As a zone of ongoing, large-scale bloodletting Darfur, in western Sudan, has big appeal for US news editors. Americans are not doing the killing, or paying for others to do it. So there’s no need to minimize the slaughter with the usual drizzle of “allegations.” There’s no political risk here in sounding off about genocide in Darfur. The crisis in Darfur is also very photogenic.
When the RENAMO gangs, backed by Ronald Reagan and the apartheid regime in South Africa, were butchering Mozambican peasants, the news stories were sparse and the tone usually tentative in blame-laying. Not so with Darfur, where moral outrage on the editorial pages acquires the robust edge endemic to sermons about interethnic slaughter where white people, and specifically the US government, aren’t obviously involved.
Since March 1 the New York Times has run seventy news stories on Darfur (including sixteen pieces from wire services), fifteen editorials and twenty-one signed columns, all but one by Nicholas Kristof.
Darfur is primarily a “feel good” subject for people here who want to agonize publicly about injustices in the world but who don’t really want to do anything about them. After all, it’s Arabs who are the perpetrators and there is ultimately little that people in this country can do to effect real change in the policy of the government in Khartoum.
Now, Gaza is an entirely different story. The American public as well as the US government have a great deal of control over what is happening there. It is Israel, America’s prime ally in the Middle East, that is on a day-to-day basis, with America’s full support, inflicting appalling brutalities on a civilian population. To report in any detail on what’s going on in Gaza means accusing the United States of active complicity in terrible crimes wrought by Israel, as it methodically lays waste a society of 1.4 million Palestinians.
I’m not at all surprised there was a sharp uptick in interest in Darfur at about the time of the Kerem Shalom attack and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in Gaza in June of this year. By the time Israel’s campaign of destroying Lebanon got under way this summer (a campaign intricately linked to the Palestine issue), Darfur was hotter still as a distracting topic. Where is Kristof? Couldn’t he trade at least one of his Darfur columns for one on Gaza’s suffering?
Israel’s soldiers are not going to march into Gaza and truck all the inhabitants away. It is simply making the place into a garbage dump picked over by destitute people. The current cease-fire will do nothing to relieve the siege imposed physically, financially and commercially by Israel, the United States and the EU. Israel and its accomplices are sentencing Gaza’s occupants to a living death in situ, with actual death meted out each day to “terrorists” and those unfortunate enough to be in the line of fire, like the family in Beit Hanoun or the schoolteacher by the minibus filled with children (a near miss).
As Gideon Levy wrote in one of his many searing reports in Ha’aretz, the Israeli army “has been rampaging through Gaza–there’s no other word to describe it–killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling, indiscriminately.” When my brother Patrick was there in September, he reported in The Independent that
Israeli troops and tanks come and go at will. In the northern district of Shajhayeh they took over several houses last week and stayed five days. By the time they withdrew, 22 Palestinians had been killed, three houses were destroyed and groves of olive, citrus and almond trees had been bulldozed…. Fuad al-Tuba, the 61-year-old farmer who owned a farm here, said, “They even destroyed 22 of my bee-hives and killed four sheep.” His son Baher al-Tuba described how for five days Israeli soldiers confined him and his relatives to one room in his house where they survived by drinking water from a fish pond. “Snipers took up positions in the windows and shot at anybody who came near,” he said. “They killed one of my neighbors called Fathi Abu Gumbuz who was 56 years old and just went out to get water.”
“The sound that Palestinians most dread,” Patrick wrote, “is an unknown voice on their cell phone saying they have half an hour to leave their home before it is hit by bombs or missiles. There is no appeal.”
The Israelis have destroyed 70 percent of the orange groves, stopped the fishermen from going out in their boats, destroyed the central power station. More than 50 percent of the population is out of work, and per capita income is less than $2 a day.
Jennifer Loewenstein, of the Middle Eastern studies program at the University of Wisconsin, has visited Gaza many times and written powerfully about it on the CounterPunch website. She wrote to me this week: “If people received real information about Gaza they would also be appalled–and that’s of course why they don’t get any. The Israelis stop any real information about it from getting out. In addition, if the Israeli blockade of virtually all human traffic into Gaza were to end and more visitors could actually get in, more people–including freelance journalists–would be outraged or stunned into disbelief at what Israel, with US and EU backing, has done to that miserable strip of land. Again, that’s why the Israeli-imposed human blockade persists. And while diplomats, UN and international aid workers and a few others do get in, the fact that most of them utter not a peep about this ongoing crime against humanity suggests in the most sinister way that they will continue not to utter a peep when things get worse.”
As Loewenstein concluded: “Servility to power doesn’t get more insidious or malignant than this.”
There is an international solidarity campaign to end the siege, with ninety-three cities round the world holding events. Gila Svirsky of Jerusalem and Debby Lerman of Tel Aviv urge you to check in at gazasiege.net/partners.html.