The Australian, June 8, 2010
SOME people are still writing about Israel’s May 31 raid on the Gaza flotilla. But the debate has largely moved on, for two reasons.
First, the activists involved know they lost the first debate. Footage proves they used metal poles, knives, Molotov cocktails and live ammunition against Israeli soldiers, blowing out of the water claims of non-violence.
The Turkish group behind the flotilla is linked to Hamas and other jihadi organisations. Various activists, describing themselves as jihad fighters, told Arab television they were seeking martyrdom and wanted to attack Israelis.
Second, the flotilla was never about delivering aid; its organisers refused to co-operate with Israel, Egypt or the UN to have the goods delivered. Rather, the flotilla was about embarrassing Israel and bringing to light Israel’s Gaza blockade.
So why does Israel blockade Gaza? Put simply, Israel is at war with Hamas-ruled Gaza, and maritime blockade is an accepted action of war.
This raises two questions. One, Hamas is not a state; how can Israel be “at war” with it? Two, how can a blockade possibly be acceptable practice?
Hamas violently took control of Gaza in 2007. That it won the 2006 elections thus became irrelevant, because from the time of the coup against Fatah, Hamas began operating outside Palestinian Authority parameters. Hamas was no longer just a terrorist organisation – it was the de facto sovereign of a self-ruled entity. And when it continued its policy of attacking Israel, Israel declared itself as being officially at war with Hamas-ruled Gaza. Peaceful relations will ensue when Hamas ends its war against Israel.
Blockade is a valid military option because it denies the enemy the ability to fight effectively, as per Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
A blockade isn’t a siege. A siege prevents any supplies, including food and medicine, going in. For instance, Arab forces besieged Jewish Jerusalem in 1948, and Serb forces besieged Sarajevo in the 1990s. A blockade is different. In a blockade, food, medicines and anything that doesn’t help the enemy’s war effort is allowed in.
That’s why Israel, under UN supervision, sends humanitarian goods into Gaza. Last year, 738,000 tonnes of aid went in; that’s 14,000 tonnes every week, compared with the 10,000 tonnes the Gaza flotilla was carrying.
The maritime blockade ensures aid crosses land borders, enabling Israel to check it for weapons before sending it through. Because Hamas has previously stolen aid, items with both military and civilian uses, such as cement, are allowed, but only if designated for specific purposes under UN supervision.
All blockades have an impact on civilians, and Gaza is no exception (nor were Germany and Japan during World War II, under Allied blockade). But don’t believe a word of those who claim Gazans are starving. Photos taken in December last year by someone who broke the blockade revealed a market overflowing with produce. The Financial Times wrote last month of Gaza being “flooded (with) Korean refrigerators, German food mixers and Chinese airconditioning units”.
In October last year, Fairfax correspondent Jason Koutsoukis reviewed the delicious food at Gazan restaurants he’d been frequenting. Gazans live longer (73.68 years) and have a higher birthrate (36.26 births/1000 people) than neighbouring, non-blockaded Egypt (72.40 and 25.02, respectively). These are not the statistics of a starving people.
Articles 93-104 of the San Remo Manual on maritime warfare dictate how maritime blockades are conducted. (By refusing to be searched by Israel, the flotilla broke these laws.) Article 102b says that blockades are legal if the impact they have on the affected population is less than the dangers they prevent. Thus, we must determine what the blockade is blocking, and if that is worth its impact on Gazans.
Lebanon provides the closest parallel. It is not blockaded, and Hezbollah has imported about 40,000 rockets and long-range missiles, including Scuds. Added to this are sophisticated anti-aircraft, -tank and -ship missiles, along with mines, guns and more, and all despite the presence of a UN force supposedly committed to disarming Hezbollah.
Like Hamas, Hezbollah is religiously committed to fighting Israel, which makes future war with Hezbollah a near certainty. Because of the blockade, Hamas is less dangerous. It is vital Israel keeps it that way.
If Israel is forced to lift the blockade, the unintended result will be the death of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. If Hamas “beats” Israel and successfully arms like Hezbollah, ordinary Palestinians will believe violence (the Hamas path) is better than negotiations (the Fatah path). Fatah will either collapse or return to wholesale violence, putting peace efforts back 30 years.
Is this what the flotilla’s supporters want? Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is publicly decrying the Israeli action, but it’s a safe bet he’s privately begging the US not to force Israel to end the blockade, because that will mean his end.
The Gaza blockade is not nice, but it is necessary and legal. It will stop when Hamas agrees to live in peace. The real questions are: why does Hamas put its futile religious war against Israel ahead of Gaza’s prosperity? And why do the flotilla supporters want Hamas, which is against everything humanitarians claim to be for, to succeed?
Bren Carlill is an analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council