Gaza blockade 'easing' is a facade

June 29, 2010

After the world was in an uproar over the Israeli attack on the civilian flotilla bringing aid to the besieged Gaza Strip, Israel has now begun ‘easing' the strangling blockade of Gaza.

Previously prohibited items are now allowed in, and most media outlets covering the region show us images of lorries driving into Gaza thanks to the generosity of the Israeli government. Many see this as a victory for citizens' struggle — the fact that aid ships by citizens of the world to help fellow human beings could force Israel to somewhat change its policy means that the people's activism is not dead.
However, the fact of the matter is that this ‘easing' of the blockade is another in a long line of Israeli methods of pacifying the so-called international community and providing a facade for further illegal activities.
On August 15, 2005, Israel implemented what it called the unilateral Disengagement Plan. What most people saw was a generous gesture from Israel to evict Israeli colonists from Gaza.
However, the disengagement was anything but that. The media showed us emotional images of colonists weeping and being forcibly removed from their homes, even though they were there illegally, and their presence meant that the Palestinians were restricted from moving freely in their own land. What we were not shown, though, was the other side of the ‘plan'.
Israel maintained that it would control Gaza's airspace, coastline and borders, and had a right to undertake military operations when necessary, which made it effectively the occupying power, under the Geneva Conventions, with responsibility towards the civilian population.
Moreover, this ‘disengagement' was a cover-up for increasing colonies and checkpoints in the West Bank. According to Peace Now, an Israeli NGO, the number of colonists increased by 6,100 compared with 2004, to 250,000 in 2005 in the West Bank. The number of colonists as of June 2009 was about 300,000.
The United States, EU and even the Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon praised the disengagement initiative. What we are never shown however, is the number of Palestinian homes demolished in occupied East Jerusalem. In that same year, 76 homes were demolished in occupied East Jerusalem. Just last week, Israel announced it would raze 22 homes.
The colony ‘freeze', brought to the forefront this year due to the Obama administration's soft disapproval of colonies, was also another publicity effort to re-affirm Israel's seeming commitment to peace in the public's mind.
The colony freeze did not include occupied East Jerusalem, which Netanyahu said is part of Israel's “sovereign capital”— in contravention to international law and UN Security Council resolution 242 in 1967 and every UN resolution confirming it since. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the transfer by an Occupying Power of its civilian population to the territory it occupies is illegal and may constitute a war crime. Moreover, the blatant apartheid of Jewish-only roads and facilities was also ignored by the international community.
Wider issues ignored
Where does that leave us as the latest expression of the Israeli government's ‘generosity' the easing of the blockade is making headlines around the world?
While allowing in much needed items to a population that is largely reliant on foreign aid is most definitely a relief, it does not address wider issues.
Christopher Gunness of UNRWA said: “We need to have the blockade fully lifted... The Israeli strategy is to make the international community talk about a bag of cement here, a project there. We need full unfettered access through all the border posts.”
Israel has remained silent on matters such as the free movement of people that are not for medical emergencies or even if raw materials would be allowed into Gaza for the resumption of economic activity. In reality, the blockade is still in effect, albeit “liberalized” which only means that Israel is attempting to comply with some of its obligations as the occupying power.
However, the PR campaign seems to be working. The United States welcomed the new policy toward Gaza, stating that it “should significantly improve conditions for Palestinians in Gaza”. The Quartet issued a statement calling for the new policy's rapid implementation. Other countries, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, were more cautious.
Yet what has conveniently been ignored is the need for an independent inquiry into the murder of civilians aboard the Freedom flotilla. The murder of civilians on the high seas can be considered an act of war, and at the very least the perpetrators must be tried under the jurisdiction of the flag state in this case, Turkey.
While the UN chief has been trying to organize an international inquiry into the flotilla attack, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has asked the UN to shelve any inquiry, and it remains to be seen whether the UN will oblige. There is a dire need for accountability.
The rules of international law must be applied fairly and equally to all parties. But in a world where the ruling elite do nothing more than issue statements, the real solution lies with citizens willing to speak out.
Jinan Bastaki is a UAE writer based in Dubai.
(Source: Gulf News)