This piece was originally published in Aftonbladet on Monday, July 9, 2012
The blockade—or put more correctly and in the term those who are hemmed in prefer: the siege—denies Palestinians in Gaza their human and civil rights. It robs them of their right to live as human beings.
But the siege has not achieved any of the goals that its proponents hold up as arguments in favor of it. It has not stopped sporadic rocket attacks into southern Israel. And it has neither removed Hamas from power nor impeded the recruiting of militia to armed resistance groups.
On the contrary.
The so-called tunnel economy, which is one of the results of the siege, breeds criminals and men in power while devastating the economy and causing businesses to collapse.
The only thing the siege has definitely succeeded in is to magnify bitterness and suspicion on either side of the wall—a wall that encloses the short strip of beach, along with the sea that is forbidden territory for Palestinians.
So the question is not why the siege should be ended but why it has not already been ended. Why is the Israeli government clinging to this inhumane, illegal and—for all parties involved—destructive policy? And why does the international community, which purports to support international law and human rights, keep allowing the siege to continue?
There are three factors that may shed some light on that mystery
Geopolitics. Many people were surprised and indignant over the Greek government’s decision last summer to suddenly forbid any and all ships destined for Gaza, regardless of nationality, to depart from its ports. Nobody believed that the reason was concern for the safety of the passengers. Instead, there was an idea thrown around that the highly challenged Greek government had caved in to pressure and that Israel had expanded its siege policy, from then on viewing the entire Eastern Basin of the Mediterranean Sea as its territorial waters, its Mare Nostrum.
That idea was not as baseless as it might appear. On the morning of May 31, 2010, the first constellation of Ship to Gaza/Freedom Flotilla was attacked by an Israeli military force, way out in international waters. The attack resulted in nine deaths and approximately fifty wounded.
A few days after the assault, it became known that there had been a significant natural-gas discovery in the Eastern Basin, named Leviathan after the sea monster in the Old Testament.
According to optimistic calculations, the discovery will transform Israel from an importer into an exporter of energy for decades to follow. Assuming that the discovery lives up to its expectations, it would change the geopolitical status of the region and bring income to the nations surrounding the Eastern Basin of the Mediterranean Sea. To Palestine as well, assuming the nation exists and its borders include a Mediterranean coastline.
Gas fields located off of the coast of the Gaza Strip. (Image: USGS)
The natural-gas discovery suggests that there may be non-military motives to Israel’s arbitrary expansion of its security zone in the Mediterranean Sea, which occurred at the same time as the freedom of movement for Palestinian fishermen in Gaza was restricted to three nautical miles. Separation policy.
Israeli policy vis-à-vis the occupied Palestinian territories varies according to area. In the West Bank, it is characterized by colonization, which breaks the territories up into a complicated and not-easily-delineated archipelago of scattered areas. Settlements, checkpoints and Israeli-only highways tear apart Palestinians’ life and work, while they simultaneously resolutely act as barriers to any possibility of a cohesive, independent Palestine.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, Israel implements what one of its own human rights organizations, GISHA, terms separation policy. This policy has significantly deeper roots than those of the settlement evacuations in 2005 or the tightening of the siege in 2007. While residents of the West Bank are granted access to Gaza, it is nearly impossible for Palestinian residents of Gaza to obtain a permit to travel to the West Bank. While trade is permitted between the West Bank (and not only the settlements) and Israel, trade between Gaza and Israel and between Gaza and the West Bank has been virtually eradicated.
The separation policy has yielded some headway, which is noticeable in the language we use. People are increasingly referring to “Gazans” and Gaza rather than as Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with the Strip understood to be an obvious part of the Palestinian territories.
This is worth paying attention to—for initiatives such as Ship to Gaza as well. Advocating for the opening up of relations between the rest of the world and the Gaza Strip, but not the rest of Palestine, might in fact support Israel’s separation policy.
Combined, the colonization of the West Bank and the separation of Gaza offer a clear view of the goal of the occupation: to shatter once and for all the dream of an independent, free Palestine, consisting of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The aim of the occupation policy, including the siege, is to disable the two-state solution that is unanimously backed by the international community and that drives the immense aid efforts which are hailed in lofty speeches and declarations.
Aid policy. The non-profit, religious, private and multinational organizations that provide most of the aid are under severe pressure from their own states and, ultimately, from the so-called “Quartet”, which sets the tone and direction for the involvement of the international community in the region. Threats of canceled aid, or even criminalization, may be used to invoke silence and obedience.
Despite the risks, humanitarian aid organization speak out to point out the unbearable consequences of the siege, demanding action from those who are politically responsible. A short while ago, 50 of the leading aid organizations, with the World Health Organization leading the way, demanded an immediate ending of the siege.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which operates in Gaza and is highly regarded, recently highlighted a dilemma within international, cooperative aid work. In practicality, the aid efforts provide lubricant and financing for the occupation as they relieve Israel of its legal responsibilities for Palestinians’ health and well-being. Without the international aid, the situation in Gaza would very swiftly appear to be just as catastrophic as it is.
The situation is truly absurd. The two-state solution is the motive behind one of the largest aid efforts in history. Israel’s occupation is shooting, blockading, colonizing and bulldozing the two-state solution into annihilation. This systematic destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, which has gone on for decades to varying degrees, and in full force since 2000, is repaired with patchwork through international aid; that is, by taxpayers in the rest of the world.
This creative destruction is what world leaders call a peace process and a road map to peace.
Ship to Gaza is proposing a different approach. With Estelle, our sailing schooner, we are sending the Palestinians on the Gaza Strip a message: You are not alone, and you are not forgotten. The situation is grim, but not hopeless. And on board Estelle travels a clear message to world leaders: Let your actions match your grandiose words about human rights; end the siege as a first step toward true peace and justice.
This article was translated from Swedish to English by Christopher Pastorella.