Analysis: 2 blockades of Gaza exist

While Israel can cite security concerns to justify coastal restrictions, it's not clear that the same can be done for land.

June 9, 2010 04:37
Gaza bound truck

311_Gaza crossing. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))

The government and the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews have demonstrated over the past 10 days they have no doubt the IDF operation to intercept the flotilla bringing humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip was entirely justified.

Their main, and most convincing, argument regarding the naval blockade is that Israel has no choice but to prevent cargo ships from reaching Gaza because some most certainly would be carrying weapons, including long-range missiles, to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

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But that is only one of the arguments that has been raised. Another is that the flotilla was in fact a terrorist operation.

According to this view, the 600 or more passengers on the Mavi Marmara included a group of about 50 terrorists who allegedly planned all along to deceive the navy commandos and murder them when they boarded the ship. This, they say, proves that the entire flotilla effort had nothing to do with humanitarian concerns and that there were no “peace-lovers” on board.

As for the hundreds of other passengers aboard the six ships, most were provocateurs, anti- Semites and/or Israel-haters, and the remaining few were naïve do-gooders brainwashed by anti- Israel propaganda.

There is very little logic linking the undoubted need to prevent weapons from reaching Gaza and the other arguments that have been voiced about the flotilla, arguments meant to soothe Israel’s conscience by dismissing the sincerity of some (by no means all) of its critics.

Except for those who don’t care about the country’s security or future, virtually no one believes that Israel can lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip. But it should be remembered that the government is maintaining two blockades against Gaza – one by sea and the other by land. If it can justify the sea blockade on security grounds, it cannot do the same for the land restrictions.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. On January 25, 2006, Hamas won the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and established a single-party government. In June 2007, bitter fighting erupted between Hamas and Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip and Fatah was driven out of Gaza, leaving the area in complete control of Hamas.

On September 17, 2007, after terrorist forces in Gaza stepped up their shelling of Israeli civilian communities, the government declared Gaza a hostile entity and announced that it would impose “additional sanctions on the Hamas regime in order to restrict the passage of various goods into the Gaza Strip and reduce the supply of fuel and electricity. Restrictions will also be placed on the movement of people to and from the Gaza Strip.”

Gisha – The Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, and nine other human rights groups petitioned the High Court against the fuel and electricity cutbacks and other restrictions, and charged that they were creating severe hardships for hospitals, the water supply and the basic quality of life of the Palestinian inhabitants.

The petitioners argued that the decision to reduce supplies to Gaza was an act of collective punishment “in which [the state] has chosen to inflict severe harm on civilian residents of the Gaza Strip intentionally and without it even being claimed that these people have done anything wrong or acted against the state or the residents of Israel.

“The [state’s] decision to reduce the supply of electricity and fuel to Gaza contravenes its duty to actively care for the needs of the civilian population in Gaza and to facilitate the functioning of its civilian institutions.The purpose of reducing the supply – exerting pressure on Hamas or other armed groups, when the civilian population is the ‘lever for pressure,’ is manifestly illegal.”

In its response, the state argued that “it is the right of the state to decide that it wants to maintain no economic relations or provide no economic aid to the other side in a conflict. In this context, we stress that the provision of fuel to the Gaza Strip will remain, even after the cutbacks, within the minimum humanitarian standard required in accordance with international law.”

As for the charges that the cutbacks constituted “collective punishment,” the state argued that all economic sanctions, such as those imposed against apartheid South Africa, could be construed as collective punishment.

After lengthy deliberations, the High Court rejected the petitions and ruled that the cutbacks did not create a humanitarian crisis.

The UN itself has declared more than once that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and that no one is starving. On the other hand, it has also pointed out that 80 percent of the population is dependent for food on the United Nations and that the economy is a shambles, in large part due to Israel’s restrictions on industry and agriculture.

The restrictions on the import of goods imposed in 2007 are still in effect today, including the ban on construction materials.

According to Sari Bashi, the head of Gisha, during the tahadiyeh, the Hamas-declared cease-fire from June-November 2008, some trucks bearing construction materials were allowed to enter, but this was stopped following Operation Cast Lead.

She added that recently, a small number of trucks bearing construction materials have also been allowed in, but nowhere near the previous number.

Nevertheless, in a paper released on Tuesday, Lt.-Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, described the situation as “the myth of the siege of Gaza.” Halevy provided a list of statistics to prove that the situation was, if not good, than not nearly as bad as human rights organizations, including the UN, claim. But his figures lacked context.

For example, Halevy wrote that in 2009, “a total of 7,233 truck loads of humanitarian aid from the international community passed from Israel into Gaza.”

Is that a lot of trucks for a population of 1.5 million in Gaza? Is that a small number of trucks? How is the reader supposed to know?

The following figures might help. According to Gisha, “Imports are currently at approximately 25% of what Gaza needs, or about 2,500 truckloads of goods per month (including grain and animal feed transferred not on trucks but rather via conveyer belt), as opposed to the 10,400 truckloads per month entering before the June 2007 closure began,” the organization wrote recently.

Halevi maintains that the tunnel system between Egypt and Gaza has dramatically improved the economic situation of the Palestinians. In fact, he makes it sound as though it is part of Israel’s policy to create a good life for the Palestinians, despite its public pronouncements to the contrary.

“‘Smuggling’ is not the correct word to describe the network of tunnels along Gaza’s border with Egypt,” he wrote. “Whereas smuggling connotes illegal activity carried out clandestinely, the Palestinian tunnel network is out in the open and extends the whole length of the border.”

Next thing we will hear is that IDF engineers are building them.

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