Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The myth of the "siege" of Gaza

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In the early hours of Wednesday morning (local time) Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire. BICOM has provided an outline of the ceasefire conditions with "long term issues to be addressed within the month."

"Israel will immediately allow for increased transfer of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip from the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, though entry of construction materials will be limited to prevent them being used by Hamas for military purposes."

Yet the response of Fairfax's Ruth Pollard was to complain that the Gaza ceasefire failed to tackle the "underlying issues of the seven-year long siege that has crippled the tiny coastal strip."

In fact the whole notion of a "siege" of Gaza is a myth, even though mainstream media figures insist it is the key issue in the Gaza conflict.

First of all, it is simply not true that Israel has been preventing humanitarian aid from entering Gaza up until now, as many seem to assume or imply. As a recent AIJAC blog post demonstrates, even throughout the Gaza conflict, the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into Gaza remained open and tens of thousands of tons of aid, food and medical supplies entered Gaza.

As that post noted, Israel's official policy toward Gaza has been, as described by Avi Shaked, who is in charge of the Kerem Shalom crossing, "the amount of commercial and humanitarian supplies that enter the Gaza Strip...is determined by the Palestinians... They set the level of demand and Israel meets it." The same point was recently made by Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett.

There are no limits to how much humanitarian aid, medical supplies, food, or other consumer goods can enter Gaza, only military gear and certain dual use items, including, most controversially, cement. Moreover, allowing unlimited amounts of all but a few goods has been Israel's declared policy for more than four years, since June 2010 (previously the blockade had been somewhat more restrictive).

This is despite the fact, as noted in previous blog posts (here and here) that Israel's continued delivery of aid to Gaza has been misappropriated for Hamas' military purposes - again especially cement -  to the great detriment of the population of Gaza. When Israel recently eased the provisions on construction material supposedly for internationally supervised projects, some of the material imported ended up being used in terror tunnels and bunkers. 

Below is the complete announced list of restrictions on "dual-use" Gaza imports as put out by Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT). As you can see, it is restricted to material such as fertiliser which can be used to make explosives and rocket fuel, other materials used to make rockets and other weapons, construction material used to make tunnels and bunkers, and construction vehicles and 4x4 vehicles - which are commonly converted by guerrilla groups into light armored vehicles. (Also, as noted above, the "construction materials" part of the list has not been rigidly enforced by Israel, which made exceptions for internationally supervised rebuilding projects over recent years.):

LIST OF RESTRICTED MATERIALS:

All items not mentioned in this document are free to be imported and exported to and from Gaza. Requests for special authorizations to transfer any of the listed restricted items to Gaza are possible and are coordinated by the Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) to Gaza. Dual-use items required for projects, approved by the Palestinian Authority, will be allowed to enter Gaza, subject to supervision by a recognized international organization.

MUNITIONS
Missile equipment and munitions have been strictly forbidden from entering into Gaza as declared in the Defense Export Control Order of 2008.

DUAL-USE GOODS
Restrictions on dual-use items, items which have been designated for civilian use yet can be utilized in military situations are subject to heavy regulation and are listed in appendixes A & B.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The State of Israel's goal is to minimize restrictions of goods allowed to enter into Gaza as much as possible. However the security situation between the State of Israel and the ruling power in Gaza, Hamas, has forced Israel to maintain its restrictions  on Gaza imports. Hamas has continuously proven its determination in sabotaging Israeli efforts to loosen restrictions on goods by its continued offensive against Israel.
Appendix A: Controlled Dual Use Items
1. Fertilizers or any mixture containing choleric potassium with concentrations greater than 5%.
2. Fibers or textiles containing carbon (carbon fibers or graphite fibers), including:
a. Chopped carbon fibers. b. Carbon roving.
c. Carbon strand.
d. Carbon fabric tape.
3. Glass fiber-based raw materials, including:
a. Chopped glass fibers. b. Glass roving
c. Glass strand.
d. Glass fabric tape. e. S-glass.
f. E-glass.
4. Vessels.
5. Fibers or fabrics featuring polyethylene, also known as Dyneema.
6. Retro detection devices.
7. Gas tanks.
8. Drilling equipment.
9. Equipment for the production of water from drillings.
10. Vinyl esther resins.
11. Epoxy resins.
12. Hardeners for epoxy resins featuring chemical groups of durable or reliable types, including:
a. DETA - diethylenetriamine. b. TETA - thiethylenetramine.
c. AEP - aminoethylpiperazine. d. E-100-ethyleneamine.
e. Jeffamine T-403.
f. Catalyst 4,5,6,22,23,105, 140, 145,150,179,190,240. g. D.E.H 20,24,25,26,29,52,58,80,81,82,83,84,85,87.
h. XZ 92740.00
13. Vinyl esther accelerants, including:
a. DMA-dimethylaniline. b. Cobalt octoate.
c. MEKP - methylethyl keyone peroxide.
d. AAP - acetyl acetone peroxide. e. CuHP - cumene hydroperoxide.
14. M or H type HTPB, hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene.
15. Water disinfection materials - solutions with a concentration of over 11%.
16. TDI - Toluene diisocyanate.
Appendix B: Dual Use Items for Projects
1. Portland cement (bulk or bags or drums).
2. Natural aggregates, quarry aggregates and all foundation materials.
3. Prepared concrete.
4. Concrete elements and/or precast and/or tensed concrete.
5. Steel elements and/construction products.
6. Concrete for foundations and pillars of any diameter (including welded steel mesh).
7. Steel cables of any thickness.
8. Forms for construction elements of plastic or galvanized steel.
9. Industrial forms for concrete pouring.
10. Beams from composite materials or plastic with a panel thickness of 4mm and thicker.
11. Thermal insulation materials and/or products excluding roof tiles, plaster/mortar glue, mosaic tiles, building stone/coating stone/exterior stone.
12. Concrete blocks, silicate, Ytong or equivalent (of any thickness).
13. Building sealing materials or products which include Epoxy or polyurethane.
14. Asphalt and its components (bitumen, emulsion) in bulk or in packages of any sort.
15. Steel elements and/or steel working products for construction.
16. Elements and/or products for channeling and drainage from precast concrete with diameters of over 1 meter.
17. Trailers and/or shipping containers.
18. Vehicles except for personal vehicles (not including 4X4 vehicles), including construction vehicles.

These restrictions clearly do not amount to anything approaching a "siege" which according to a widely-used dictionary means "cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender" because essential supplies were not cut off, only military and dual-use items. Israel's policy does meet the definition of a "blockade", defined as "an act or means of sealing off a place to prevent goods or people from entering or leaving." 

Of course, it is interesting how much of the focus on Gaza has been on Israel's role in restricting the movement of goods and people over Gaza's borders, when Egypt has independently restricted movement across its border with Gaza to a much greater extent than Israel.

In addition to misunderstanding what Israel's blockade consists of, many journalists and commentators also seem to misunderstand many other aspects of the history and reasons for the blockade, as British academic and writer Alan Johnson noted recently in the Telegraph.

"They do not know that Hamas launched a coup in 2007, took over the Strip, drove out its Palestinian political rival Fatah, threw their fellow Palestinians from rooftops, and declared as the new rulers of Gaza that they would now use the Strip as a base to destroy Israel."

"They do not know that as a direct result, not only Israel but also Egypt put restrictions on the borders with Gaza, and Israel instituted a legal maritime blockade around Gaza to keep rockets and other weapons out of the hands of Hamas, while letting food and other humanitarian aid in."

"They do not know that a UN inquiry (the 2011 Palmer Report) determined that Israel's policy was legal given the threat it faced."

"They do not know that in March 2014, Israel intercepted an Iranian ship, one of several intercepted by Israel, with a cargo of weapons to Hamas in Gaza, including advanced M-302 surface-to-surface missiles, showing again why the naval blockade is necessary."

Given that the blockade does not restrict the entry of the  vast majority of civilian goods, and certainly not food, medicine or humanitarian aid, the reality is that what people who demand the end of the blockade are actually demanding, intentionally or unintentionally, is that Hamas be allowed to import arms, ammunition and other military equipment, which can be used only to oppress Palestinians or attack Gaza's neighbours.

Blogger Saul O published a recent post reminding people what life was like for Israelis before the the blockade was imposed noting "in the first five years of the new millennium, there were more than 140 suicide and car bomb attacks in Israel killing more than 600 people and injuring many more" with Hamas was responsible for most of this. He suggests that a repeat of this could well be the result if the demands to "lift the blockade", including all travel restrictions in and out of Israel, were realised.

Similarly British columnist Tim Montgomerie of the Times recently took on the British-based charity "Save the Children", which both in Britain and in Australia has demanded the blockade be immediately and unconditionally ended and made the same point - simplistic slogans such as "End the Blockade" in the real world effectively mean "Give arms to Hamas":

"Israel imposed the blockade only after Hamas started launching missiles at Israel's civilian population. Before Hamas initiated hostilities, there was no blockade, and Israel had withdrawn and was supporting a new air and seaport for Gaza in the hope that a prosperous neighbour would be a peaceful neighbour.

Then Hamas took power, first democratically, then militarily and bloodily. Israel imposed the blockade to limit the import of even more dangerous weapons into Gaza. Not only is Save the Children silent about this, it is also silent about how Hamas uses schools and hospitals to launch its missiles. Its report does not contain one word about how Hamas diverts money from humanitarian ends to building tunnels and other parts of its terrorist infrastructure.
The report calls for the blockade to end 'immediately and in its entirety'. In this regard Save the Children, Hamas and a good number of other organisations, are in complete agreement. Lifting the blockade is Hamas's chief demand. Israel has eased restrictions in the past, allowing humanitarian and medical supplies into Gaza, but it fears the security implications of further concessions - and for good reason. Egypt, which also has strict controls on its border with Gaza, recognises that Hamas often behaves remarkably similarly to Islamic State, including last week's summary executions of its opponents. The root cause of the Gaza tragedy is not the blockade but Hamas - and you don't save any children anywhere by arming and enriching terrorists."

There will be almost certainly be considerable international discussions over coming months about how to reconstruct Gaza without empowering or re-arming Hamas - which would only likely lead to yet another round of fighting and yet more people killed on both sides. It will be impossible for Australians to understand these debates, or contribute to an outcome that will meet the genuine needs of both Gaza residents and Israelis, as long as so much discourse in this country is surrounded by myths and misunderstandings about a supposed Gaza "siege" or dominated by simplistic and destructive slogans such as "end the blockade."

Glen Falkenstein and Tzvi Fleischer

 

 

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