Israel Deserves No Thanks
It seems to be an effective tactic utilized by Israel over the years of its occupation of the Palestinians, effective mainly because it still apparently works. Israel has always maintained a tight hold over Palestinians, namely in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the question of its occupation and oppression of the population undisputed. However, within this system of subordination, Israel has allowed for minor liberties, which are usually taken for granted among free peoples. With the Palestinians, however, they are afforded as bonuses, good merits for when the Palestinians behave, or when the world starts to catch on to Israel’s oppressive regime and demands that something is done.
This is the case with Gaza today. For the past three years, ever since Hamas took control of it, Gaza has been under a strangulating siege, which has economically starved the tiny coastal strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants. Israel has lined up justification after justification for its inhumane blockade, all which start and end with Hamas. The homemade rockets shot from Gaza into Israeli territory by Hamas and other Palestinian groups further gave Israel reason to tighten its siege and severely restrict even foodstuffs that enter the Strip.
To the world, Israel ensured that it churned out a continuous stream of reasons why sweets, cilantro, building materials and notebooks could not possibly be let into Gaza – how these things could contribute to the “terrorist” network inside just waiting to get their hands on a Mars Bar so they could turn it into a roadside bomb. For the most of it, the world remained silent. Even those suspicious souls who questioned the rationale for such a siege often opted to turn away rather than face the arduous task of actually heading off with Israel. This is not to say there were not groups, organizations and even governments who spoke out against the blockade, calling on international bodies such as the UN, the Quartet and the United States to urge Israel to lift its siege. There were and still are and their efforts should never go without credit. Groups of politicians, artists, writers and peace activists have all come to Gaza and made their opinions heard, taking back with them stories of destruction and deprivation. Unfortunately, the siege continued because the powers that be were not pushed enough to change.
Then came the Freedom Flotilla and Israel botched up royally. Nine Turks were killed and 40 other internationals injured on board as they aimed to sail into Gaza carrying tons of humanitarian aid. The world was shocked, finally, and international condemnation began pouring in. Israel could not ignore the calls any more to ease the siege, to allow more materials and food into the beleaguered Strip and to release some pressure off of the people, most of whom have nothing to do with Hamas or its rockets.
Last week, Israel, under this immense international pressure, announced it would ease the siege on the Gaza Strip and allow more humanitarian and construction aid in. “A positive step” and “A move in the right direction” were some of the statements coming out of world leaders. Others, fairly speaking, were capped off with a warning of “It’s not enough” but most of the international community was positive about the Israeli “gesture.”
The fact that Israel will now “allow in thousands of new items” into Gaza after previously only allowing a total of 114 seems to be a giant step in the right direction. That is, until the bigger picture is taken into consideration. Just like allowing more workers into Israel or authorizing Israeli permits into Jerusalem for more Palestinians, the core issue of why such things are even in existence is disregarded. It is easy to think that Israel is easing restrictions by allowing more material into Gaza or by lifting a checkpoint or two in the West Bank and it is a perfect way to ease the conscience of the world that their “efforts” have bore fruit.
And so, we somehow end up thanking Israel. The world, and sometimes even the Palestinians show gratitude for the fact that Israel now allows cilantro into Gaza or has lifted a dirt blockade between two villages, thus permitting residents to finally be able to drive to their cousin’s house without hindrance. We give a sigh of relief when our Israeli day permit is issued to us so we can travel to Jerusalem, to the place where our families can be traced back hundreds of years to pray at Al Aqsa, to walk the market or to pay a family visit before 7:00 pm when the permit expires. Israel chokes us so much that the moment the noose is loosened just a bit, we are instinctively relieved. Easing the blockade on Gaza is Israel’s number one tactic of diversion. If the world focuses on Gaza’s humanitarian situation, the political dimension can be pushed back yet again. Just like in the West Bank, if a few checkpoints are removed - checkpoints which should never have been there in the first place – then the world and the Palestinians could be placated, even for a little while.
Of course, it is good if the Gazans have more food and more material to rebuild the homes Israel destroyed during Cast Lead. But food and shelter should not be exploited as bargaining chips, Brownie points for good behavior. They are basic human rights, something which seems to pass the world by.
The right to statehood, independence and self-determination are also fundamental. This time around, awareness of this is slowly rising among peoples of conscience throughout the world. Easing the blockade on Gaza is definitely not enough because there should never have been a blockade in the first place.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.