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The Myth of the Siege of Gaza
Posted Thu, Jun 17, 2010

Since 2007, Israel has maintained a legal maritime blockade around Gaza whose purpose is to keep rockets and other weapons out of the hands of Hamas, while letting food and other humanitarian aid in. Yet there have been a wide variety of officials and commentators who insist that Gaza is starving, setting the stage for the repeated efforts of “humanitarian” ships to break the Gaza blockade.
For example, John Ging, the director of operations for UNRWA, told The New York Times in early 2009 that Israel’s blockade was choking off basic humanitarian supplies like medicine, clothing and blankets, as well as food supplies. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory released a report in August 2009 arguing that “the blockade has ‘locked in’ 1.15 million people.” The same report asserted that 75 percent of Gaza’s population is “food insecure.” Recently, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) told Don Imus on the Fox Business Channel that Israel was “preventing food and medicine from going into Gaza.” He said there are “people that are starving,” and closed with a vile suggestion that the situation of the Gazans was “almost like in concentration camps.”
Are the Gates of Gaza Closed?
The claims of a hermetic blockade of Gaza are inconsistent with the figures that emerge from Israeli and Palestinian sources alike. The Gaza Strip under Hamas control continues to receive supplies of goods via the border crossings with Israel and the network of tunnels with Egypt, which have become an established import channel that supplements the items not coming in from Israel, on a scale of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
The continuing rise in imports via the tunnel network provides employment to thousands of Palestinians and lines the coffers of the Hamas government by taxes on operating the tunnels and on the goods that pass through them. The types of merchandise imported via the tunnels are determined by supply and demand, and the tunnel owners frequently create an artificial shortage so as to increase their profit share.
The Hamas government also enjoys funding from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and monies from the European Union (which financed the purchase of fuel for Gaza’s power station) toward the purchase of Israeli-supplied electricity, in addition to aid from the Arab states.
Gaza’s gates are open for entry and exit by Palestinian residents, subject to approval by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities and coordination with them. According to Palestinian figures, Israel and Egypt have approved more than 98 per cent of Palestinian requests for medical treatment in their respective countries.
The tunnel network is also used by Hamas for military purposes, among them sending fighters for training in Iran and Syria, and for the import of advanced weapons systems (anti-aircraft and anti-missile), explosives, and ammunition.
Criminal activity in the tunnels includes drug running and trafficking in young girls for domestic work and marriage to wealthy, older Palestinians.
The position of the human rights organizations, which paint an exaggerated picture of the effects of the “blockade,” is marred by a double standard. On the one hand, they argue vehemently that Israel is still an occupying power and must therefore see to the “security and welfare of the residents of Gaza”; yet on the other hand, they criticize Israel as lacking concern for the welfare of Gaza’s residents—but not for their security, which has been severely harmed by Hamas’s regime with its gradual imposition of Islamic law while violently suppressing the opposition.
Moreover, the human rights organizations are not presenting a demand that Israel cease its “occupation” of Gaza; on the contrary, they would reinforce it by opening the border completely. There is a paradox of sorts in their position, for if Israel removes the blockade at the request of the human rights organizations, the occupation can be said to have ended, and thus Israel would have no further obligation to see to the needs of Gaza’s populace. This being the case, it is hard to understand why the human rights organizations continue to demand that Israel tend to the population of Gaza even after the lifting of the blockade.
These organizations demand that Israel act according to a higher moral standard than that required of other states. According to their logic, by which Israel is obligated to help an enemy entity that is attacking it, the U.S. along with the other coalition members that have occupied Afghanistan have a duty to extend assistance to villages controlled by the Taliban fighters who are attacking their forces.
In contrast to the insistence that Israel open its borders to an enemy entity, the human rights organizations are refraining from (or speaking in very muted tones about) presenting a similarly forceful demand to the authorities in Egypt, which borders Gaza to the south and does not define the Hamas government as an enemy entity.
Egypt, like these organizations, is “enamored” with Israel’s supposed occupation of Gaza. For years, Egypt has demanded that Israel withdraw from the Gaza Strip to make way for Palestinian independence. And although Israel did so, it continues to claim that Israel is still an “occupying power.”
Egypt strenuously rejects the demand by Hamas and the Arab states to open its border with Gaza, and insists on maintaining a situation whereby the border is closed formally but open in practice, so as to claim that the Israeli occupation of Gaza is continuing. The use of pressure against restrictions on the passage of goods and people over the border is a form of leverage intended to push Hamas into accepting Egypt’s terms for opening the border on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which preserves—in Cairo’s view—Israel’s status as an occupying power.

Jonathan Dahoh-Halevi
ABOUT THIS EXPERT
Fellow and senior researcher at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs , head of research of the Orient Research Group Ltd., investigative journalist and an activist in the Jewish and Israeli communities.


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