Gaza: Humanitarian Crisis or Collective Punishment?

More than one Israeli politician has commented that there is “no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.” Fair enough. During Ta’anit Tzedek’s monthly conference calls with Gazans we heard over and over that Gazan citizens do not want this crisis to be viewed as a humanitarian issue.

For instance, journalist Sami Abdel-Shafi told us in March that he believed casting Gaza as a humanitarian case is ultimately harmful to Gazans (80% of whom are dependent on foreign aid to survive). That is to say, the longer Gazans are kept dependent on humanitarian largess, the longer Gaza will successfully be kept isolated from the international community:

As long as the so-called “humanitarian” classification continues, I’m afraid we can stay like this for years. But the key is, why leave a population of more than 1.5 million people almost completely deprived of being educated and being developed and of the opportunity to be effective contributors to the regional economy, in addition to the economy of the world?

The answer (as I’m sure Abdel-Shafi well knows) is that this is precisely the point. The blockade of Gaza has never been about Israel’s security. From the very beginning, its aim has always been the isolation of Hamas through the collective punishment of Gazans.

Of course Israel has long tried to make the case that its blockade was initiated to keep weapons out of Gaza, but this justification has grown increasingly hollow over the years. (The surreal revelation that coriander was on the “forbidden list” is perhaps the most infamous example.)

I’ve noticed that even Israel has become less and less inclined to defend the blockade on security grounds.  This past week, it was reported that Israel’s defense establishment is urging the government not to cave in to growing international pressure and permit Palestinians to export goods from the Gaza Strip.  As one defense official put it, “If this happens, we will lose all of our leverage over Hamas.”  When I read this, I couldn’t help but think about Abdel-Shafi’s comments. What possible security benefit could Israel gain with this kind of economic warfare?

On a more heartening note, I just read in the Israeli press that “reliable sources” report that Obama will insist on a full lifting of the blockade when Netanyahu visits Washington in two weeks. According to the report, the President considers the continuing travel ban on Gazans to be (you guessed it) “collective punishment.”

Here’s hoping…

7 thoughts on “Gaza: Humanitarian Crisis or Collective Punishment?

  1. Chrissy Steele

    Dear Rabbi Rosen,
    I just wanted to thank you for your vigilance in observing the world with clear eyes and your courage in reporting about it from a heart-held position of true justice. Thank you for striving to treat all humanity as one family, our own family. As the Christian-born wife of a Jewish-born husband (we have been vegetarian Sufis for 35+ years now) the ongoing crisis in the Middle East troubles me profoundly. It’s incredibly important that level-headed, respected leaders such as yourself are taking a public stand for peace and reconciliation. I know it must be difficult for you in many ways to do this, so I just wanted to voice my deepest thanks and support.
    With great respect,
    Chrissy Steele

  2. Y. Ben-David

    What is going to be the result of Israel capitulating regarding the lifing of restrictions on good shipped to Gaza? A big political victory for HAMAS. Now they will be viewed as the “authentic” representatives of the Palestinians if not the “official” representives. What will be the consequences of this for those of you who believe in “the peace process”. If Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are conducting these negotiations with Israel, do you really think they are going to make the concessions necessary for such an agreement against the wishes of HAMAS? If there ever was a chance for an agreement (and I don’t believe there ever was), this will kill it. So I don’t understand why the “progressives” who claimed to support the “peace process” were so keen on giving extremist HAMAS this triumph?

    1. Shirin

      …they will be viewed as the “authentic” representatives of the Palestinians

      They ARE the authentic representatives of the Palestinians. They were duly elected as such in an election that was determined to have been as free and fair as any election can be that is held under foreign military occupation. Israel and the U.S. could have saved themselves, not to mention the Palestinians, an enormous amount of grief by accepting the results of the election THEY insisted upon.

      You are also misinformed as to Hamas’ positions regarding peace with Israel. You ought to update your information.

      1. Richard Kahn

        Would you be willing to update us on Hamas’s positions regarding peace with Israel?

      2. Shirin

        Richard, there have been a number of statements from various Hamas officials, including no less than Khalid Mesh`al that they are prepared to accept a Palestinian state that includes the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. This, of course, implies strongly that they will also accept Israel within the pre-June, 1967 boundaries, but you do not need to depend upon this implicit acceptance since Mesh`al himself and others have stated explicitly that if it is the will of the Palestinian people they will accept Israel within the pre-June, 1967 boundaries.

        The real question has always been, of course, whether Israel will accept Israel within the pre-June, 1967 boundaries, and the answer has always been no. Even in the time of Ben Gurion the answer was no, as evidenced by numerous of his statements.

  3. Shirin

    Obama will insist on a full lifting of the blockade when Netanyahu visits Washington in two weeks.

    And if history is any indication, Netanyahu will give Obama and his insistence the middle finger, Obama will make some sort of boilerplate statement such as “Our friendship with Israel is based on shared values, and is inviolable. Our commitment to Israel’s security and well-being are our highest priority”, and that will be the end of that.

    Unless, finally, Obama develops something resembling a spine. It could happen.

  4. Kate Kinser

    As always, thank for a cogent posting, Brant. It is difficult to find similar wisdom ANYWHERE. In the last month I have heard several divrei Torah —from Conservative rabbis who belong to the minyan I attend in West Rogers Park—-advising us all to batten down the hatches, circle the wagons, refrain from criticism of the Netanyahu government because Israel has done nothing wrong and those who criticize Israel want to destroy Israel, etc. etc. —I feel like I am in a time warp: Is it the 1970’s and we’re talking about Vietnam??? Thanks for being a Nathan.


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