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Breaching the Gaza embargo… what next? January 25, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Israel, Palestine.


You might not think it looking at the chaotic scenes from the Gaza/Egyptian border, but there is an European link to the situation.

On KCRW’s To The Point on Wednesday Senior Middle East Analyst for the International Crisis Group, Mouin Rabbani wasn’t surprised to hear the 17 explosions which brought down a section of the fence attributed to Hamas. He regarded it as ‘a great propaganda victory for Hamas and particularly in the context of inter-Palestinian rivalry since it can be seen as ‘breaking’ the siege of Gaza’. Even better from the point of view of Hamas has been their willingness to demonstrate that they ‘are willing to confront the Egyptian participation in the siege’.

He noted that when Israel withdrew from the border in 2005 there was an agreement between the EU, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli’s that there would be European monitoring and patrolling of the border. This worked effectively for ‘a number of months… but because the Israel had the right of veto over the Europeans …whenever they prevented the Europeans operating the border was simply closed’. He pointed out that ‘there was evidence there that if this continued for a long time [i.e. no European presence] the Palestinians might well blow a hole in the barrier]’ In other words the Europeans were Israel’s insurance against this sort of event occurring but by preventing their operation the Israeli’s had effectively set up the circumstances in which it could happen.

One has to wonder whether Israeli’s actually recognise just how dismal these images play abroad. The genius of this act was to do something that was essentially non-violent and yet which pointed up the manner in which Palestinians are hemmed in within defined geographic areas as they wait for the parties which continue to protest their adherence to their best interests to actually do something to validate them.

The narrative ‘myths’ of democracy and capitalism demand freedom of movement. The images of the fall of the Berlin Wall are remarkably powerful precisely because they lock into a very deep rooted dynamic that rails against constraint and confinement. These recent images belong within that discourse. And sure, it’s one day, or a ‘hiccup’ as one of the contributors put it, and it’s unlikely to happen again. But… that one day proved the paucity of Israeli policy in what is still, under international law an occupied territory.

[Incidentally, as a complete aside, the idea was raised here recently that post-modernism (and one presumes by extension many other critiques) are fairly useless. Well, yes and no. How do we describe such intangibles as cultural narratives without recourse to them? Sure, we can describe the history, and perhaps drag in something akin to ‘opinion’, but for assessing the deeper dynamics [beyond economics] that shape action and response of historical or contemporary actors it is necessary to fit them within some sort of a framework… it’s something I hope to return to]

Why are people surprised? As the Guardian noted yesterday:

If you bottle up 1.5 million people in a territory 25 miles long and six miles wide, and turn off the lights, as Israel has done in Gaza, the bottle will burst. This is what happened yesterday when tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to buy food, fuel and supplies after militants destroyed two-thirds of the wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt. It was the biggest jail break in history.

It’s quite an image, isn’t it? And how about this?

But it was also a reply to the argument that the only way to stop Qassam rockets falling on the Israeli town of Sderot and the western Negev is to turn the screw still further. One side of the vessel has now shattered.

As the Guardian also noted:

Cutting off electricity to Gaza will not stop the Qassams [rockets], 400 of which have fallen in and around Sderot since the start of the month. Israel claims the number of Qassams has declined, although 20 were fired on Monday alone. Nor will military campaigns work. One waged in 2006 killed 400 Palestinians in Gaza, half of them civilian. Entering into or encouraging some form of political dialogue with Hamas would stop the Qassams, but Israel has set its face against this while Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s existence.

The idea that one can crush a people, and keep crushing, and in doing so will prevent them from responding is so counterintuitive, so contrary to human experience across centuries and numerous conflicts that I find it bizarre that a significant group within Israel can believe it.

Still, Uri Dromi, Former Senior Aide to Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres used the ‘they brought it on themselves’ argument that due to their shelling of Israeli towns the inhabitants of Gaza had put themselves beyond the pale. I think that’s a problematic approach, not only because clearly not all the inhabitants are militants but because such responses by Israel have drawn the conclusion as reported in the Irish Times that:

The European Union and international agencies have described the closure as collective punishment – banned by the Geneva Conventions – of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.

Dromi further argued that the problem in Gaza is partially due to the Egyptians not controlling the border and that they had to restore ‘law and order, rebuild the fence, take control over the border more seriously, stop the smuggling of arms in tunnels’. Then in a breathtaking conceptual leap he argued that ‘…in the longer run we see something that allows us to look into the future and if we look at the map and see how big Sinai is with resources and how this could become part of an Egyptian/Palestinian solution’. Well… I think this is yet again reaching on the part of the Israeli’s, a sort of mental export of the actuality of the problems that are faced by them – not the Egyptians. This attitude has been seen in the idea pushed by parts of the Israeli right that Jordan must become the home for the Palestinians..

Mark Perry, former advisor to Yasser Arafat, argued that Fatah and Hamas were being pushed towards more formal talks. Perry believed that ‘…Abu Mazen look’s pretty bad right now having called for an embargo against Gaza last year’ and that the best way forward was a reformed National Unity government in order to ‘reunite the different strands of Palestinian politics’. Interestingly Dromi considered it ‘an internal matter for the Palestinians’ and he felt that ‘Israel should talk to them… if they [Hamas] won’t listen and want to break their heads against the wall, let them’. Dromi was pretty clear that US pressure had led to the vote at which Hamas had won and therefore the US mission to extend democracy to the Middle East was pointless. Whether this analysis of his is essentially self-serving in that it seems to deny that Palestinians can make rational democratic choices is difficult to say. Moreover, it’s worth noting that he is not part of the current Israeli government so perhaps his ability to speak more freely, if no more cheeringly, is a function of that.

Warren Olney asked wouldn’t bringing Hamas back into the process not be seen by people in Israel and the US as a ‘reward for violence’, although tellingly he noted that it might be seen as a ‘….reward for a form of terrorism, although knocking down the fence per se is perceived as a liberating exercise rather than one of violent terrorism’.

Interestingly the overall consensus was that Hamas would, sooner or later, be recognised as an interlocuter on behalf of the Palestinians, most likely in tandem with Fatah. I’m no fan of Hamas, but I am a fan of pragmatism. And really, doesn’t that point to the ruin of the efforts by the US on these issues? Meanwhile, does anyone know where Tony Blair is in all this? Not that I think his intervention would improve things, but… wasn’t part of his latest job – oh no, sorry, it was just announced this month that he’s going to advise JP Morgan in some capacity – I mean of course the job before that one, something about being an envoy…


1. eamonnmcdonagh - January 25, 2008

Are the people of Sderot entiitled to protection from collective punishment?


2. WorldbyStorm - January 25, 2008

Don’t the people of Sderot deserve a better approach by their own government(s) on this issue?


3. eamonnmcdonagh - January 25, 2008

so your analysis would be “the problems of the Jews are exclusively caused by the actions of the Jews.”

That one has a certain familiar ring to it


4. WorldbyStorm - January 25, 2008

Absolutely not. Hence my point about not all in Gaza being militants. Some clearly are. But I do suggest that since the initial years after Oslo the impetus to push for a serious solution has not been apparent on the Israeli side and that by pushing further and further towards a securitisation of the situation – while in parallel massively extending settlement activity across the West Bank, etc, they’ve exacerbated a worsening of it.


5. Hugh Green - January 26, 2008

The people of Sderot are indeed entitled to protection, but they are certainly not entitled to have collective punishment administered on their behalf.


6. WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2008

Completely agree Hugh


7. Subjects « El Nuevo Pantano - January 26, 2008

[…] There’s a piece about recent events in Gaza over at the Cedar Lounge. Referring to the breaching of the border fence with Egypt, the pseudonymous blogger says, The […]


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