Mavi Marmara
The Mavi Marmara, aboard which Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla resulted in the deaths of 9 Turkish activists, leaving Haifa on August 5, 2010. Photo by AP
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The nine "Turkish" dead on the flotilla to Gaza have succeeded where other flotillas failed, including the "Jewish" flotilla of two weeks ago. Through their deaths, the nine bequeathed to us an ongoing debate over the policy of blockading the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian and Israeli organizations, and a number of journalists, are trapped in the Sisyphean attempt to repulse the far from realistic official descriptions of the situation in Gaza and to penetrate the public's lack of willingness to know. They offer the public (including bored diplomats ) exact details about the siege in weekly reports on user-friendly Internet sites, in eyewitness reports from the field and petitions to the courts. But the right to provide the public with information, which is honored in Israel, does not entail the need that the public will know. Thus, the official stand (mainly that "in effect, Gaza is no longer under siege" ) keep gaining strength. But thanks to the flotilla, whose participants were mainly Turks, independent organizations are now receiving much more respectable forums.

This coming Wednesday, members of the non-profit Gisha, advocating freedom of movement, will testify before the Turkel Commission, which is looking into the Israel Defense Forces raid on the (Turkish ) flotilla in which the nine were killed. Gisha asked the panel to hear its testimony "in view of the fear the information the government presents will not be complete." The hint is clear.

Gisha wants to remind people that the maritime blockade, long in effect, is an inseparable part of the land siege of Gaza and cannot be discussed separately. Gisha says it has official documents, based mainly on High Court of Justice responses to petitions, and the open statements of senior officials, showing the siege was not imposed merely out of security concerns "but also out of a desire to put pressure on the civilian population ... by hindering its progress, cutting its income, reducing its resources and harming its way of life, to bring pressure to bear on the Hamas government."

Paralyzing the economy of Gaza is part and parcel of "economic warfare," Gisha states in its letter to the Turkel Commission. "True, international law makes it possible to impose restrictions to prevent the transfer of war materiel but it does not make it possible for Israel to prevent the passage of clearly civilian goods." Israel has indeed increased the number of goods allowed into the Strip, but continues to block exports from there and so the "policy of economic warfare" continues.

Correct and more correct

Some two weeks ago, the Foreign Ministry published its regular report in anticipation of a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee on assistance to the Palestinians. As usual, it was full of self-praise about Israeli policy enabling the Palestinian economy to flourish. Here, too, Gisha wants the broader picture to be seen.

Foreign Ministry: "Traffic has increased significantly. The number of trucks coordinated with the Palestinian Authority normally reaches the current maximum capacity of 250 trucks per day."

More correct, says Gisha: The goods that entered constitute only 38 percent of the demand. According to Oxfam, the number of trucks that were permitted to offload goods at the end of September (634 ) is 22 percent of the average number from before June 1997.

Foreign Ministry: "The International Monetary Fund estimates the GDP growth in the first half of 2010 (as compared with the first half of 2009 ) at 16 percent in the Gaza Strip."

More correct, according to Gisha: The growth data noted in the IMF report are connected with the fact that the comparative period of the previous year constitutes a very low base as a point of comparison, because of [Operation] Cast Lead attack. The per capita GDP in Gaza is still 40 percent lower than it was in 1994.

Foreign Ministry: "A number of projects have been implemented or are currently in different stages of implementation. [One of these is] the delivery of containers to serve as classrooms, a United Nations project."

More correct: Children in UNRWA schools have to study in these containers, which are boiling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, because Israel has not permitted the entry of building materials for 100 new schools that UNRWA wishes to build in Gaza.

Foreign Ministry: "In July, 2,457 exit permits [from Gaza] were issued."

More correct: This number is less than 1 percent of the number of people who exited in September 2000. The "less than one 1 percent" means a lack of access to the West Bank from the Gaza Strip - the substance of the siege. A report by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights on the week of September 28 to October 6, sums up the situation: A total of 621 people left via the Erez crossing that week. Of these, 140 were patients receiving medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank and the 135 people who accompanied them. Fifty-seven were Palestinian merchants and another 26 were defined as businessmen, and 56 Palestinian residents of Israel (generally those who have first-degree relatives in the Gaza Strip ). There were also foreign residents who crossed over: 11 diplomats, 19 journalists. And there were 169 employees of international organizations (some of them foreigners, others Palestinian ). In addition, another eight lucky Gazans headed for abroad after receiving rare permission to cross over at Erez.