Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

The Gaza Strip, the World’s Largest Prison Camp

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on July 3, 2009

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In its latest show of aggression towards Palestinian humanitarian relief campaigns, the Israeli Defense Force this past Sunday forcefully intercepted a cargo-ship carrying medical supplies to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.  According to a variety of sources, including CNN, the Associated Press, as well as media outlets within Israel itself, “the Israeli Navy took control of a boat that violated an Israeli blockade… boarded and took control of the boat, directing it toward Ashdod, Israel.”  While this has not been the first instance that Israel’s military has thwarted a peace-keeping/humanitarian mission-  three such attempts have been stopped by Israel during its three-week war against the Palestinian militant group, Hamas- this recent confiscation may eventually prompt a certain amount of condemnation by the international community.  Even the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally for decades, may pressure the Israeli Government to quickly release the “activists” that were taken into custody.  After all, former United States Representative, Cynthia McKinney (the same McKinney who ran for president in 2008 under the Green Party) was one of those activists.

On word of the arrest, it is almost a given that some U.S. lawmakers will release statements to the press arguing that Mrs. McKinney acted with bad judgment: deliberately violating a naval-blockade against the Gaza Strip that has been in place for the last two years.  Others may go a step further, arguing that Mrs. McKinney’s actions (and those of her cohorts) should be punished for putting Israel’s security in jeopardy.  In the same token, many in Washington will be shocked to discover that a former congresswoman would sacrifice her personal and political integrity, namely by taking the Palestinian side in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Of course, I can understand this sentiment to a degree.  After all, Representative McKinney and the nineteen other humanitarian workers onboard did in fact violate Israel’s sovereignty as a nation-state (bypassing their domestic laws in the hopes of delivering medicine, and food to the 1.5 million Palestinians residing in the coastal enclave).

Yet, the very fact that a former representative of the United States, in addition to two internationally-respected Nobel Peace Prize winners (Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams) risked arrest for the greater good is a symbolic gesture.  Have some in the United States Congress finally gained the courage to stand up to Israel’s harsh-security policies towards the Gaza Strip?  This is a question worth investigating as this individual case proceeds.

If this sentiment is becoming the norm, the United States is severely behind the common-voice of other world powers.  The G-8 (eight of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on the face of the earth) and The Quartet of Mideast negotiators (a body that includes the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union) have already made in publicly known that the Israeli-blockade is a hindrance to any prospective  peace plan.  In fact, in a rather unprecedented level of unity on this issue, The Quartet issued a statement calling for a complete lifting of the Gaza blockade, as well as a termination of Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

As is expected, Israel rejected this unified stance solely on the basis of security.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not alone when he argues that any aid into the Gaza Strip would help bolster the militaristic capabilities of Hamas guerillas:  a movement that pledges to destroy the Jewish state through acts of terrorism and martyrdom.

At the same time, I cannot help but wonder if the Gaza-blockade is doing more harm than good for the future security of the Israeli people.  While it is unquestionable that a shipment of arms and bullets towards the Gaza Strip would give Hamas increased leverage against innocent Israeli civilians, it is hard to believe that stopping humanitarian aid would result in this same advantage.  It is quite logical, really:  what is the benefit of depriving the 1.5 million Palestinians of the food, building supplies, and medicine required to survive in an already poor environment?  These people have suffered enough in the last 5 to 6 months, thanks to the Israeli-bombardment of the Gaza Strip in December and January of 2009.  Is the widespread loss of Palestinian businesses, as well as the 1400 Palestinian deaths that resulted from Israel’s December assault, not sufficient in its quest of starving this Gaza-based movement of Arab resistance?  Apparently  not… now, the post-conflict reconstruction that is absolutely essential for normal life in Gaza’s community- a life that includes healthy children and productive parents- is being withheld by Israeli authorities for reasons not clearly understood.

If there is anything to say about insurgency, criminality, or terrorism in the 21st century, it is that circumstances within society create the potential for hatred and intolerance.  The September 11 attacks against the United States did not occur because Al’Qaeda despised the American-way-of-life.  Rather, they were a product of U.S. policy in the Middle East…policies that included the American backing of corrupt Arab regimes that threatened the interests of ordinary Muslims.

Thanks to the hard work of the intelligence community, as well as terrorism experts, this phenomenon has now become a mainstream reality.  Unfortunately, it appears that the Israeli’s are either opting for arrogance or are truly unaware of this formula.  Malnourished children, restrictions on Gaza-fisherman, lackluster sewage and water systems, and the confiscation of $4.5 billion in international aid will not improve Israel’s security in the long run.  It will only increase the popularity of the Hamas Movement, decrease the effects of counterterrorism throughout the globe, and create the next generation of dangerous faith-based ideologues.  As Cynthia McKinney, Mairead Maguire, and Betty Williams argue, it may be time for the state of Israel to start abiding by the concept of universal human rights.  Not only would such activities have the symbolic effect of furthering international unity towards tolerance and respect (despite religion, ethnicity, or background), but may strengthen Israel’s right to exist by severely diminishing Arab hostility towards the Jewish people.

The solution is rather straightforward:  allowing food and medicine into the Strip will help the PEOPLE escape the poverty that has dominated their lives thus far.  Who knows, perhaps lifting the embargo and easing the life of the Palestinian people will save the world from the next wave of suicide bombers.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from the AFP, Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press, and CNN contributed to this blog.

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