[News] The Real Goal of Israel's Blockade of Gaza

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 17 11:46:32 EST 2008


http://www.counterpunch.org/cook11172008.html

November 17, 2008


"They Are All Hamas"


The Real Goal of Israel's Blockade of Gaza

By JONATHAN COOK

The latest tightening of Israel’s chokehold on 
Gaza – ending all supplies into the Strip for 
more than a week – has produced immediate and 
shocking consequences for Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants.

The refusal to allow in fuel has forced the 
shutting down of Gaza’s 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, Israel’s 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 Israel’s 
declaration in Sept 2007 of Gaza as an “enemy entity”.

There are likely to be few witnesses to Gaza’s 
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 Hamas’s 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 UN’s 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 Gaza’s 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 Gaza’s 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 community’s 
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 
Strip’s physical separation from the Fatah-dominated West Bank.

Far from reconsidering its policy, Israel’s 
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 
Hamas’s 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 Israel’s 
continuing occupation. Both provide Israel with a 
pretext for casting aside the protections offered 
to Gaza’s 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, Israel’s desire to seal off Gaza and 
terrorise its civilian population predates even 
Hamas’s election victory. It can be dated to 
Ariel Sharon’s disengagement of summer 2005, when 
Fatah’s 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 Fatah’s 
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 Israel’s standard operating procedure.

Increasingly strident talk from officials, 
culminating in February in the deputy defence 
minister Matan Vilnai’s infamous remark about 
creating a “shoah”, or Holocaust, in Gaza, has 
been matched by Israeli measures. The military 
bombed Gaza’s 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 
Israel’s 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 Gaza’s 
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 Gaza’s Community Mental 
Health Programme, said this year that Israel’s 
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 
<http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in 
The National 
(<http://www.thenational.ae>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.




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