Is it a massive prison, the largest detention center in the world, a ghetto or a concentration camp? We writers have to ponder the most appropriate way to describe the horrors of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in the vain hope that if a sufficiently shocking term can be found, it will stop the madness. And as with every subject related to the Palestinians, every word written about them will be used by the pro-settler right, which currently represents a majority of Jewish Israelis, to divert attention from the essence of what’s happening in Gaza.
The essence is that Israel is conducting a mass social-psychology experiment in Gaza on obedience, and the subject is obedience. The experiment is being conducted on us Israelis and not on the Gaza Palestinians themselves.
The Gazans aren’t getting accustomed to the situation. They’re emigrating and many more are considering that option. They’re committing suicide or planning suicide as a way out. They’re pointing fingers at one another but also helping one another with the little they have left. They remain creative though we only hear about the incendiary kites being flown over the border and the hacking of soldiers’ phones.
But we aren’t hearing about the artwork that’s being created in Gaza, the computer whizzes whose imagination soars beyond the confines of the refugee camps, the theater groups, the original approach to recycling garbage and the 3-D printers they assemble, which create simple and cheap medical instruments from recycled plastic.
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The experiment is about compliance and cruelty; it’s an experiment on adapting to increasing cruelty. It’s much more successful than the famous experiment carried out by social psychologist Stanley Milgram 55 years ago, about a year after the Eichmann trial.
Milgram sought to find out the extent to which people would be willing to inflict pain on others if they were ordered to do so. Participants in the experiment were asked to deliver electric shocks to “students” who had given the wrong answers to questions. Those delivering the jolts were told that the shocks would be progressively more powerful, and most people didn’t let up even when the “students,” who were actually actors not being jolted, screamed and begged. The participants continued to deliver the “shocks” with the press of a button even when they thought their efforts would be lethal.
The experiment on us Israelis has been going on since 1991; thousands of Israelis take part while tens of thousands egg them on. Gaza is an enclave that we have shut in; only few Gazans receive permission to enter and leave, cut off from the world. It’s a place with polluted water because we refuse to connect the Strip to the country’s other water resources, demanding that 2 million people suffice with a piece of the coastal aquifer that in 1947 provided water to 80,000 people.
Sewage is untreated because we’re not letting sufficient raw materials in to build more treatment plants, and we’re not letting in fuel to run generators. The ground is polluted with who knows which chemicals from the many bombs we’ve dropped on Gaza. And unemployment is at frightening proportions – 50 percent or higher. Electricity is supplied for just four hours a day. Patients are being deprived of medical care and Gazans are being barred permission to study elsewhere.
About a decade ago, the officer-bureaucrats at Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories drew up tables and graphs to calculate the number of calories entering the mouths of people in Gaza. For the past month or so, on the orders of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the officer-bureaucrats’ successors have banned goods that aren’t food or medicine; they’ve barred natural gas, other fuel and the export of goods from the Strip.
We’ve gotten used to the growing outcry over hospitals closing departments for a lack of generator fuel, over the sewage that for the same reason is threatening to flood residential areas, over the huge financial losses to farmers and merchants, and over the spreading hunger.
This cruel madness is based on politics rather than personality and psychology. From the moment in 1991 when we cut the Gazans off from the West Bank, we’ve been declaring that the enclave should develop as a separate entity, and we’ve hoped that Egypt would swallow it up or that it would be declared an independent Palestinian state. To our chagrin, that hasn’t happened and we continue pressing the buttons.