(July 31, 2014) Blockade? Wrong word for the limitations that Israel places on the free flow of goods.
“No ceasefire until Gaza siege is lifted,” media outlets around the world announced this week, citing Hamas’s chief demand in its war with Israel. This often-recited demand has been so important to Gaza for so long that some believe Hamas started the current war with Israel primarily to force an end to the blockade.
The “siege” and the “blockade” — also called an “occupation” — cannot be understood without torturing the vocabulary.
Occupation? Israel voluntarily left the Gaza Strip in 2005, its soldiers uprooting every last Jew as they handed the Palestinians the keys to the territory, no strings attached. Israel even left behind its 3,000 lucrative greenhouses, bought by Jewish philanthropists as a gift for the people of Gaza in the hope Gaza would become a “Singapore on the Mediterranean,” so successful that it would have a stake in peace and accommodate itself to having Israel as a neighbour. In any sane sense of the word, there was no longer any “occupation” — no Israeli settlers, no Israeli soldiers, no Jews of any description remained.
Siege? The claim that Gaza is under siege from Israel is also a stretch. Historically, attackers who laid siege to cities would poison their water and prevent any supplies from entering, with the intent of starving the inhabitants into submission. Israel, in contrast, supplies Gaza with its electricity, with its gas and with its water as well as trucking in food and medical supplies. During the current war, when a stray Hamas missile knocked out power lines from Israel that supplied Gazans with electricity, Israeli repair crews donned protective gear and restored power to Gazans while Hamas rockets soared overhead. Likewise, despite the rockets, Israel is continuing to take in Gazans to provide them with medical care in Israeli hospitals, just as it has prior to the current war — Israel has even provided medical care to close relatives of Hamas terrorists.
Blockade? Wrong word for the limitations that Israel places on the free flow of goods. Not only does Israel permit numerous imports into Gaza (witness the hundreds of thousands of tons of cement now known to have been used to construct tunnels), Israel also allows Gaza to export its goods freely, including to the enormous EU market where Gaza has duty-free status. But with two exceptions: The two exceptions are exports to Israel and exports to the West Bank, to prevent the surreptitious entry of bombs, weapons and other materiel that could cause Israel grief.
Neither is Israel alone in limiting Hamas’s freedom to act as it will. In 2007, Hamas seized Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup, leading the Palestinian Authority — the sole official representative of the Palestinians — to prevent Gazans from travelling by denying them passports. Egypt, too, sealed its border crossing with Gaza and largely kept it sealed to prevent terrorism from spilling into Egypt. Hamas is today the darling of jihadists and the European left but a pariah to Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and the Arab League as well as to Israel. Its pariah status among moderate Arabs stems solely from its religiously motivated desire to terrorize its neighbours rather than to develop its economy. This terror-orientation is the sole reason that curbs are placed on Gazans.
Gaza does not need to be economically deprived. The 3,000 greenhouses that Israel left behind employed 3,500 Gazans and exported high-value fruits, vegetables and flowers to Europe. Had the greenhouses not been looted for their glass and piping when the Israelis left, and had Gaza invested in building up industries rather than in digging out tunnels, Gaza could still be producing these crops and more. The EU would gladly support Gazans by buying their produce rather than by sending them ever more amounts of humanitarian aid.
Gazans don’t suffer from a state of siege, imposed by Israel and Egypt; they suffer from a state of mind, imposed upon themselves, that prefers a government committed to converting their land into the world’s largest terrorist launching pad instead of into a Singapore on the Mediterranean. Until Gazans themselves lift the siege and choose to export goods rather than terrorism, they will remain in a prison of their mind.
First in a series. For the second column, see: Playing make-believe over Gaza.