[News] The Real Goal of Israel's Blockade of Gaza
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 17 11:46:32 EST 2008
November 17, 2008
"They Are All Hamas"
The Real Goal of Israel's Blockade of Gaza
By JONATHAN COOK
The latest tightening of Israels chokehold on
Gaza ending all supplies into the Strip for
more than a week has produced immediate and
shocking consequences for Gazas 1.5 million inhabitants.
The refusal to allow in fuel has forced the
shutting down of Gazas only power station,
creating a blackout that pushed Palestinians
bearing candles on to the streets in protest last
week. A water and sanitation crisis are expected to follow.
And on Thursday, the United Nations announced it
had run out of the food essentials it supplies to
750,000 desperately needy Gazans. This has
become a blockade against the United Nations itself, a spokesman said.
In a further blow, Israels large Bank Hapoalim
said it would refuse all transactions with Gaza
by the end of the month, effectively imposing a
financial blockade on an economy dependent on the
Israeli shekel. Other banks are planning to
follow suit, forced into a corner by Israels
declaration in Sept 2007 of Gaza as an enemy entity.
There are likely to be few witnesses to Gazas
descent into a dark and hungry winter. In the
past week, all journalists were refused access to
Gaza, as were a group of senior European
diplomats. Days earlier, dozens of academics and
doctors due to attend a conference to assess the
damage done to Gazans mental health were also turned back.
Israel has blamed the latest restrictions of aid
and fuel to Gaza on Hamass violation of a
five-month ceasefire by launching rockets out of
the Strip. But Israel had a hand in shattering
the agreement: as the world was distracted by the
US presidential elections, the army invaded Gaza,
killing six Palestinians and provoking the rocket fire.
The humanitarian catastrophe gripping Gaza is
largely unrelated to the latest tit-for-tat
strikes between Hamas and Israel. Nearly a year
ago, Karen Koning AbuZayd, commissioner-general
of the UNs refugee agency, warned: Gaza is on
the threshold of becoming the first territory to
be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution.
She blamed Gazas strangulation directly on
Israel, but also cited the international
community as accomplice. Together they began
blocking aid in early 2006, following the
election of Hamas to head the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The US and Europe agreed to the measure on the
principle that it would force the people of Gaza
to rethink their support for Hamas. The logic was
supposedly similar to the one that drove the
sanctions applied to Iraq under Saddam Hussein
through the 1990s: if Gazas civilians suffered
enough, they would rise up against Hamas and
install new leaders acceptable to Israel and the West.
As Ms AbuZayd said, that moment marked the
beginning of the international communitys
complicity in a policy of collective punishment
of Gaza, despite the fact that the Fourth Geneva
Convention classifies such treatment of civilians as a war crime.
The blockade has been pursued relentlessly since,
even if the desired outcome has been no more
achieved in Gaza than it was in Iraq. Instead,
Hamas entrenched its control and cemented the
Strips physical separation from the Fatah-dominated West Bank.
Far from reconsidering its policy, Israels
leadership has responded by turning the screw
ever tighter to the point where Gazan society
is now on the verge of collapse.
In truth, however, the growing catastrophe being
unleashed on Gaza is only indirectly related to
Hamass rise to power and the rocket attacks.
Of more concern to Israel is what each of these
developments represents: a refusal on the part of
Gazans to abandon their resistance to Israels
continuing occupation. Both provide Israel with a
pretext for casting aside the protections offered
to Gazas civilians under international law to make them submit.
With embarrassing timing, the Israeli media
revealed at the weekend that one of the first
acts of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister
elected in 2006, was to send a message to the
Bush White House offering a long-term truce in
return for an end to Israeli occupation. His offer was not even acknowledged.
Instead, according to the daily Jerusalem Post,
Israeli policymakers have sought to reinforce the
impression that it would be pointless for Israel
to topple Hamas because the population [of Gaza]
is Hamas. On this thinking, collective
punishment is warranted because there are no true
civilians in Gaza. Israel is at war with every single man, woman and child.
In an indication of how widely this view is
shared, the cabinet discussed last week a new
strategy to obliterate Gazan villages in an
attempt to stop the rocket launches, in an echo
of discredited Israeli tactics used in south
Lebanon in its war of 2006. The inhabitants would
be given warning before indiscriminate shelling began.
In fact, Israels desire to seal off Gaza and
terrorise its civilian population predates even
Hamass election victory. It can be dated to
Ariel Sharons disengagement of summer 2005, when
Fatahs rule of the PA was unchallenged.
An indication of the kind of isolation Mr Sharon
preferred for Gaza was revealed shortly after the
pull-out, in Dec 2005, when his officials first
proposed cutting off electricity to the Strip.
The policy was not implemented, the local media
pointed out at the time, both because officials
suspected the violation of international law
would be rejected by other nations and because it
was feared that such a move would damage Fatahs
chances of winning the elections the following month.
With the vote over, however, Israel had the
excuse it needed to begin severing its
responsibility for the civilian population. It
recast its relationship with Gaza from one of
occupation to one of hostile parties at war. A
policy of collective punishment that was
considered transparently illegal in late 2005 has
today become Israels standard operating procedure.
Increasingly strident talk from officials,
culminating in February in the deputy defence
minister Matan Vilnais infamous remark about
creating a shoah, or Holocaust, in Gaza, has
been matched by Israeli measures. The military
bombed Gazas electricity plant in June 2006, and
has been incrementally cutting fuel supplies ever
since. In January, Mr Vilnai argued that Israel
should cut off all responsibility for Gaza and
two months later Israel signed a deal with Egypt
for it to build a power station for Gaza in Sinai.
All of these moves are designed with the same
purpose in mind: persuading the world that
Israels occupation of Gaza is over and that
Israel can therefore ignore the laws of
occupation and use unremitting force against Gaza.
Cabinet ministers have been queuing up to express
such sentiments. Ehud Olmert, for example, has
declared that Gazans should not be allowed to
live normal lives; Avi Dichter believes
punishment should be inflicted irrespective of
the cost to the Palestinians; Meir Sheetrit has
urged that Israel should decide on a
neighbourhood in Gaza and level it the policy
discussed by ministers last week.
In concert, Israel has turned a relative blind
eye to the growing smuggling trade through Gazas
tunnels to Egypt. Gazans material welfare is
falling more heavily on Egyptian shoulders by the day.
The question remains: what does Israel expect the
response of Gazans to be to their immiseration
and ever greater insecurity in the face of Israeli military reprisals?
Eyal Sarraj, the head of Gazas Community Mental
Health Programme, said this year that Israels
long-term goal was to force Egypt to end the
controls along its short border with the Strip.
Once the border was open, he warned, Wait for the exodus.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel
and the Clash of Civilisations: 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
A version of this article originally appeared in
(<http://www.thenational.ae>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.
522 Valencia Street
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