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Dehumanizing the Palestinians - by Ali Abunimah

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Editor's Note:

  One of the most articulate voices concerning the 
  Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be heard from Ali 
  Abunimah. We are pleased to offer this article from 
  his pen. 


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Dehumanizing the Palestinians - by Ali Abunimah

The Israeli cabinet has voted to declare the occupied Gaza 
Strip a "hostile entity," thus in its own eyes permitting 
itself to cut off the already meager supplies of food, 
water, electricity and fuel that it allows the Strip's 
inmates to receive. The decision was quickly given backing 
by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

Israel is the occupying power in the Gaza Strip, despite 
having removed its settlers in 2005 and transforming the 
area, home to 1.5 million mostly refugee Palestinians, 
into the world's largest open-air prison which it besieges 
and fires into from the perimeter. Under international law 
Israel is responsible for the well-being of the people 
whose lives and land it rules. 

There have been barely audible bleats of protest from the 
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ("Such a step would be 
contrary to Israel's obligations towards the civilian 
population under international humanitarian and human 
rights law") and the European Union ("The [European] 
Commission hopes that Israel will not find it necessary 
to implement the measures for which the [cabinet] decisions 
set the framework yesterday." 

What? It hopes that Israel will not find it necessary to 
cut off water supplies to 1.5 million people of whom half 
are children? 

These statements serve only to underline that Israel 
operates in a context where the "international community" 
has become inured to a discourse of extermination of the 
Palestinian people -- political and physical. 

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Yossi Alpher, for example, a former director of the Jaffee 
Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and 
once a special adviser to former Israeli prime minister 
Ehud Barak, argued coolly this week that Israel should 
murder the democratically-elected leaders who won the 
Palestinian legislative election in January 2006 -- calling 
for "decapitating the Hamas leadership, both military and 
'civilian.'" True, he admitted, there would be a possible 
downside: "Israel would again undoubtedly pay a price in 
terms of international condemnation, particularly if 
innocent civilians were killed," and because "Israel would 
presumably be targeting legally elected Hamas officials 
who won a fair election." Nevertheless, such condemnation 
would be quickly forgotten and, he argued, "this is a mode 
of retaliation and deterrence whose effectiveness has been 
proven," and thus, this is "an option worth reconsidering." 

Alpher incited the murder of democratically-elected 
politicians not in a fringe, right-wing journal, but in 
the European Union-funded online newsletter Bitterlemons, 
which he co-founded along with former Palestinian Authority 
minister Ghassan Khatib. What journal would publish a call 
by a Palestinian -- or anyone else -- to murder the Israeli 
prime minister? Alpher presumably does not worry that he 
will be denied visas to travel to conferences in the 
European Union, or will fail to receive invitations to 
American universities. History tells us that he can feel 
confident he will suffer no consequences. Indeed, in the 
current political climate, any attempt to exclude Alpher 
might even be cast as an attack on academic freedom! 

Declarations that reduce Palestinians to bare biological 
life that can be extinguished without any moral doubt 
are not isolated exceptions. In May, as reported by The 
Jerusalem Post, Israel's former Sephardic Chief Rabbi 
Mordechai Eliyahu issued a religious ruling to the prime 
minister "that there was absolutely no moral prohibition 
against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a 
potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at 
stopping the rocket launchings" (See "Top Israeli rabbis 
advocate genocide," The Electronic Intifada, 31 May 2007). 
I could find no statement by any prominent Israeli figure 
condemning Eliyahu's ruling. 

And, in a September 6 blog posting, an advisor to leading 
US Republican Presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani argued 
for "shutting off utilities to the Palestinian Authority 
as well as a host of other measures, such as permitting no 
transportation in the PA of people or goods beyond basic 
necessities, implementing the death penalty against 
murderers, and razing villages from which attacks are 
launched." This, the advisor stated, would "impress 
Palestinians with the Israeli will to survive, and so bring 
closer their eventual acceptance of the Jewish state." 
(See: "Giuliani Advisor: Raze Palestinian Villages," by Ken 
Silverstein, Harper's Magazine, 14 September 2007) Giuliani 
faced no calls from other candidates to dismiss the advisor 
for advocating ethno-religiously motivated war crimes. 
Indeed the presence of such a person in his campaign might 
even be an electoral asset. 

The latest Israeli government declaration comes as 
Palestinians this week marked the 25th anniversary of the 
massacres in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, in 
which the Israeli occupation army and political leadership 
were full participants. We can reflect that Israel's 
dehumanization of Palestinians and other Arabs, its near 
daily killing of children, destruction of communities and 
racist apartheid against millions of people has been so 
normalized that if those massacres occurred today Israel 
would not need to go through the elaborate exercise of 
denying its culpability. Indeed, the "international 
community" might barely notice. 


Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is 
author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-
Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006). 


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