Sunday, November 26, 2023

Penned in

The New York Times has this big front-page article that tries to figure out why the Israeli attack on Gaza has had such a phenomenally high civilian death toll. It's full of shocking statistics, like the fact that more women and children have died from the bombing in Gaza over the past 7 weeks than in 21 months of war in Ukraine, or in the 20 year American war in Afghanistan. But its exploration of the cause largely ignores one huge obvious reason: Gazans cannot leave Gaza.

In any war, when the shooting start, most non-combatants leave. That's why every war includes a refugee crisis in neighboring countries. In Poland and other Eastern European countries, Ukrainian women and children are everywhere. Pakistan absorbed a millions of Afghans fleeing decades of war. But Gaza is the one conflict that has no refugee crisis. There are no throngs of Gazan civilians in Egypt or Israel. Gazans are surrounded by a wall and cannot flee. That's because for the past 16 years the people of Gaza have been imprisoned in Gaza. Israeli policy has been to prevent almost all people in Gaza from ever leaving, something that itself has been a massive human rights violation. Egypt is also complicit as the Rafah crossing from Gaza connects with Egyptian territory. But Israel demands that Egypt keep the crossing closed and that it have a veto over anyone who tries to cross there. The Egyptian government has carefully toed the Israeli line on Gaza since President Sisi came to power. Strict Egyptian enforcement of Israel's insistence on Gaza's closure has not changed since the beginning of the current war in Gaza. Egypt will only allow people in or out of the territory with Israeli permission. They have even prevented Egyptian citizens from leaving without approval from Israel.

There is really nothing else like Gaza in the entire world. No where else does a foreign hostile power keep civilians from leaving. It has been compared to the Warsaw Ghetto, although that comparison (like any historical comparison) doesn't really work and because it evokes the Nazis really pisses people off. But not having a clear precedent doesn't make it any better. The pro-Israeli side has stubbornly ignored the abysmal cruelty of Israel's blockade of Gaza for years.

But the pre-existing crime of Israel's treatment of Gaza is made much worse now that there is a full-scale war on the territory. Unlike every other conflict on the planet, civilians are penned in.  They can't leave the combat zone. That, I suspect, is why they are dying in such phenomenally high numbers. It's also a war crime to prevent civilians from leaving an area of conflict, not that I think anyone will ever be held accountable for that.