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Free Gaza: The Purpose of Breaking the Naval Blockade Is Not Breaking the Naval Blockade

June 4, 2010

There is an enormous red herring swimming furiously in the electronic and print media seas of coverage and commentary about Israel’s lethal interception of the Free Gaza flotilla May 31. It is the claim that the goal of the flotilla organizers and others is to force Israel to lift its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, with gross disregard for Israeli security concerns. Not so at all.

The purpose of the effort to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip is not to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Got that? It sounds paradoxical. But if you’ve been paying attention, it’s obvious.

The purpose of the provocative flotilla (yes, it is provocative in the tradition of the 1960’s freedom rides and the Selma to Montgomery march) is to persuade Israel to reopen the Gaza-Israel border crossing points to the free movement of people and goods—to end the land blockade of Gaza that has left the Strip’s 1.4 million residents impoverished and dependent on international food aid, without the ability to rebuild the homes, clinics, schools, and the public health infrastructure of electricity, water, and sewage networks destroyed in Israel’s assault on Gaza 18 months ago. The goal is to reopen the border crossings to normal traffic—with full Israeli-inspection to prevent arms from reaching Hamas or any other group, as was the case before Israel closed the border crossings and imposed its blockade.

Yes, it would be nice to rebuild and reopen the port of Gaza, so that sea-borne commerce could flourish and contribute to the rebuilding of a viable economy. But that will have to await a peace agreement (which these recent events should certainly prompt the administration and Congress to pursue with renewed urgency). In the meantime, those of us who are fond of respecting international law should affirm that Israel, as the de facto occupying power in Gaza, even though it has “redeployed” its forces outside the Strip, has a right to maintain a naval blockade in order to prevent arms shipments. But the same international law makes Israel responsible for the welfare of Gaza civilians and prohibits collective punishment of the population. Israel’s land blockade is a violation of its responsibilities.

If you would like to get a better idea of the nature of the blockade, a good place to start is with the Israeli human rights organization Gisha. Gisha has a list of goods permitted and prohibited under the blockade (e.g. cinnamon but no duel-use nutmeg, please; pasta—thanks to Sen. John Kerry’s heroic efforts in February 2009—but no potato chips). Gisha’s attempt to challenge the blockade in the Israeli courts has also resulted in partial disclosure of the Kafkaesque  apparatus that Israel has set up to administer the blockade, including a calculation of the minimal nutritional requirements of the population to limit the amount of food allowed in. For an overview of the blockade and its effects, see the many documents produced by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHA-oPt). The most recent OCHA report notes that despite a 23% increase in goods going into Gaza last week, that amount is still only around one-quarter of the weekly average of truckloads of goods that entered before the blockade was imposed. The report also notes that no exports are leaving Gaza.

Israel’s failures to meet its international humanitarian law obligations pose a direct problem for the United States and the 193 other nations of the world who have signed the Geneva Conventions, at least for those of us with a fondness for international law. Common Article 1 of the Conventions obligates all signers to “respect and to ensure respect” for the provisions of the Conventions. When one signer fails to meet its obligations, in other words, it’s the responsibility of the other signers to act to end the violation.

Hence the request that FCNL sent to President Obama this week: ‘Mr. President, please declare U.S. opposition to the blockade. Quietly ask Israel to lift it. If your persuasion fails, well you did your best. But then, if you really want, as you say, to build a new world order where international law is respected, then you really have no choice but to support a UN Security Council resolution ordering an end to the blockade, and to act to enforce the resolution.’

And, oh yes, Mr. President, in the course of your efforts to end the land blockade, please help us catch that red herring swimming around in print and cyberspace pretending that the goal is to end the naval blockade, with callous disregard for Israel’s legitimate security concerns.

11 Comments
  1. Bill Mims permalink
    June 4, 2010 4:40 pm

    This Friend speaks my mind. Israel has ignored international law for over four decades. I fear that they are beginning to believe their own lies. It is a myth that Israel is under threat from it’s neighbors. Its real threat is from itself.

  2. Kathy Stackhouse permalink
    June 6, 2010 9:28 am

    There is a very good article in a recent NY Review of Books that sheds light on the worrisome events in Israel: “an ultra-Orthodox population that is increasing dramatically, a settler movement that is growing more radical and more entrenched in the Israeli bureaucracy and army, and a Russian immigrant community that is particularly prone to anti-Arab racism” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/10/failure-american-jewish-establishment/

  3. Patricia Beetle permalink
    June 8, 2010 3:33 pm

    Jim, So many of the news sources claim that Hamas seized power in Gaza or stronger language and I wonder if you could review briefly the series of events after Hamas was elected which have led to the present situation being so described. Thank you

  4. Mark Grantham permalink
    June 8, 2010 4:00 pm

    I was blessed to teach ESOL in Syria. I personally met people that were ousted from their homes, homes they had lived in for generations. I listened to their stories, and felt their pain. The true enemy of Israel is themselves. I feel for both sides, and feel their pain.
    We need to look at the many reasons for the hatred that is felt. I see one of the biggest reasons being our unmitigated guilt over WWII. It is time America let go of this guilt.
    I could see the eyes and faces of the people as they related their stories. I truly saw pain and suffering. One of the dearest ladies just wants to go “home”. She knows she will never see her family home again. It was amazing to see a photo of a house, a house that was built by an old man, with an Israeli Flag on the front. This house used to belong to Palestinians.

  5. Paul Roden permalink
    June 8, 2010 4:52 pm

    Breaking the Blockade by “Truth-force” The purpose of the Peace Flotilla, is to both symbolically and physically, end the blockade, by putting the media spot light on the practice and the plight of the Palestine People. If Israel let them through, or the other groups bringing aid, great. Blocking the humanitarian aid and killing 9 activist, makes Israel loose its moral stature. It is a classic “dilemma demonstration”. It follows a long history of breaking and blockading weapons, ammunition, supplies and military troop transport by activists. The “Golden Rule” in the 50’s sailed into the atomic bomb testing zones in the Pacific, before being seized and the crew imprisoned. The “Phoenix” attempted to bring medical supplies to North Vietnam, before being seized on the high seas by the US Navy. Ammunition Ships were blockaded in Leonardo, NJ, bound for Vietnam and latter, India in the Bangladesh Wars by activists in canoes and kayaks. Again, it is a symbolic action. Either way, it puts the “media spot light”, on the real issue of resisting war, violence, oppression, war profiteering. It “wakes up the public.” It shows the societal “lie’ and secret that war is not pretty, it is not cheap and war is not the way to resolve disputes. It exposes the myth that war is justified, is rational and without costs. War is madness. War is expensive, war is not the best way to resolve conflicts.

  6. June 8, 2010 9:25 pm

    Heartbreaking as usual. It’s so hard to not be angry with Israel. My wife is Jewish and has been indoctrinated by the Israeli propaganda and spin here in the United States of Central North America as has her entire family who are mostly of Russian decent. Overall, organized religion saddens me, baffles me and leaves me feeling like (it) is the reason for all the hatred, wars, pain, suffering, grief and self-loathing and “perceived” Racial and Religious Identity in the world. But after being raised as a Catholic and at the young age of nine years, deciding that I didn’t want to participate anymore in that religion, my mother angrily agreed that I did not have to attend or participate, by delivering this statement to me: “FINE! Go to Hell then!” She finally came to her senses about seven or eight years later after experiencing more hypocrisy and in this case, derision aimed at a young child by the Catholic priest in church one day, in front of the entire congregation. My mother was furious with this zealous religious man, picking on a child. She spoke her mind to him and to the little girl’s parents for not protecting their daughter from this idiot. She never went back to church and later, she admitted to me that she finally really felt free.

    Granted, this is not to say that all religious leaders are dimwitted religious zealots who pride themselves in “keeping the ‘flock’ down”, but overall, the majority of religions upon this planet are designed to control and occupy the spirit and soul of the human being, to occupy their thoughts and minds with good verses evil, to manipulate them and keep them from forming their own opinions and free thoughts so that the human being may evolve faster as a spiritual pre-sense here in the physical plane.

    I see this all the time in religions. I met and became friends with a local business man here in Southern California who emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1980’s who was originally from Lebanon. He told me how he never believed in ANY god and that was a huge sin where he came from. He knew that he had to flee his own country, the country he loved, just because of a majority perception and consciousness that is forced upon the population by the government. And you see this type of problem striving ever so diligently here in the U.S. to weasel its way into every facet of our American political system, our public school system and wherever else these religious fundaMENTALists can squeeze their ideologies into and onto the overall population which may or may not believe in what THEY believe in. Separation of church and state. PLEASE! I said, “Please.” I didn’t force my request upon anyone…did I? I didn’t blow anyone up, I didn’t shoot anyone, why…I didn’t even scream if at anyone.

    I still do not know what Israel’s argument IS regarding why they occupy Palestinian land. They were given the State of Israel in 1948 (and I know that there are semantics involved here, but please, bear with me), then they illegally “invaded the territory captured by Israel from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967. They consist of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and much of the Golan Heights and, until 1982, the Sinai Peninsula. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are also referred to as Palestinian territories or Occupied Palestinian Territory. Palestinian Authority considers East Jerusalem to be part of the West Bank, a position disputed by Israel.” (in quotes excerpted from: Wikipedia)

    What’s interesting about all this, is not so much what’s being disputed, but WHY it is being disputed, by whom it is being disputed and what their “true” motivations are behind the dispute.

    Personally, I am fed up with Israel’s occupation of Washington D.C., a.k.a. Sewertown, D.C.. I am fed up with MY taxes being used to prop up Israel as well as the Military dictatorship of Egypt. I wonder what this country could do with all the American Taxpayer’s funds that are lavished in countries where our Corporatized Politicians have their crooked, bloody little fingers embedded in and doing business with crooked military and political leaders of these Corporatized Puppet Regimes…what could OUR money do for US…HERE…in the United States of Central North America?!!!!

    I wish we would stop funding Israel and everyone else whom we do not need to be doing business with…at least in the way that we ARE doing business with them. I want my money back!!!

    I love my wife so much! But she along with so many other people who “practice” the Jewish faith around the world, are and have been hijacked by Zionists with an ulterior motive. Why? I do not know! I find it odd that the peoples of this planet think that there are more “races” than there actually are. Because MY argument is that there is only ONE race…the human race. I seriously look forward to the day when any biophysicist, bio-molecular scientist, and/or anthropologist discovers the DNA that specifies religious beliefs and practices in the human genome. Whether or not you practice a religion because the family you were born ‘into’ practices a particular religion or faith, or you are born into a non-religious family, but as an adult, you decide to join or follow any particular religion or faith, does not in any way determine what race you are. What about people who decide to join or follow a religion that their family is not a part of? What “race” do they then become? My wife’s best friend who is of Japanese/African ancestry, has studied Judaism for over twenty years, and she has been accepted into the Jewish faith. Is she now genetically a Jew? Will G-d allow her into…oh wait, that’s right, the Jew do not believe in an afterlife, no heaven no hell and nothing that is considered “consciousness” after your body can no longer sustain life. So that starts a plethora of other questions, of which I will not go into.

    If the human population did derive originally from the continent of what is now known as Africa however many hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago, and scientists are now fairly certain of this, then all “races” of human beings on this planet ARE related, no matter how distantly, or what the dispersal of DNA and its origin is…it all leads back to one general geographical planetary location.

    What makes race such a hot issue is the fact that less evolved souls have a need to experience separateness from the whole, and to do that, they need to live in bodies that are as opposite to each other as possible. This oppositeness is delightful to the young and baby souls on this planet who have to experience “us and them”, “you and me”, “ours and their’s”, “mine and yours” in order to evolve as a human soul. Otherwise, why would so many people be here arguing with each other, killing each other, raping each other, harming each other?

    I just do not buy into the “my race is Jewish” or “my race is Arian” or “my race is Latino” or whatever. Because it is all hogwash! Seriously…it is absolute hogwash!

    So in the end, Helen Thomas is ostracized by the Israeli Zionist’s and their hogwash agenda of propaganda, as well as by the Corporate Owned and Controlled Main-Stream Media, and by the U.S. government, because the bottom line here as always is….money and POWER! And nothing else matters!!! Especially the truth!!!! And the attention of the nine Turkish civilians who were murdered in cold blood by Israeli Special Forces (Commandos?) as is usual with the Israeli military…there has been MORE attention of Helen Thomas’ horrible, horrible (and yet truthful) comment that hurt the Israeli’s SO, SO, SO much that she is labeled a racist, and the murdered Turkish Peace and Humanitarian Volunteers on that flotilla are basically ignored by the “BIASED” Main-Stream, Corporate “News?” Propaganda Machine.

    And poor, poor Israel that suffers so profoundly at the hands of the rest of the world (actually, they party pretty hard in Israel) because the rest of the world just hates Israel. Although I’m not sure why, but the way that the Israeli propaganda machine works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, would suggest that SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE in the world, is pointing their finger at Israel every second of the day…no matter what. Perhaps Israel might consider lightening up a bit, perhaps Israel might start apologizing for all the crimes it has committed over the decades, perhaps Israel might consider giving back the land and property that it has stolen from the Palestinians. Perhaps.

    I’ve said my piece.

  7. Jim Fine permalink
    June 9, 2010 7:40 pm

    Pat,

    Thanks for your response where you write that “So many of the news sources claim that Hamas seized power in Gaza or stronger language and I wonder if you could review briefly the series of events after Hamas was elected which have led to the present situation being so described.

    It’s not false to say that Hamas “seized power” in Gaza, but it is not the whole story. Here is a short chronology that provides some background:

    January 2006: Hamas won 43% of the popular vote in Palestinian parliamentary elections and 74 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. (Hamas received protest votes against Fatah misrule as well as votes from supporters; it won a solid majority of seats despite its share of the popular vote because it won a plurality of votes in some electoral districts contested by multiple candidates.)

    Spring and Summer 2006: After formation of a Hamas government in March, Fatah-Hamas tensions rose and armed clashes took place in Gaza between supporters of the two groups. The U.S. and Israel imposed sanctions on the Hamas government and Hamas-Israel fighting took place.

    February 2007: Saudi Arabian intervention produced a Hamas-Fatah truce and a national unity government. The U.S. and Israel maintained sanctions and refused to deal with the Hamas-Fatah government (and continued to have contact only with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas).

    May-June 2007: Fatah and Hamas forces engaged in heavy fighting in Gaza. Hamas achieved a decisive victory. President Abbas responded by dissolving the Hamas government. Hamas was left in control of Gaza and Fatah was left in the West Bank. Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza.

    May-June 2008: Israel-Hamas hostilities escalated and fears of a major Israeli assault on Gaza rose, but Israel and Hamas agreed to a six-month ceasefire on June 19 that effectively halted almost all rocket fire into Israel (an average of 2.4 rockets per month were fired by Palestinian splinter groups, which Hamas acted to suppress).

    November-December 2008: The ceasefire broke down after an Israeli air raid November 4 resulted in the first fatalities since June 19. What happened next deserves fuller treatment:

    The head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service, Yuval Diskin, told the Israeli cabinet December 21 that Hamas wanted to extend its truce with Israel and sought “to improve its conditions – a removal of the blockade, receiving a commitment from Israel that it won’t attack and extending the lull [tahadiya] to the Judea and Samaria area.” Also, former President Jimmy Carter, whose contacts with Hamas leaders in Damascus in April 2008 helped to achieve the June ceasefire and who tried to extend the ceasefire in December, wrote in the Washington Post January 7 that Hamas was prepared to restore and extend the ceasefire in return for opening the Gaza border crossings to civilian supplies but Israel signaled a willingness to permit resumption of only 15% of normal traffic. Hamas rocket fire continued and Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27.

  8. June 10, 2010 5:13 am

    After the H0locaust in world War II, the fate of Jewry was delicate indeed, and all in the Western world knew it. But now decades later the nation state of Israel is the cop on the beat, holding its night stick on the necks of all Palestinians, especially in Gaza. Those who were abused become the abusers, just like we now understand happens in families.
    It is time for the family of man to have a serious sit down with Israel, and point out that the current approach brings diminishing returns – as well as being unjust.
    No justice – no peace. It has been that way since time began. If it is true as a previous comment indicates that ultra orthodox and conservative voices are increasing in today’s Israel, there is no better time than the present to shine the light of day on the Palestinan experience.
    A good book is the biography of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammed Ali byAdina Hoffman, called My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness.

  9. Jack Patterson permalink
    June 10, 2010 12:53 pm

    Jim, thank you so much for emphasizing the fundamental purpose of the flottila, that of lifting the blockade of vital goods into Gaza rather than simply demolishing the blockade itself (a rather unrealistic goal indeed).

    Given the political stir resulting from the manner of the commando attack on the lead ship and the resulting deaths, lifting the blockade on vital goods has been made all the more possible, even likely.

    There are two articles from the past weeks New York Times that I’d like to draw to your attention and that of other bloggers on this issue. Both were remarkable in that each took issue with orthodoxies that have made reasonable debate difficult and at times impossible. Both appear in the Week in Review section of the Sunday, June 6 NYTimes.

    The first was entitled “What To Do About Israel?” by Helene Cooper from Washington in which there was an open acknowledgment that debate at many political levels in the US is beginning to identify interests and policies advocated by Israel that are seen as increasingly hurting America and American interests abroad. And the recognition being given the J Street lobbyists who argue their support for Israel, but with criticism and a wish for more progressive policies that advance rather than diminish the prospects of a negotiated settlement. Other lobbyists for an uncritical view of Israeli policies must and should be alarmed that their uncontested hold on public discussion of Isreali policies has been challenged openly.

    The second, an Opinion piece entitled “Chosen, But Not Special” by the super-popular novelist Michael Chabon, speaking first and foremost to fellow American Jews, in which he describes the belief he grew up with in which the capacity for Jewish stupidity was confined to the mythical village of Chelm — populated solely by idiots. This form of exceptional-ism implied that the aggregate of Jewry was characterized by “some kind of inherent or culturally determined supernatural abilities of seichel (a Yiddish word which means wisdom but also “ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance” as tool both of survival and of almost magically prevailing). He goes on to express his shock, as a Jew “to encounter stupid Jews.” Yet he argues, the truth is that both intelligence and stupidity is pretty evenly` divided worldwide. It is only by arguing the exceptional capacities of one people while ignoring the downsides that one can embrace the idea that the actions and security of one country is beyond the norms and standards of everyone else — as suggested by the “blockheadedness” of recent Israeli actions in Gaza, Lebanon, and the attack on the flotilla. The notion of Israel as a “special” country immune from the expectations of others, he argues, flouts the dream of early Zionists, including Chaim Weizmann and Ben Gurion, of an Israel that would be an ordinary state among all other ordinary states, in Chabon’s words: “subject to the pathetic, debased and rickety (standards) we apply so inconsistently and self-servingly, to ourselves and to everybody else.” There’s much more that’s challenging and thoughtprovoking in a constructive way.

    Enough for now, Jack Patterson

  10. Jim Fine permalink
    June 10, 2010 1:15 pm

    Thanks for your comments and the information, Jack. In a similar, if more sober, vein to the Michael Chabon piece you cite, if you haven’t seen it yet check out Peter Beinart’s article in the New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.”

    J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami says about the article:

    Peter Beinart has written what I hope will be a powerful wake-up call to the leadership of the American Jewish establishment.

    J Street shares Beinart’s deep concern over the consequences of the course that leadership has chosen: blind support of Israel ‘right-or-wrong’ and demonization and black-listing of those who disagree with Israeli policy. Beinart – with his impeccable pro-Israel credentials – is hopefully an effective messenger to convince the American Jewish establishment that it is not simply enabling self-destructive Israeli behavior that is damaging American interests, it is sowing the seeds for the end of the American Jewish community as we know it.

  11. June 17, 2010 4:29 pm

    There is a bias in the US media against any criticism of Israel. How do we educate US citizens? Our local peace group “Augusta Coalition for Peace and Justice” decided instead of a vigil for Gaza that we would try to have the local newspaper do an article with comments from various people, the local Rabbi, ministers, a black leader, on the humanitarian effects of the blockade on the ordinary citizens of Gaza. As American citizens whose government supports Israel, we feel an obligation to speak out. Does anyone know the history of Israel, the need for a home for the European refugees, but the utter disregard by the “Western Powers” ie US and Britain, for the inhabitants of the land that became Israel? I loan my copy of Elias Chacour’s biography “Blood Brothers” and try to sumarize the history. I had an unsettling conversation with the local newspaper contact. She told me that there are two sides to the story, aboutthe bombings of Israel which have gone on for years, that the blockade is old news, etc. When I tried to tell her what happened to the people called the Palestinians in 1948 she said she was not permitted to talk politics and had to get back to her job. I told her that the local newspaper publishes most of the Letters to the Editor that I submit, but not on the subject of Israel. How can we let the world and our government know why the Palestinians are crowded into Gaza?! Frustrated.

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