Israel released a statement yesterday (July 5, 2010) announcing its "easing" of the blockade of Gaza. Allegedly all items except "weapons, war material and dual-use items" will be allowed through the blockade via land vehicles. The sea blockade will remain in force. Tony Blair, the "special Middle East envoy" for the Quartet (the U.S., Russia, EU and the UN) has officially declared this move "a step forward in efforts to rebuild Gaza." And then he added, "this is a big change if it is implemented." Mr. Blair seems to suspect that the Israelis are not to be trusted.
As the old American saying goes, no one should count their chickens until the eggs hatch. Even if in theory we have a new day here and all kinds of food stuffs and household items are allowed through, a big question is at what rate? Before the Israelis established their illegal blockade an average of 750 trucks a day entered Gaza. That was a rate of traffic designed to keep Gazans in a state of semi-impoverishment. Soon after Hamas won fair and supervised Palestinian elections in January 2006 the blockade was put in place. The truck traffic rate then dropped to about 150 trucks per day. That purposely reduced the million and a half people of Gaza to full impoverishment.
Gaza became a Palestinian approximation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Then, at the end of May 2010, the Israelis got themselves into diplomatic hot water by attacking the Gaza aid flotilla. That has led us to the present situation in which, according to Haaretz (June 30, 2010), Israel has plans to increase the number of trucks to 350 per day. If that is the case it makes no significant difference that the list of restricted items has shrunk. What can get through will not come in the volume needed to improve the economic conditions of the people.
The Israeli government, of course, knows all of this. They also know that Hamas’s homemade rockets were fired into Israel against this historical backdrop. That is one reason why they have always refused to let high level foreign delegations into Gaza, but were happy to showcase the minor damage those rockets (which by the way had no explosive warheads) caused.
However, it is now difficult to keep representatives of the Quartet out. In the next few weeks the Israeli government will have to let the foreign ministers of Spain, France and Italy go into Gaza, but they also insist that the European ministers come to places like Siderot where those Palestinian rockets fell. The Israelis will try once more to justify the semi-starvation of over a million people (to say nothing of repeated massive invasions) on the basis of a small number of Israeli fatalities and some roof damage. The official visitors will no doubt come away (as did Barack Obama during the U.S. presidential campaign) agreeing that the Israelis had been provoked. The massive provocation of the Palestinians will be passed over in silence.
Tony Blair went on to explain that additional progress on Gaza is dependent on getting the "stalled peace process" going. This sort of talk is infuriating. For a long time now there has been no actual peace process. The Israelis have historically used the pseudo process as a way of delaying things while they created "facts on the ground." Abbas and his "government" in the West Bank has become a party to this charade. That goes for the Quartet as well.
Thus it should come as no surprise that it appears to mean very little to Tony Blair, the foreign ministers of Spain, France and Italy, and for that matter to President Barack Obama that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is starkly illegal. Let’s begin, for the sake of argument, from a position that the government of Israel and the government of Palestine (here I mean the elected one, Hamas) are in a state of war, which in turn allows Israel to use the tactic of a blockade (and also, by the way, allows Hamas to attack and take prisoner Israeli soldiers).
That blockade is only legal under international law if it is specifically used to deny the enemy "supplies needed to conduct hostilities"– that is military material. The collective punishment and/or mass impoverishment of a civilian population carried on as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited. No matter how the Israeli government wants to twist the situation for their own public, and however distorting the America media wants to be on this topic, the Gaza blockade is a prima facie illegal act in any objective court or investigatory setting. That is why the Netanyahu government does not dare to allow an independent investigation of the Gaza flotilla attack. Even in a state of war, if you are operating an illegal blockade you cannot legally attack a ship violating that blockade no matter where you find it. The Israelis have been hoisted on their own petard.
But none of this will have lasting positive consequences for the Gazans unless the same sort of public pressure that followed the Gaza aid flotilla attack is maintained and intensified. This must come mainly from civil society in the West applied both on Israel and their own Western governments. Those governments must be forced to stop being active or passive co-conspirators in the destruction of Palestinian society.
The post flotilla uproar shows us what is possible in this regard. When it comes to direct pressure on Israel, civil society must replicate the process that brought change to South Africa. This means boycott, divestment, sanctions, the use of the courts to go after Israelis who can legitimately be charged with war crimes, and similar tactics. We who stand against Israeli injustice did not make this situation. We have only been driven by our own principles to act against it. There are now millions of us and the number is increasing exponentially around the world. And, we can always rely on the Israelis to continue to be both stubborn and brutal. With them, it seems to be habitual.
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|Syed Kamal Hussain Shah|