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.”