Around the Blockade
Nov 23, 2023 | Alana Schetzer, Allon Lee
Since October 7, many people have claimed that the 16-year blockade of Gaza was the root cause of Hamas’ barbaric acts of terrorist mass-murder against Israelis. Supposedly, the blockade pushed Hamas to a point where it had no alternative but to lash out.
For instance, UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied PalestinianTerritories Francesca Albanese epitomised this naïve and dangerous view, telling ABC TV on Nov. 9 that “Hamas is a political party” and “it’s very easy to dismantle Hamas [militarily]. End the blockade.”
Similarly, the Australian Greens responded to the massacre by calling “for an immediate end to the blockade” while refusing to concede Israel has any right of self-defence against Hamas.
In reality, claiming that Iran-backed Hamas are ‘freedom fighters’ driven to desperate acts by the need to end the blockade flies in the face of both history and what Hamas itself says motivated its murderous and barbaric actions.
Hamas’ founding charter states that its primary goal is the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of Jewish people, both which it says are religious obligations.
Notwithstanding Hamas’ periodic talk that it might accept a temporary truce (hudna in Arabic) with Israel, negotiations, a two-state solution and peaceful co-existence are not in its lexicon.
In 2017, Hamas issued a revised “Statement of Principles and Policies” which many said proved it had moderated. However, the 2017 document – which does not supersede the original charter – has a bottom line that is completely uncompromising, rejecting “any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea” and saying “armed resistance [is] the strategic choice” for achieving this.
The strongest rebuff to the view that Hamas was forced into extremism by the blockade is its own spokespeople’s statements since October 7. Initial statements termed the massacre the “Al-Aqsa flood” and said it was a response to Israel’s supposed desecration of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
On Nov. 8, Hamas media adviser Taher El-Nounou cited a different goal to the New York Times: “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders, and that the Arab world will stand with us.”
The NYT article made the critical point that Hamas officials decided “governance” of Gaza was [a] “distraction from their original, military mission.”
On Oct. 24, senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad dispelled any notion that the massacre was a one-off, telling Lebanese TV: “We must remove… [Israel]… we will do [October 7] again and again… [this] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”
See any sign Hamas says it would stop its terrorism if the blockade were lifted?
The blockade’s critics also ignore the circumstances that led to its imposition – Hamas’ steadily increased terror attacks after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the entire Gaza Strip in August 2005.
This marked the start of Hamas firing tens of thousands of rockets from Gaza into towns and villages in southern Israel – each one a war crime. Then, in June 2006, Hamas launched a cross border raid into Israel, abducting Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit back into Gaza using an underground tunnel.
No blockade was in place at the time – so it could not have “forced” Hamas to carry out these acts of aggression and war crimes.
The circumstances that led to the blockade developed in the months following the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections – in which Hamas won more seats than the ruling Fatah party.
Growing tensions between the two groups erupted into violent conflict in Gaza in June 2007, and Hamas gained total control of the strip. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah had his rule restricted to the West Bank.
It was only three months afterwards that Israel and Egypt imposed their respective blockades – designed to limit Hamas’ ability to gain money, arms, technology and dual use items to further upgrade its unprovoked attacks on Israel across the Gaza border.
Hamas could have ended the blockade there and then. But it rejected the international community’s conditions, expressed through the “Quartet” (UN, US, EU and Russia), for diplomatic recognition of it – that it renounce terror, recognise Israel, and honour the agreements the PA had signed with Israel.
Later, the blockade became another weapon in the propaganda war against Israel, with the original reasons for it forgotten.
Human rights groups and the UN bodies said the blockade was illegal. It wasn’t. The 2011 Palmer Report, commissioned by the UN Secretary-General, determined that Israel was legally entitled to impose a blockade because “Hamas… is firing… projectiles into Israel” and International Law recognises Israel is “entitled to take reasonable steps to prevent the influx of weapons into Gaza.”
Israel was accused of imposing a “siege” on Gaza, when the blockade was only ever limited and selective. Restrictions applied only to “dual-use” items with potential military applications.
The UN’s own data shows “before the [current] war, around 500 trucks, including humanitarian assistance but predominantly commercial supplies, entered Gaza every day.” Moreover, Gaza also has a border with Egypt that Israel does not control, thus ruling out any sort of “siege”.
Similarly, before October 7, thousands of entry permits were issued each month by Israel to Gazans needing medical treatments not available in the Strip, while 18,500 Gazans worked in Israel with their earnings going back into the Gazan economy.
The accusation that the blockade has impoverished Gaza is also false.
Much more significant in causing Gaza’s poor economic situation was Hamas’ cynical decision to start five major wars with Israel, and several smaller ones. It did this while using Gaza’s civilians and civilian infrastructure as human shields by firing rockets from densely populated residential areas, knowing Israel’s counter response would destroy infrastructure and kill civilians. This was all part of Hamas’ successful propaganda campaign, which damaged Israel’s reputation, and caused pressure on Israel to limit its actions against Hamas’ military capabilities during each war.
Also impacting Gaza’s economic outlook has been the effect of Hamas stealing foreign aid – including thousands of tons of concrete intended for constructing housing and other civilian infrastructure – to build its huge network of tunnels where it stores weapons, fuel, food, and medicines for its war against Israel.
At the time of writing, Israel’s campaign to prevent Hamas carrying out its plans to repeat October 7 “again and again” is incomplete. As the death toll of Palestinians in Gaza rises, Jerusalem is facing pressure to agree to a ceasefire that would leave Hamas in control of Gaza, free to rebuild and attack again.
While every Palestinian civilian death is a tragedy, it should be obvious that the only way to ‘free’ Gaza from both the blockade and further conflict is to free Gaza from Hamas. It’s as simple – and complex – as that.