Collective punishment is a war crime under international humanitarian law, as per Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. When Palestinians are punished in this way, the international community is cautious enough to avoid the subject and focus instead on Israel’s “security” narrative and purported “right to defend itself”. As an occupying power, it has no such right to claim self-defence against the people living under occupation.
Yesterday, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a total blockade of Gaza. “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed,” Gallant asserted. “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he is “deeply distressed” about this. However, the collective punishment of Palestinians plays into the UN’s humanitarian agenda, which has been in place since the establishment of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in December 1949. Forcing Palestinians in Gaza into unprecedented levels of hunger and deprivation will only entrench their need for humanitarian aid. And when the international community talks about humanitarian aid and funding — the effect of which is always negligible in comparison with Israel’s colonial violence — the focus remains constantly misplaced: Israel’s security narrative must be defended, and Palestinian humanitarian needs are a perpetual afterthought.
The UN has long established its position as a willing accomplice in colonial violence
Moreover, normalising Israel’s security narrative also means normalising the deprivation that Palestinians face as a result of colonial violence. Hence, when Gallant announced the total blockade and called Palestinians “human animals”, there was no sense of shock within the international community at this dehumanisation of the people of Palestine, because the UN has long established its position as a willing accomplice in colonial violence, either by aiding Israel actively, staying silent or passing non-binding resolutions for future futile reference purposes.
In 2006, Dov Weisglas, adviser to the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, began normalising the starvation of Palestinians in Gaza. A considerable deficit in daily calorie intake was planned as collective punishment to create a rift between Palestinians and Hamas, which had just won the “free and fair” elections in occupied Palestine. His intention was “to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.” The subsequent 2007 blockade of Gaza served a similar purpose after Hamas had established itself as the government post-election. While Palestinians suffered intense hardships, the international community ensured the promotion of Israel’s security narrative, sustaining a discrepancy that prevails today. Palestinians are associated with humanitarian aid and the purported neutrality that donors insist upon. Meanwhile, the politics of collective punishment and humanitarian aid are woven together seamlessly to support the UN’s major endeavour of ensuring that the application of human rights remains selective.
Guterres isn’t “deeply distressed” or even remotely concerned about Gallant’s announcement. For the Israeli government to announce a complete siege on Gaza without the slightest international ripple, let alone repercussions, required the prior normalisation of depriving Palestinians of their basic needs. That’s how Gallant got away with calling Palestinians “human animals”. How does the UN view them? Their dehumanisation began decades ago with the acceptance of Israel as a UN member state and its settler-colonial violence. With colonialism dictating what happens to Palestinians and the UN dancing to the settler-colonial tune, the dehumanised humanitarian agenda is every bit as dangerous as Israel’s siege on the enclave. One bolsters the other, while making sure that the Palestinians are trapped.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.