All signs indicate that the government of Israel has taken steps to receive the present Gaza flotilla in a manner much more systematic than last year's actions. Instead of relying entirely on the use of force, diplomatic measures were taken this time, and friendly states, first and foremost Greece, mobilized to help Israel and hampered the flotilla's departure. This diplomatic action proved that there are alternatives less violent than Israel's predilection for discharging armed soldiers to suppress civilian protests.
Yet the industriousness and creativity which Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have displayed merely underscore the folly that serves as the foundation of their policy. Israel removed its settlements and soldiers from the Gaza Strip six years ago, and withdrew to the Green Line in order to end its occupation of a strip of land densely populated by Palestinians. The move was taken so that they could conduct their own lives. Since then, it appears as though Israel became addicted to occupation and is unable to liberate itself, even after it declared a "pull-out." Hearing the cabinet's statement about how Israel will act "with determination" to stop the flotilla, as well as the defense minister's declaration yesterday about Israel's intention to "defend its borders," sufficed as evidence that the government still views the Gaza Strip as part of Israel, and insists on monitoring every entry and exit to and from Gaza.
The blockade, which was eased but not eliminated as a result of the fatal entanglement with the first flotilla, is unethical, and also mistaken on diplomatic grounds. Placing stiff restrictions on movement and commerce, in an embargo policy affecting one and a half million Palestinians, does not contribute anything. It only perpetuates the conflict and the hatred, and casts light on Israel as a cruel, occupying power.
The government justifies the blockade on Gaza by pointing to the hostility of Hamas, the organization which rules Gaza; Hamas, the government points out, refuses to recognize Israel and the Oslo Accords. In fact, the naval embargo is justifiable, in terms of the need to prevent the entry of heavy weaponry. Yet the economic pressure has not brought about moderation in Hamas' positions, and stopping protesters en route to Gaza will not change the military balance. Dealing with Hamas necessitates the use of diplomatic methods which might bring about change in the organization's approach; the military effort should concentrate on stopping the smuggling of arms.
Halting the second flotilla does not compensate for the total failure of Israel's policy toward Gaza.
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