Ignoring Aunt Isabel

My late Great Aunt Isabel used to say that if one has nothing intelligent to contribute to a discussion, it is better to remain silent and keep everyone guessing rather than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.
Whichever editor of the Guardian’s sister paper, The Observer, wrote the June 6th editorial, he or she seems to have been deprived of an Aunt Isabel. Whilst there was nothing remotely surprising in the editorial’s content, its approach serves as a graphic illustration of the rather impressive ability of so many journalists within the Guardian stable to pontificate in a pseudo-authoritative manner about that of which they have dangerously limited understanding and in addition provides us with yet another insight into the tacky simplicity of the Guardian World View.
The editorial calls for an end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza, using several arguments as supposed justification for this course of action. The so-called ‘moral’ arguments include claims of collective punishment, 10% malnutrition among Gazans, inflated prices and ‘crushing unemployment’. As we are well aware, the distribution of aid and resources within Gaza is neither egalitarian nor straightforward. A recent article in Der Spiegel offered interesting insight into how things are actually managed on the ground there.

“People who are not in with Hamas don’t see any of the relief goods or the gifts of money,” Khadar says. On the sand dune where his house once perched, there is now an emergency shelter. The shelter is made of concrete blocks that Khadar dug from the rubble, and the roof is the canvas of a tent that provided the family with shelter for the first summer after the war. “Hamas supporters get prefabricated housing, furnishings and paid work. We get nothing,” Khadar complains.

The subject of unemployment and the resulting poverty in Gaza is also interesting when heard from the point of view of the people affected.

“Everything that arrives here, and is distributed free of charge, is bad for business,” says one Palestinian pharmacist, who studied in Germany but preferred not to give his name for fear of reprisals. Every medicine and every toy that well-meaning Westerners donate endanger the few jobs that still remain in Gaza, he explains. A colleague at another pharmacy agrees. “We are being bred into dependency,” he says, repeating the universal adage that guides international aid: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But if you give him a fishing rod, you feed him for a lifetime.”

The increasingly popular claim of ‘collective punishment’ of course holds no water from a legal point of view

“While international law bars “collective punishment,” none of Israel’s combat actions and retorsions may be considered collective punishment. The bar on collective punishment forbids the imposition of criminal-type penalties on individuals or groups on the basis of another’s guilt, or the commission of acts that would otherwise violate the rules of distinction and/or proportionality. None of Israel’s actions involve the imposition of criminal-type penalties or the violation of the rules of distinction and proportionality. It is striking that there has never been a prosecution for the war crime of collective punishment on the basis of economic sanctions. Indeed, many of the critics calling Israel’s withdrawal of economic aid “collective punishment” call, or have called, for the imposition of economic sanctions or the withdrawal of economic aid against Israel and other countries or, at least, claim to have “no position on [the legality of] punitive economic sanctions and boycotts.”

The writer of this editorial promotes the ending of the partial embargo (as opposed to the inaccurate description ‘siege’) by proposing that “[f]or it to be truly lifted, a far more humane approach to Gaza’s residents is required. It should be one that allows them access to the outside world both for their goods and to travel; to develop as an economy and a society and to persuade Gazans that their home is not a prison but a place of opportunity”. Having conveniently ignored the fact that many Gazans do travel outside of the Strip for purposes of study or medical care in Israel, together with the glaring fact that Gaza’s other border with Egypt has been closed for the most part since the Israeli disengagement from Gaza almost 5 years ago, the writer is also apparently ignorant of the fact that there is no international law which obliges a country to keep open borders with a hostile neighbour.

“Israel is similarly accused of collective punishment for refusing to admit to the State of Israel persons from Gaza – both Palestinians and foreigners. These criticisms have no basis in international law. There is no recorded case of any prosecution for the war crime of collective punishment on the basis of refusing a person entry into a country. Indeed, there is no general requirement anywhere in international law that a state admit foreigners into its borders. It is acknowledged that there are sources in international law that arguably require states to admit their own citizens. However, Palestinian residents and other non-Israelis in Gaza are not Israeli citizens and have no right to enter the State of Israel.”

Like the majority of Israelis, I too supported the Israeli 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza strip. I listened to politicians  and experts at the time who assured us that our military and political situation would improve vastly if we made this sacrifice. I heard the reassurances from the international community that our security would be guaranteed and that any violations of our sovereign territory on the part of the Palestinian terror groups would entitle us to act in self-defence without international censure.
In the five years since then I have seen the world-wide apathy towards the firing of thousands of missiles upon Israeli civilians, the international ambivalence towards the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit from inside Israeli territory, the hypocritical outcry against our last resort military action in Gaza and the shameful sham of the Goldstone Report. In those five years I have spent five weeks under daily missile attack from Hizbollah, which came also as a direct result of the international community’s failure to guarantee Israeli security even after our withdrawal from Lebanon according to UN standards. Today I live in the shadow of even more bigger and better Hizbollah missiles than existed in 2006, yet again because of the impotence of the ever-righteous international community, and listen to my neighbours discussing the next war, which everyone seems to expect this coming summer.
It is perfectly clear to me that these calls from world leaders, public figures and journalists to end the partial embargo upon Gaza are born out of a potentially lethal combination of terrifying ignorance and cheap populism. I have long ceased to expect such people to inform themselves of the relevant history or to actually learn something about the ‘international law’ they are so quick to cite or the terror organizations they so willingly whitewash. Israelis would like nothing more than to end the partial embargo upon Gaza which drains so many of our precious resources and to see the Gazans get on with their own lives and finally take some responsibility for their situation, as we so naively believed would happen in August 2005. If removing the partial blockade were so simple and risk-free as this editorial tries to make out, we would have done it a long time ago. Unfortunately, at present that is a luxury we cannot allow ourselves because we cannot for a third time permit misguided international pressure to corner us into endangering our citizens even more than at present, and we have learned in the hardest way possible, by burying too many of our children, that we cannot rely upon the international community’s word when it comes to our most basic of human rights – the right to live.
Despite what the Guardian and so many of a similar world view believe, Israel is not the aggressor or the Goliath in this region. Taking a step back from the events of the last week or so, there was for me one incident which said it all – a symbolism of the reality of the Middle East situation.

Daniel; outnumbered and facing hate and aggression which has no logic, accused of crimes he has certainly not committed, and faced with undemocratic attempts to silence him and even physical danger, stood his ground and asserted his right to be where he was. Anyone who refuses to see the parallel with Israel’s 62 year struggle in the region understands nothing of the true nature of this tough neighbourhood.

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