(photo credit: Courtesy)
The recent attempts to break the naval blockade of Gaza are the strongest evidence that the occupation over Gaza has never ended. When the Sharon government completed the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, foreign minister Tzipi Livni planned to announce to the UN General Assembly in September 2005 that Israel no longer occupied Gaza and that the international body is now responsible for the welfare of its people. The Legal Department of the Foreign Ministry informed her that she could not make that claim. From a legal point of view, as long as Israel controls Gaza’s territorial waters, its airspace and its external boundaries, it remains legally responsible for Gaza as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In accordance with international law, Israel has the right to stop
shipments of goods heading to Gaza. Part III, section 59 of the Fourth
Geneva Convention (on occupied territory) states: “A power granting free
passage to consignments on their way to territory occupied by an
adverse party to the conflict shall have the right to search the
consignments, to regulate their passage according to prescribed times
and routes, and to be reasonably satisfied... that these consignments
are to be used for the relief of the needy population...”
provocation of the Free Gaza campaign is not directed at the sea
blockade per se, but rather at the economic siege of Gaza. There has
been a sea blockade on Gaza pretty much since 1949. The Egyptian
military authorities in control of Gaza from 1949 to 1967 did not allow
it to develop a sea port. Since the Israeli occupation in 1967 there has
not been a port of Gaza, although there were plans to build a deep
seaport in Gaza as part of the peace process. An international airport
in Gaza was built and operated from 1998 to 2001, when the IAF bombed it
during the second intifada. The Gaza airport was not used for cargo,
but there were plans to expand it and to create a mechanism for
international monitors to prevent the importation of weapons and
ON NOVEMBER 15, 2005 Israel signed
two agreements (with the Palestinian
Authority, Egypt, the European Union and the United States) regulating
the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza via Israel and Egypt.
The Movement and Access Agreement states its purpose to be “to promote
peaceful economic development and improve the humanitarian situation on
the ground.” The agreement created mechanisms for allowing for movement
in and out of Gaza and even between the West Bank and Gaza. The Rafah
Agreement regulated the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. After the
kidnapping of Gilad Schalit, the government of Israel unilaterally
canceled these agreements. In reality the agreements ceased to be in use
after the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections of January
In 1995 one of the senior Palestinian military commanders in Gaza
invited me to spend a day with him. In his jeep, with two other military
vehicles escorts we drove all over Gaza, protected by his Kalashnikov
carrying soldiers. After dinner in his home, drinking Arabic coffee, he
said to me, “I have something that I would like you to tell prime
minister [Yitzhak] Rabin. There are at least 35 tunnels under the
Phildelphi crossing smuggling weapons and explosives into Gaza.” I asked
him why he didn’t use his forces to shut them down.
He told me that his hands were tied, but if Israel did not close them
down, it would all eventually explode in our (collective) face. I
reported that information to Rabin immediately.
SINCE THE unilateral Israeli decision to fully breach the Movement and
Access Agreement and the Agreement on Rafah and impose a full economic
siege on Gaza, more than 1,000 tunnels have been operating. The direct
result has been the empowering of Hamas and the filling of its coffers.
Through the control of the underground economy, Hamas has remained in
full control over the territory. About 90 percent of the factories in
Gaza are closed and unemployment is about 70%. Factory owners cannot get
their raw materials in or their finished products out.
Israel does allow “humanitarian goods” into Gaza via various crossings.
There is no hunger there; Israel is very careful about not creating a
humanitarian crisis. How is that done? The UN Food and Agriculture
Organization has set 1,800 calories per person per day as the minimum
amount of food necessary to prevent hunger. On that basis, the IDF has
calculated how much food must enter Gaza every day based on the size of
the population so that Israel fulfills its legal responsibilities as the
occupier under the Geneva Conventions. In addition, Israel allows fresh
foodstuffs to enter based on the surpluses that exist as a result of
the strong agriculture lobby in Israel – Gaza is a significant market
for Israeli agricultural products.
So rest assured, Palestinians in Gaza are getting enough calories. But
there are serious problems of malnutrition, mainly as a result of a lack
of protein in their diets – the main source of protein was fish, but
because of the coastal blockade and Israeli fears of smuggling weapons
via the sea, fishermen are not allowed to go out to where the fish can
be found. There are also serious health problems as a result of the
water, which is not fit for human consumption.
Because of the tunnel-based economy there are no real shortages in Gaza,
but with some 70% unemployment, people do not have the money to
purchase those goods. The only group not hurt by the siege is Hamas and
There is a new class of nouveau riche, the Hamas operatives who control
the tunnels. Hamas even created a Ministry for Tunnel Affairs where it
collects taxes from the tunnels and even leases them by the hour, day or
Israel’s policy has empowered Hamas and has weakened the working class.
Somehow, its brilliant generals and military analysts actually believe
this policy will weaken the public support for Hamas and they credit the
significant decline in support for the group to the siege policy. This
is far from the truth, but the desire and the need to justify a policy
which is so blatantly and morally wrong must have blinded their ability
to see what is really happening and what the siege policy has turned us
What Israel should be doing is demanding that the movement and access
and the Rafah agreements go back in to full implementation. That would
mean a return of Palestinian Authority troops and officials loyal to
Mahmoud Abbas to the crossings and the return of the European monitoring
force supervising the crossings, with Israeli agreement and real-time
closed-circuit Israeli oversight. Israel can keep the sea blockade on
until there is a peace arrangement, but with the land crossings
reopened, life in Gaza will be normalized, the working people will go
back to work and Hamas will lose more public support.
The economic siege was meant to weaken Hamas and to apply pressure on it
to release Gilad Schalit. The policy has accomplished neither. Instead,
Hamas is stronger and richer and Israel is isolated and condemned by
the international community.
The writer is co-CEO of the
Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and
an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political