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‘a wretched reality that should appall anyone with an ounce of humanity’ (still Israel seeks to justify blockade)

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Israel’s apologists in Britain, aware that they’re fighting a losing battle, haven’t got many options left when it comes to making excuses for apartheid. With renewed focus on the collective punishment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the hasbarists have opted for a familiar refrain: it’s all about self-defence.

Thus the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM) claim that “the source of Israel’s policies on limiting access and trade to the Gaza Strip” is “the security threat” posed by Hamas. The Zionist Federation has described the blockade as “a mechanism that is used successfully by Israel to stop weapons being imported into Gaza”, while the Board of Deputies of British Jews has also sought to justify the blockade as being about security.

Except it’s not – and it’s illegal.

On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross marked three years since Israel began its current blockade regime with a clear condemnation of the policy. In the words of the ICRC:

The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.

An unambiguous verdict, and one shared by many others. In 2008, a group of NGOs – Amnesty International UK, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK and Trocaire – said the same in a report:

Israel’s policy affects the civilian population of Gaza indiscriminately and constitutes a collective punishment against ordinary men, women and children. The measures taken are illegal under international humanitarian law.

The blockade has been condemned by the UN’s most senior humanitarian official John Holmes as a form of collective punishment (see OCHA report) , a view echoed by the UN’s commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay.

In December 2009, Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen said that “the wretched reality endured by 1.5 million people in Gaza should appal anybody with an ounce of humanity”, with “sick, traumatised and impoverished people” collectively punished “by a cruel, illegal policy imposed by the Israeli authorities”.

This has been affirmed by the group’s Middle East and North Africa Director, as well as in AI’s annual report:

The scope of the blockade and statements made by Israeli officials about its purpose showed that it was being imposed as a form of collective punishment of Gazans, a flagrant violation of international law…

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth has put it bluntly: "Israel’s blockade policy can be summed up in one word and it is punishment, not security."

This is the unpleasant reality that the talk about weapons-smuggling seeks to obfuscate. In 2006, before the capture of Gilad Shalit and Hamas’ defeat of Fatah forces in 2007 but after the Palestinian parliamentary elections, an adviser to PM Ehud Olmert explained that “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger”. Just last week, it was revealed that an Israeli government document describes the blockade as “economic warfare”.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem’s annual report [PDF] for 2009 clarified that

According to Israeli officials, the objective of the siege is to bring down the Hamas government and lead to the release of Gilad Shalit. The siege thus constitutes collective punishment of the civilian population, and as such it is unlawful.

The link between the blockade and the captured soldier was made recently by Foreign Minister Lieberman, as well as by the head of the Israeli group campaigning for Shalit who said they have “been told repeatedly this embargo is a lever Israel is using to lower Hamas demands”.

In fact, even BICOM hints at the truth that the blockade is not about ‘security’. Asking “is the current policy working”, a large part of BICOM’s answer debates whether the siege has succeeded in “weakening Hamas”.

Disturbingly, these awful truths are uncomfortable for Israel’s propagandists not because of their actual impact on the ground, but because they make ‘rebranding’ that bit more difficult.

(A shorter version of this post appeared on Liberal Conspiracy).

Ben White
About Ben White

Ben White is author of 'Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide' and 'Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, discrimination and democracy'. Follow him on twitter at @benabyad and on his website

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