates not just the laws of war but the norms of basic human decency.
Immediately after the Hamas attack, several Israeli government spokespersons repeatedly referred to this as their equivalent of the 9/11 attacks and one knew that they were deliberately laying the foundation for rallying American public opinion to their side in anticipation of their carrying out an extreme response, because the 9/11 attacks were used by the US to justify massive attacks that resulted in the deaths of huge numbers of people in many countries, far out of proportion to what the US suffered, using the language of revenge as an excuse. It was clear that Israel was going to use the same rationale for a similar over-reaction. But I did not expect them to seek such an extensive and cruel form of retribution as cutting off food and water to two million people.
As usual, the US political establishment has come down firmly on the side of Israel, using the familiar trope of ‘Israel has every right to defend itself’ , though they never say that ‘Palestinians have every right to defend themselves’ whenever they are under attack.