By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
26 June 2010
Jonathan Cook explains why Israel’s recent “easing” of the siege of Gaza – hailed by Israeli agent of influence and former British Prime Minister Anthony Blair as a sensible path to peace – is a ruse that will change virtually nothing for the ordinary people of Gaza.
As Israel this week declared the “easing” of the four-year blockade of Gaza, an official explained the new guiding principle: “Civilian goods for civilian people.” The severe and apparently arbitrary restrictions on foodstuffs entering the enclave – coriander bad, cinnamon good – will finally end, we are told. Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants will have all the coriander they want.
This “adjustment”, as the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, termed it, is aimed solely at damage limitation. With Israel responsible for killing nine civilians aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla three weeks ago, the world has finally begun to wonder what purpose the siege serves. Did those nine really need to die to stop coriander, chocolate and children’s toys from reaching Gaza? And, as Israel awaits other flotillas, will more need to be executed to enforce the policy?
Faced with this unwelcome scrutiny, Israel – as well as the United States and the European states that have been complicit in the siege – desperately wants to deflect attention away from demands for the blockade to be lifted entirely. Instead it prefers to argue that the more liberal blockade for Gaza will distinguish effectively between a necessary “security” measures and an unfair “civilian” blockade. Israel has cast itself as the surgeon who, faced with Siamese twins, is mastering the miraculous operation needed to decouple them.
The result, Mr Netanyahu told his cabinet, would be a “tightening of the security blockade because we have taken away Hamas’s ability to blame Israel for harming the civilian population”. Listen to Israeli officials and it sounds as if thousands of “civilian” items are ready to pour into Gaza. No Qassam rockets for Hamas but soon, if we are to believe them, Gaza’s shops will be as well-stocked as your average Wal-Mart.
Be sure, it won’t happen.
Even if many items are no longer banned, they still have to find their way into the enclave. Israel controls the crossing points and determines how many trucks are allowed in daily. Currently, only a quarter of the number once permitted are able to deliver their cargo, and that is unlikely to change to any significant degree. Moreover, as part of the “security” blockade, the ban is expected to remain on items such as cement and steel desperately needed to build and repair the thousands of homes devastated by Israel’s attack 18 months ago.
In any case, until Gaza’s borders, port and airspace are its own, its factories are rebuilt, and exports are again possible, the hobbled economy has no hope of recovering. For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in Gaza, mired in poverty, the new list of permissible items – including coriander – will remain nothing more than an aspiration.
But more importantly for Israel, by concentrating our attention on the supposed ending of the “civilian” blockade, Israel hopes we will forget to ask a more pertinent question: what is the purpose of this refashioned “security” blockade?
Over the years Israelis have variously been told that the blockade was imposed to isolate Gaza’s “terrorist” rulers, Hamas; to serve as leverage to stop rocket attacks on nearby Israeli communities; to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza; and to force the return of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit.
None of the reasons stands up to minimal scrutiny. Hamas is more powerful than ever; the rocket attacks all but ceased long ago; arms smugglers use the plentiful tunnels under the Egyptian border, not Erez or Karni crossings; and Sergeant Shalit would already be home had Israel seriously wanted to trade him for an end to the siege.
The real goal of the blockade was set out in blunt fashion at its inception, in early 2006, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian elections. Dov Weisglass, the government’s chief adviser at the time, said it would put Palestinians in Gaza “on a diet, but not make them die of hunger”. Aid agencies can testify to the rampant malnutrition that followed. The ultimate aim, Mr Weisglass admitted, was to punish ordinary Gazans in the hope that they would overthrow Hamas.
Is Mr Weisglass a relic of the pre-Netanyahu era, his blockade-as-diet long ago superseded? Not a bit. Only last month, during a court case against the siege, Mr Netanyahu’s government justified the policy not as a security measure but as “economic warfare” against Gaza. One document even set out the minimum calories – or “red lines”, as they were also referred to – needed by Gazans according to their age and sex.
In truth, Israel’s “security” blockade is, in both its old and new incarnations, every bit a “civilian” blockade. It was designed and continues to be “collective punishment” of the people of Gaza for electing the wrong rulers. Helpfully, international law defines the status of Israel’s policy: it is a crime against humanity.
Easing the siege so that Gaza starves more slowly may be better than nothing. But breaking 1.5 million Palestinians out of the prison Israel has built for them is the real duty of the international community.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilizations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.
A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi. The version on this website is published by permission of Jonathan Cook.
“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin but he who causes the darkness.” In the late 1960s, when America’s cities burned, Martin Luther King often quoted that line, which he borrowed from Victor Hugo. But it applies equally well to the catastrophe that occurred yesterday in international waters off the Gaza Strip.
It is not the Israeli naval commandos who should be judged guilty. Upon dismounting their helicopter onto the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, they found themselves, unexpectedly, in the belly of an armed mob. Anyone who thinks American troops would have acted with greater restraint should cast their mind back to October 1993, when U.S. Special Forces rappelled down from their Black Hawk helicopters into a sea of Somali militiamen, and killed or wounded perhaps a thousand of them as they shot their way to safety.
In the name of solidarity, we have practiced denial. In the name of anti-terrorism, we have justified the brutalization of innocents.
By JONNY PAUL
One of UK’s largest unions votes for boycott, expelling Israeli envoy.
One of Britain’s largest trade unions passed a motion at its annual conference in Bournemouth last week accusing Israel of lying over the Gaza flotilla incident and has called for a complete boycott of Israel and for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, it was confirmed on Thursday.
The emergency motion was introduced on the third day of the annual conference of UNISON, the largest public sector union with around 1.4 million members. It said Israel was “brazenly lying” over the flotilla incident, as it “attempted to define it as an attempted lynch mob of its troops by passengers on the boats. “This is a further sign that Israel does not respond to words of condemnation, only action will have any effect,” the motion states.
One attendee said that the few Unison members who spoke against the motion were heckled.
UNISON member Lilach Head, a care worker from Devon, spoke against the motion and was heckled. She said the atmosphere was intimidating and the vote was called before more people could speak against it.
“Only three people were able to speak against the motion, there were six others waiting but then the vote was called. There was no hope,” she said.
The union will now support a full boycott of Israel – economic, cultural and sporting; it has joined the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign and will suspend ties with the Histadrut.
In addition to these measures, UNISON is calling for Britain to expel the Israeli ambassador.
“Conference reaffirms the support for an economic, cultural and sporting boycott of Israel and call on Unison to join the scores of unions around the world who have endorsed the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Further to that as an immediate sanction for the illegal attack on the flotilla, we call on the government to expel the Israeli ambassador,” the motion states.
The union had already banned a organization that promotes Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation from having a stall at its conference.
UNISON’s deputy general secretary, Keith Sonnet, a pro-Palestinian activist and patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – a fringe group that advocates a one-state solution and major player in the boycott and delegitimization campaign against Israel – wrote to Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) saying the union was unable to offer the organization a stall because “we have no ongoing work with the TUFI, nor are we affiliated to the organization.”
“More than 2,000 delegates to UNISON’s national conference, representing our 1.4 million members, did indeed carry a motion condemning the Israeli attack on the Gaza freedom flotilla, in which nine people were reportedly killed,” a union spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“The motion noted that the boats were carrying much needed humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza [and that] the passengers on the boats were civilians.”
Asked if the wording and the sentiments expressed in the motion were a fair and honest reflection of the views of the members, the spokesperson said: “Our 2,000 delegates were well aware of the words in the motion before it was carried. We have constantly called for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and have pushed the case for a peaceful settlement – including an end to the bombings, on both sides.”
Asked how the motion would be implemented, the spokesperson said: “Our international committee will be taking forward the actions called for in the motion when it meets in the next couple of weeks.”
“Again, this is making accusations before the facts have been established and an investigation into this tragic incident have been completed,” said Stephen Scott, director of TUFI. “The outrageous attack on their fellow trade unionists in the Histadrut, who have called for a lifting of the blockade restrictions and the resumption of final-status peace talks, is counterproductive.
The Israeli embassy in London said the motion was “misleading” and “dishonest” and an “outrageous attempt” by anti-Israel activists to manipulate the union to serve their agenda.
“We categorically reject this misleading and dishonest motion. This is yet another outrageous attempt by anti-Israel elements to manipulate a union into serving their agenda.
“At a time when public sector workers face unprecedented challenges to their jobs and conditions, it is bizarre that the union’s leadership is focusing an emergency meeting on an overseas situation of which they are so clearly ignorant and prejudiced,” the spokesman said.
The Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), a movement working to unite trade unions and non-governmental organizations to counter boycott calls of Israel, said the motion presented an “utterly one-sided view” and could have easily been written in Iran.
“UNISON continues to speak with two voices,” said TULIP spokesman Eric Lee. “On the one hand, the union’s official policy remains support for a two-state solution, which was reaffirmed by the union leadership – and the union has actually done some good work on the ground, promoting Jewish-Arab peace and reconciliation.
“However, this resolution was hastily drafted and even more hastily adopted; it contradicts the union’s own long-standing position and instead presents an utterly one-sided view of the conflict. It fact, it so demonizes Israel that it could easily have been written in Teheran,” Lee added.