Edmund Sanders of the LAT puts the matter correctly when he says that Israel’s national security government (a subset of key cabinet ministers) took a “small step” Sunday in announcing a further easing of the Israeli blockade of civilian Palestinians in the Gaza strip. The new policy is said to envision the abolition of the list of permitted items in favor of a small list of goods not permitted because they have military uses.
But the Israelis can continue the blockade even with a smaller list of prohibited items by limiting truck traffic through the checkpoints. That traffic is tiny now compared to the period before 2006, and Sunday’s announcement may not increase it that much.
I wrote on Friday, “For one thing, how many items are let in is less important than the volume of each. The Irish Times quotes Robert Serry, the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). During the first week in June, imports declined by a quarter, even though Israel expanded the list of allowed imports by 11 food and health items. OCHA says that the amount of staples and aid going into Gaza is only about 17% of the goods routinely allowed in before the blockade began. So an ‘easing’ would not even restore the status quo ante of pre-2007.”
The USG Open Source Center translated a report from Jerusalem Voice of Israel Network B in Hebrew on Sunday June 20 saying,
‘ “The coordinator of government activities in the territories informed the PA tonight that as of tomorrow morning, the number of trucks crossing through Kerem Shalom will be daily increased by 30%. Our correspondent Karmela Menashe reports that this will allow the daily entry of 140 trucks into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing.’
If the increase is only 30% of the present truck traffic, that would be about 23% of the trucks that routinely traveled into Gaza before the blockade, up from the 17% of the pre-blockade number that has been characteristic in the past year. A “small step” indeed.
This small step was clearly impelled by fear of increased international condemnation by one country after another if the harsher blockade was kept in place. Further, there is a growing danger to Israel of international boycotts over its Apartheid policies. Even in Oakland, Ca., not to mention Stockholm. Since the steps announced Sunday will not in fact allow for a decent life for the Palestinians of Gaza, nor will they address their massive unemployment and poverty, they are unlikely entirely to relieve this pressure from global civil society.
The small change was also impelled by fear of the further 8 aid ships now planned by humanitarian aid workers for Gaza, each of which Israel is pledged to board and divert. That is 8 opportunities for further disasters like that aboard the ill-fated Turkish aid vessel, the Mavi Marmara, where one American and 8 Turks were shot to death by Israeli commandos.
The next confrontation is likely to be with two aid ships from Lebanon, organized by women’s groups, including Christian ones. The Mariam is named for Mother Mary.
On last Thursday, “Dozens of Christian and Muslim women gathered in prayer in a cave near Our Lady of Mantara in the town of Maghdushe, where Mary was said to have waited for Jesus while he was preaching nearby some 2,000 years ago” according to AFP.
Rima Farah told AFP, “The participants are committed to making progress and our only weapons are faith in the Virgin Mary and in humanity.” She also said expressed confidence that their prayers were being answered, in light of Israeli announcements about the easing of the blockade.
Another all-woman aid vessel, the Julia, has received permission from Lebanese Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi to set sail from Tripoli for Cyprus. He says it is none of his business where it goes after that. This procedure is a way of getting around Israeli threats of reprisals against Lebanon if its government lets the aid ships leave directly for Gaza from a Lebanese port. This way, Lebanon can insist that all it did was give the ships permission to leave for Cyprus. (Lebanese law also forbids him to authorize departure for Israeli-controlled ports, or for any ports where they do not have permission to land). If the ships depart Cyprus for Gaza, that step is unlikely to result in an Israeli strike on Nicosia, since Cyprus and Israel are not at war and Greece would rather mind.
Al-Hayat [Life], reporting in Arabic, says that Israeli radio carried assertions from sources in the Israeli foreign ministry that these two ships are actually backed by the Lebanese Shiite fundamentalist party-militia, Hizbullah. They said that the party forbade singer Haifa Wahbi to board the ships, on the grounds that her steamy music videos would overshadow the mission and give the wrong impression of it. But this ridiculous charge is just a piece of gossip picked up from the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Siyasah, which is rather distant from the scene. In fact, Haifa herself expressed bewilderment at the report, saying she had never registered to be a passenger on the Mariam, and Hizbullah if anything was even more astonished. I’ll let you decide if this looks to you like someone who pays attention to Hizbullah. That the Israeli foreign ministry is taking ridiculous gossip seriously as a basis for making foreign and possibly military policy is a sign of serious derangement. And if Israel attacks these ships on the assumption that they are Hizbullah, it will not go well for the Netanyahu government.
At some level, at least the few Labor Party members of the cabinet know this, and they, including Industry, Labor, and Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, appear to be the ones who behind the scenes pushed hardest for the ‘easing’ of the blockade on Gaza.
In fact, these female Lebanese aid ships are not affiliated to Hizbullah, which declines even verbally to support them, saying that it disapproves of the risk they are taking, of a confrontation that could harm the innocent civilians involved. There is, on the contrary, a strong Catholic overtone to the missions. About 15% of Palestinians are Christian, and the Catholic Church is among the few Western institutions that protests the horrible way the Palestinians have been treated. About 22% of Lebanese are Maronite Catholics, a uniate church that recognized the Pope in the early modern period but retains a Syriac liturgy.
An Israeli attack on these unarmed women on a mission of mercy would be a further public relations disaster for Tel Aviv.
Appendix: The USG Open Source Center translates passages from the Israeli press over the Netanyahu government’s easing of the blockade on Palestinians in Gaza.
‘ A pool report posted at 1905 GMT in Tel Aviv Ynetnews in English, centrist news site operated by Yedi’ot Media Group, says: “Knesset Member Yoel Hasson (Kadima) criticized Netanyahu over the government’s decision to ease the blockade on Gaza. ‘Now it is official. Netanyahu is prone to pressure and is a weak prime minister who pays heavy prices for his lack of policy. Netanyahu is sending a dangerous message that terrorism pays off,’ said Hasson.
“MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) said that the Gaza blockade policy ‘went bankrupt.’ ‘. . .
Eli Levi reports at 1829 GMT in Tel Aviv NRG Ma’ariv in Hebrew, news site run by the Ma’ariv Group: “Shimshon Liebman, head of the Struggle Command for Gil’ad Shalit, said tonight regarding the Israeli Government’s decision to ease the Gaza blockade: ‘I miss the leadership we once had, which knew how decisions should be made. Today everything is up to two people — the prime minister and the defense minister.’ Liebman is further quoted as saying that “in the siege matter, Israel seems to have built a paper house.”
Arik Bender reports in NRG at 1735 GMT: “National Union MK Mikha’el Ben-Ari said following the decision to lift the closure that [flotilla passenger Palestinian-Israeli Knesset member Haneen Zoabi] ‘Zu’bi has beaten Netanyahu.’ He added that ‘the man who claimed to be a strong leader versus HAMAS has caved to a group of anarchist terrorists. A few bat-carrying terrorists made a joke of Netanyahu’s leadership.”
Tel Aviv Walla! in Hebrew, website of leading news and entertainment service, carries Nir Yahav’s report at 1934 GMT, adding: “[Palestinian-Israeli member of the Israeli parliament] MK Ahmad al-Tibi of the RAAM-TAAL party said tonight that the Israeli Government’s decision to ease the closure on the Gaza Strip is insufficient because the blockade should be completely lifted. ‘Nevertheless, the government’s decision corroborates the view that Israel only understands force and international pressure,’ he added.”
A report by Pinhas Wolf, posted in Walla! at 1632 GMT, says: “Environmental Protection Minister Gil’ad Erdan, believed to be one of the government’s hawks, tonight voiced unreserved support for the prime minister’s decision to ease the Gaza Strip closure. According to him, ‘Israel has so far paid a steep diplomatic price for a closure that was nonexistent for all intents and purposes. While civilian goods went regularly into the Gaza Strip, the world thought the Strip was completely blockaded.” ‘