How the continuation of the blockade of Gaza is being sold…

June 15, 2010



Spinning the blockade

Superficial improvements in humanitarian conditions in Gaza will only deepen its political isolation: Is this the aim of the international community?

JNews editorial, Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, London, UK

Politicians and officials are suggesting that the blockade of Gaza – defined on Monday by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as illegal – will be significantly eased in the coming days.

Key media outlets are suggesting that the public scandal over the killing of nine and the injuring of dozens by Israeli special-forces during an attack on an aid convoy to Gaza in international waters will ultimately lead to a reversal of the blockade.

However, a closer look at the parameters of this ‘easing’, as outlined by Quartet representative Tony Blair on the BBC’s Today Programme on Monday, gives cause for doubts.

Blair’s definitions of the ‘significant movement’ to be expected within the next few days, and agreed upon ‘in principle’ by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, consist of the following:

Changes in the mechanism of approval: Israel will be asked to provide a list of items prohibited for security reasons rather than a list of permissible items – a change that Blair hopes will lead to an increase in types of items allowed into Gaza.

Definition and monitoring of approved beneficiaries of aid: Items necessary for repair of infrastructure—for example, sewage and power—will be permitted to enter, so long as they are monitored to ensure they reach certain approved users such as the UN.

Involvement of the PA and EU at the crossings: Passage through the Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (and perhaps other crossings) would be partly controlled by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) and the EU.

The naval blockade will continue: No permission for access to Gaza’s port.

Perhaps the key problem with these suggested changes is what they omit. Concentrating on entry of goods into Gaza while ignoring exports, as well as free entry and exit of people for medical, social, educational, trade, personal or political purposes, is a skewed approach to lifting the blockade.

Even if we only examine the entry of goods, improving the ‘humanitarian’ conditions of the population (as defined by the Israeli government and international aid groups), while ignoring the private sector and the de-facto authorities in Gaza, will in fact entrench Israeli control over Gaza’s economy and deepen the already extreme dependence of Gaza’s people on external aid.

As for the suggested changes themselves, they seem designed to preserve the status quo.

Israeli authorities do not limit themselves to set lists – either of permitted or of prohibited articles; rather, they use an arbitrary and constantly-shifting policy to disrupt the consistent flow of goods into Gaza.

The restriction of goods principally to UN projects and monitoring of their passage will pose even greater difficulties than before, and will by definition exclude goods whose entry is coordinated by smaller organisations and charities.

Imposing PA coordination at the Rafah crossing will necessarily lead to non-cooperation by Hamas authorities in Gaza and possibly to a complete shut-down of the crossings. The main aim of this measure, according to Blair, would be to exert political pressure on Hamas.

None of the suggested changes represents a qualitative alteration in the terms of the blockade. Although, if respected, they might fend off the ‘humanitarian crisis’ that is so often brandished as the definitive test of Israeli policies, both Israel and the international community know full well that they are a far cry from what is necessary for the recovery of Gaza’s economy, society and autonomy.

In fact, Israel is unlikely to change its central policy regarding Gaza, whose aim, as ably analysed by Israeli journalist Amira Hass, is to completely disconnect the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (i.e, the West Bank including East Jerusalem) and to exclude them from any international plans regarding a future settlement with the Palestinians.

The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority is in this case only too pleased to comply and, for the sake of prevailing over its political rival, Hamas, is failing to defend the Palestinian residents of Gaza.

The elaborate and widely-covered suggestions for the easing of the blockade seem to be designed to deflect questions regarding its true aims, and provide the EU and the US with some concrete show of progress in the face of growing public outrage following the violent attack on the flotilla.

The international community, whose financial and political involvement in these plans is only growing, has an urgent question to answer: will it cooperate with the entrenchment of the forced rift between the West Bank and Gaza, or will it work to achieve fair and democratic representation of all Palestinians, with an eye to ending Israel’s control over all parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory?

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