Lift Gaza Blockade Now

January 15, 2010 10:46 am ET — MJ Rosenberg

For me, it's impossible to look at the horrific footage coming out of Haiti and not think about Gaza. Especially when I see the faces of the children.

Both are scenes of horrific suffering.  But there are two significant differences.  The first is the scale of the suffering.  The second is that the Haitian catastrophe is a natural disaster, which humans could not prevent but are now trying to relieve. The suffering in Gaza is inflicted by people, while other people look away.

The bottom line is that there would be quite enough human suffering even without man-made disasters. Relief agencies would have their hands full even if armies and militias did not kill and maim innocents. 

In fact, more innocent people have died at the hands of man in the last hundred years than through "Acts of God."  And the 21st century, already only a decade old, seems unlikely to be much different.

Look at the Middle East, again on a violent spiral downward.

In an editorial this week, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz called on the government to "rethink its Gaza strategy before it's too late."

The editorial was written in response to the resumption of missile fire by Hamas against southern Israel.  Though no one has yet been injured in these attacks, that is just a matter of time. So is another retaliatory Israeli bombardment of Gaza unless Hamas ceases and desists.

But Hamas won't.  It won't for the same reason Israel insists on hitting back.

A few months ago, I was on a panel at the University of Alaska in Juneau with, among others, the Israeli consul based in the Pacific Northwest. The consul defended the bombardment of Gaza on the grounds that any country has the right, even obligation, to defend its people from bombardment.

A Palestinian answered him.  He conceded the diplomat's point but flipped it. He pointed out that Gaza has been under Israeli occupation for 42 years.  Yes, Prime Minister Sharon removed the settlers, but Israelis control Gaza's borders, sea lanes and the air above it.

By any definition, Gaza is occupied.  After all, if it wasn't, Gaza would be able to import the necessities of life for its people.  It can't do that.  And the result is the strangulation of Gaza's people.  The rockets are Hamas' brutal way of hitting back.

Israelis say that last year's war stopped the rocket fire.  It did, for a while. But the cease-fire that preceded it was equally effective at stopping the rockets - without killing innocent people in the process.

Of course, Israel's goal goes beyond an end to the rockets. It wants to bring down the Hamas government in Gaza (a fine goal, but best not attempted by Israelis). 

Nonetheless, the Israeli media reports that there are plans on the table for another Gaza invasion soon with the purpose of achieving "regime change." Israel has been intent upon that ever since Hamas won a Palestinian election deemed "free and fair" by international observers.

That election, of course, was the brainchild of the neocons in the Bush administration who thought that an election, if not democracy, was the cure for everything.

So the United States pushed the election on the Palestinians, Hamas won, and both the United States and Israel immediately set out to subvert the results.

The blockade is part of that strategy and few in the United States (and far fewer in Israel) much care that this immoral policy is punishing children.

For instance, mothers can't heat their infants' formulas because of gas shortages; not to mention the lack of hot water in general.  Schools are unable to replace the windows blown out by the Israelis during the war because they cannot import the glass or plastic.  Ten percent of children under five are suffering from malnutrition. Locked in on all sides, Gaza is a ghetto of misery, pain and hunger.

Ha'aretz continued: "The time has come to rethink Israeli strategy in Gaza.  The economic embargo, which has brought severe distress to the inhabitants of Gaza, has not brought down Hamas, nor has it freed kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. The siege has only damaged Israel's image and led to accusations that it has shirked its humanitarian responsibilities in Gaza under international law."

Yes, as hard to believe as it is, Israel - the occupying power - has humanitarian responsibilities in Gaza.  Ha'aretz says it has "shirked them."  I'd use stronger language - like that of the Goldstone Report, which called Israeli actions in Gaza "war crimes."

So what should Israel do?

It should negotiate a full cease-fire with Hamas in exchange for lifting the blockade.

In 2008, a cease-fire lasted 26 weeks. It ended because Israel did not live up to its commitment to lift the blockade and continued, despite the cease-fire, to target and kill Hamas militants in Gaza.

Following an Israeli attack that killed six supposed terrorists inside Gaza and the tightening of the siege, Hamas resumed its rocket fire. The cease-fire was abandoned, and Israel launched its long-planned bombardment and invasion.

It is impossible to defend Hamas's attacks on Israeli civilians in Sderot and other towns.  Hamas makes no distinction between a military target and a school, or between territory inside Israel and settlements in areas under occupation. 

No nation would tolerate such murderous thuggery for long, if at all.

But it is equally impossible to defend Israel's siege of Gaza or the war it launched that took 1400 lives (mostly civilians, including 320 children) while itself losing nine.

I cite the number of casualties to illustrate the disparity in force available to the two sides and also because it suggests that the Gaza operation was less a war than an act of collective punishment against a civilian population. 

There must be no second Gaza war.

The United States needs to tell the Netanyahu government, in no uncertain terms, that we will not sit silently by if it launches another war using weapons we supply.  Nor will we use our UN vetoes to deter resolutions condemning the use of disproportionate force.

Simultaneously, we must use our influence to help achieve a deal that will end the blockade and the shelling of southern Israel simultaneously.

Those who say Hamas cannot be trusted to honor a cease-fire are wrong. If nothing else, Hamas, like most authoritarian groups, is very good at enforcement through intimidation.

As the New York Times reported in December 2008, "It took some days but...Hamas imposed its will and even imprisoned some of those who were firing rockets. Israeli and United Nations figures show that while more than 300 rockets were fired into Israel in May, 10 to 20 were fired in July....In August, 10 to 30 were fired, and in September, 5 to 10."

In other words, it is possible, in Margaret Thatcher's famous words about Mikhail Gorbachev, "to do business" with Hamas.  It is also possible to do business with Binyamin Netanyahu. We just have to be clear that when we do business, we mean business.

And that means Hamas must stop the rockets.  And Israel must terminate the blockade. Enough is enough.

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