There's No Whitewashing the Gaza Blockade

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Palestinians sit outside their house in Shujaiyeh, which was the target of Israeli shelling, August 31, 2014. Credit: Reuters

It is in Israel’s interest to avoid intense social and economic pressure on Gaza, a senior military officer told Haaretz reporter Amos Harel over the weekend. This wise statement by the senior officer raises three questions: Why did the defense establishment remember to examine the ramifications of the Gaza blockade on its residents only after the war? Why is the Israel Defense Forces suggesting that the politicians ease the blockade, instead of the politicians initiating this crucial step on their own? And what is the practical meaning of this generosity?

As there are those toting up victory points in Operation Protective Edge and crowing unnecessarily about how Hamas achieved nothing, easing the conditions of Gaza’s residents is liable to be interpreted as a concession, or even as capitulation. The voices coming from the IDF stem from concern that political interests will prevail over the diplomatic or moral interest in lifting the closure.

But even this positive suggestion, if adopted, can’t whitewash the perverse blockade. Easing its terms alone, as we’ve seen in the past, doesn’t create conditions for normal life, doesn’t offer any economic or diplomatic horizon, and at best serves as insufficient cover for the government’s claim that it has no dispute with the people of Gaza, but only with Hamas. Moreover, the version of relief the IDF is suggesting has in the past been no more than symbolic gestures, like allowing in equipment to finish building a new hospital in Gaza, or worse, took the form of an inhumane calculation of how many calories each resident needed, which was used to derive what products would be allowed into the Strip.

The Gaza Strip, with its 1.8 million people, doesn’t need generosity or favors. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who speaks vaguely of a “diplomatic horizon,” must end the blockade, fully open the crossings between Gaza and Israel and give a real chance for development to bring quiet, after it’s been proven that the blockade merely foments violent rebellions against Israel.

This doesn’t mean that Israel must give up the close inspection of the goods that enter or leave the Strip, to assure that no weapons are smuggled in and that the open crossings are not exploited by terrorists seeking to carry out attacks in Israel. But there is a big difference between security checks and even a minimum security prison. Israel has the power to close that gap and work on behalf of its mutual interests with the residents of Gaza.

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