The Orwellian Logic of Israel’s Blockade of Gaza

It goes like this: There is no such blockade, and if you violate it, you will be arrested.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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Israel Navy forces approaching the Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010.
Israel Navy forces approaching the Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010.Credit: Reuters
Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

The first rule of the Gaza blockade is – you do not speak about the Gaza blockade.

The second rule of the Gaza blockade is – you do not speak about the Gaza blockade.

The third rule of the Gaza blockade is – you do not violate the Gaza blockade.

Earlier this week, Israeli soldiers intercepted a flotilla that tried to break Israel’s eight-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, taking over the Swedish ship Marianne and causing two other boats to reverse course. The operation was quick and no one was injured. The ship was redirected to the Port of Ashdod, and the activists on it were arrested for violating the maritime blockade keeping ships from entering or leaving Gaza.

A day before they were arrested, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a public letter to the activists onboard the Marianne: “Welcome to Israel! It appears you have made a wrong turn. Perhaps you wished to sail somewhere not too far from here: Syria, where the Assad regime is massacring its people on a daily basis, with the support of the Iranian regime.”

“There is no blockade of Gaza,” the letter continues, before detailing all the merchandise that Israel allows to enter the Gaza Strip.

After the Israel Navy took over the Marianne, Netanyahu reiterated his point in a statement that claimed, once again, that there is no blockade of Gaza – but that Israel’s maritime blockade (or “preventing entry by the sea,” as he put it) is in accordance with international law.

Can there be a more accurate term?

The claim that there is no blockade of Gaza is easy to argue against. Gaza has no airport (and is of course not allowed to build one), and ships are not allowed in or out. Israel determines who goes in, and what goes in, and who (or what) goes out. Its regulation of quantities of certain merchandise allowed into Gaza – building materials, for instance – can be ridiculously strict. The dictionary definition of “blockade” is “an act or means of sealing off a place to prevent goods or people from entering or leaving.” Can there be a better term to describe Israel’s control over the Gaza Strip?

One can claim (as Israel does) that the blockade is necessary to protect Israeli citizens from rocket attacks, and it’s a legitimate argument – but the validity of the term still stands.

Yet the official policy of Israeli governments is to deny the existence of the blockade of Gaza. In February 2014, Habayit Hayehudi leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett claimed the Gaza blockade is a ״baseless remark.” However, on that very day Israeli officials acknowledged the existence of the blockade when rejecting Turkey’s request to lift it as part of a reconciliation between the two states.

So the question remains, how can you deny the existence of something, and simultaneously enforce it?

The Monty Python-esque absurdity of this policy is typical of Israel’s conflicting positions regarding the Gaza blockade, in place since 2007, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip: officially, there is no blockade of Gaza – but Israel doesn’t intend to lift it, and don’t attempt to break it, or you’ll be arrested.

This non-policy, as blogger Itamar Sha’altiel calls it, has been inherited from one Israeli government to the next over the past eight years, often with little debate over its goals, or its effectiveness, perpetuated by inertia and gut instincts more than anything else.

To be fair, the claim that Gaza is not besieged is not entirely without basis – it’s just hugely misleading. As Netanyahu pointed out this week, Israel allows much more merchandise and humanitarian aid into Gaza these days. Following years of an airtight, hugely inhumane blockade – so tight that the IDF determined what kind of hummus Gaza residents were allowed to eat – Israel eased many restrictions on imports and movement of Gaza residents.

There is also some merit to the Israeli claim that flotillas attempting to enter Gaza are not humanitarian efforts, but empty provocations meant to perpetuate a false reality (or, rather, a dated one). Things have drastically changed since IDF forces raided the Mavi Marmara and killed nine Turkish nationals and a Turkish-American in 2010 (an event that forced Israel to offer $20 million in compensation to the families of the dead), and there’s no need for flotillas in order to get medical supplies or food into Gaza.

Better blockade is still a blockade

There has been a marked improvement, no doubt – but a better blockade is still a blockade. And as long as Israel maintains its grip on Gaza, as long as it keeps Gaza isolated, especially from the West Bank, Israel can’t deny the blockade’s existence at the same time it enforces it and expect the rest of the world to pretend it’s not there. That strategy never worked with other famous Israeli exercises in denialism – the claim that “there is no occupation,” for instance – and it won’t work now.

All this, of course, is known to Israeli officials, who deny the reality of the Gaza blockade – and not just for PR reasons, but also for a very simple reason, the same reason that Israel doesn’t change course on any of its other destructive, ineffective policies: They have no idea how to change them.

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