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Let's not be dragged into calculating how many tons of rice, flour and cooking oil there are in the Gaza Strip 10 days after Israel once again hermetically sealed all the crossings into the enclave. Let's not count the number of children who wait for a nutritious meal at UN Relief and Works Agency schools, and the number of families to whose doorstep Hamas delivers boxes filled with grocery staples. (There are those who swear that these groceries are only given to Hamas members and supporters.) Let's not calculate the number of people dependent on their families for sustenance. There is food in the Gaza Strip, and there will continue to be. Does anyone really think that Israel, the state of the Jews, would allow 1.5 million people to be tossed, crowded and crammed, behind the barbed-wire fences and watchtowers surrounding the narrow strip and starve to death?

Let's leave aside the stories of darkness, of how children do (or don't do) their homework by the light of a candle or kerosene lantern. Let's even put off the discussion on the serious environmental hazards - pollution of the groundwater and sea - posed to the people of Gaza and Ashkelon alike as a direct consequence of the intentional fuel shortage, or of Israel's refusal to permit the entry of pipes to upgrade the water and sewage infrastructure. Let's not go now into descriptions of how the sewage flows directly into the sea because there's not enough electricity to operate the sewage treatment plant. Let's not talk about fears that sewers will back up in the winter and flood residential neighborhoods because parts needed to fix the treatment plant were not brought in.

Let's not get dragged into that number crunching, into reducing the Palestinians' lives to a near-animal level, to a humanitarian problem that is easy to prove is not as bad as it can be.

The deliberations over the Palestinians and the methods of coping with the blockade should be converted into a discussion about the Israelis - about those who make policy and the many diligent people who carry it out, about the many citizens who support and encourage it. Instead of discussing quantities of diesel fuel and flour, the talk should be of the logic behind the siege and those who impose it.

People in the Israeli cabinet, Defense Ministry and Shin Bet security service know full well what they are doing when they prohibit anything other than essential food or medicines from passing through the checkpoints, when they prohibit the entry of raw materials and the exit of agricultural and industrial products and prevent normal human traffic for studies, medical care, work or family. Don't underestimate them and don't belittle their judgment. They knew perfectly well when they decided more than two years ago on the tightest closure of the Gaza Strip since the closure policy began in 1991, that industry would collapse, agriculture would wither, tens of thousands of young people would join the jobless and hopeless, that it would be hard for schools to operate and education would suffer, that sewage would back up and seep into the drinking water, that water would no longer reach the upper floors of apartment buildings.

This policy was presented to the Israeli public in a semiofficial manner as a justified punishment of the Palestinians for electing Hamas (and to hell with international law). "Quarterofficially" we know there was an expectation, or a prediction, that the siege would cause the Gazans to loathe Hamas and end its government in Gaza (after it lost its official grip on the West Bank). That was certainly the hope of the Ramallah government.

Gazans have a bellyful of complaints, and rightfully so, about the Hamas regime. It has already proven itself - mainly to Fatah members - as a regime of fear and repression. But the kind of punishment tactic currently in force is exactly what strengthens Hamas. Instead of the movement being judged according to its ability to run a government and meet its governmental obligations to ensure its citizens' welfare, it can blame the emergency situation created by the siege for every manifestation of immaturity and unprofessionalism.

The public feels that the government is part of it. Like the public, the government is a target for the occupation's cruelty. The brutal siege also saves Hamas from having to cope with the contradiction between its platform (the liberation of all of Palestine) and its integration, despite its denials, into the institutions created by the Oslo Accords. If Israel jeopardizes the lives of premature babies and causes business owners, including supporters of Oslo and Yasser Arafat, to go broke, the Hamas government can present itself as resisting the occupation by its very nature. The extraordinary conditions of the extreme siege and the disconnection between Gaza and the West Bank (another intentional Israeli policy) have made the possibility of holding new Palestinian general elections a very distant one. Hamas can thus bolster its rule with coercion, wages, charity and the consoling power of religion.

And perhaps that is exactly what the Shin Bet, Israel Defense Forces and government want?