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Israel's War of Attrition

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 04:10 AM EDT

Perhaps the biggest ongoing argument over the Gaza offensive that Israel launched at the start of this year has been willingness of Israel to allow injured Gazans to get treatment. Those who support Israel all know the line by heart; Israel has been happy to let injured civilians pass through the border into Israel and receive treatment in its hospitals.

This misses two rather important facts. First, and most importantly, that Israel more or less maintains (though not in so many words) that all Gazans are fighters, terrorists, violent criminals and therefore must be punished. Second, and with a more ongoing effect, that allowing people the opportunity to travel for health care is no match for developing, or in the case of Gaza, rebuilding, local healthcare provisions.

The advantage to Israel of allowing a few people through to access the care it can provide is obvious to anyone with a knowledge of basic donor-psychology. Think about the leaflets you might have received through the post advertising ways you can give money. A single case study, usually of a child, with a minimal mention of “and thousands like him/her”, but ultimately, its about the one person and creating a perceived (though nonsense) relationship with them. Israel is up to much the same trick. A single patient can be given as an example. It doesn’t matter how many, but the fact that we (or rather, the media, on our behalf) can meet this one person means we understand that Israel is doing everything it can in difficult circumstances.

But these circumstances are entirely of Israel’s making. All forces have an equal and opposite, wrote Newton centuries ago, and even in politics, the physics still works by and large; the Israeli Defence Force is met by Hamas, in the absence of any push back from Fatah, and we are left with two warring factions. To assume that anything else would happen is to completely deny human nature, to accept that humans should bow before military might. A brief look at  the international statute books confirms that this has not been the written sentiment of global humanity over the last 50 years.

And the one person does not represent the majority, only an attempt to make us feel good about the situation. “In the midst of carnage, and of the Islamist dictatorship of Hamas (sic), Israel has the benevolence to treat the most vulnerable victims of Hamas’ war”. The reality being that, in the midst of the carnage Israel has created, and which it makes efforts to prevent the world seeing, the Israelis recognise the positive PR and media appeal of a single victim (or small group of victims) being treated in its hospitals.

But what of patients inside Gaza, those who have not sought to leave the prison complex, and who’s autonomy as Palestinian patients leaves them at the mercy of Israel’s overbearing bureaucracy? 20 year old Yahya Abu Saif lost a leg and was partially paralysed by the attacks, and BBC News’ account of his struggles to rebuild his life are full of insight.

Israel didn’t target hospitals, but an unopened specialist unit is not the same as a civilian ward. “The average time for approval of items… is about 11 days”, but only after "all the required information is received”, whatever that means given the Israeli’s old favourite of moving the goal posts, and notwithstanding the crucial point that this doesn’t say anything about rejected items, or the spread of delays, which could be quite large. After all, prosthetics equipment and bombing making equipment are easily confused when one sees a group of people purely as terrorists.

So Israel continues to paint a picture in which it is the saviour of the situation, regardless of the fact that it is itself enacting a farcical game of one step forwards in front of the media and 3 steps back behind closed doors. But many of its tactics are more a case of fudging the situation, of claiming to allow all non-terrorist items through the checks, but then declaring anything it possibly can to be useful to terrorists. Anyone with experience of climate camps in the UK will see this as familiar. Instead of having to hide the reality of its repression, Israel simply declares that it is doing more than it is obliged to, so the bare minimum, and in reality, much less than the minimum, becomes a celebrated act. And all the while, millions continue to suffer its war of attrition.