In a recent visit to Turkey, the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the current blockade on Gaza and referred to the territory as a “prison camp”. The Israeli embassy in London accordingly responded to Mr. Cameron’s remarks by asserting that the Palestinians living in Gaza are actually prisoners of Hamas, rather than prisoners of the Israeli blockade. Furthermore, the Israeli spokesperson claimed that Hamas, due to its election in 2006, is responsible for the situation in Gaza.
While the media is focusing on the visit and remarks by David Cameron, the responding statements by the Israeli embassy are, in my view, more interesting. Both statements are clear examples of political spin, but spin that has gone so far as to place the blame for Israeli actions upon Hamas.
The logic is impossible to follow, but according to the Israeli envoy to the UK, this is what we are supposed to understand about the blockade. They want us to believe that Hamas really doesn’t care much about the well-being of the Palestinians who elected it into power. And that Hamas is enforcing a strict blockade on the territory that they control. Clearly, they would never want any form of international trade, freedom of movement, secure access to power, or building materials. Instead, Hamas focuses solely on building rockets and killing Israelis, at the expense of any effort that might aid Gaza.
However, the officials who work at the Israeli Embassy are not idiots. They most likely understand that the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the ensuing conditions of poverty, are not the responsibility of Hamas. But they still try to put out this kind of spin, wriggling their way out of any sort of blame or consequences and using Hamas as a scapegoat. Unfortunately, many in the United States accept this spin without question.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel: “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
This was Israel back in its idealistic days, when it advertised itself as a land of egalitarianism and democracy. Israel now, as Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman puts it, has the most “unequal society among western nations.”
Israeli Arabs are marginalized and discriminated against in Israeli society, though they make up about 20% of the population. Just to highlight a few aspects of discrimination, the State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories states that: “Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, Palestinian Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. Women suffered societal discrimination and domestic violence. The government maintained unequal educational systems for Arab and Jewish students.” (more…)
Following international pressure and diplomatic discussions with Egyptian, US and Quartet representatives, Israel’s security cabinet announced Sunday that it would change its blockade policy for the Gaza Strip. At present only 114 items are allowed into the Strip, but according to the announced easing of the Gaza blockade a new “black list” of unpermitted goods will replace the current highly restrictive policy. The PM Binyamin Netanyahu confirmed that all goods, other than “weapons and materials Hamas uses”, will be allowed into the Palestinian territory while adding that a finalized list of items not allowed will be released as soon as possible.
While the exact definition of a “material Hamas uses” is not clear, the announcement certainly paves the way for humanitarian aid and some construction materials to soon enter the Gaza Strip. Heavy limitations, however, remain on the construction materials allowed, as they must be for Palestinian Authority-approved projects and kept under international supervision. Netanyahu described these new allowances as “eliminating Hamas’ main propoganda claim and allow[ing] [Israel]…to face [their] real concerns in the realm of security.” (more…)
Israel has rejected UN demands for an external probe of the Gaza raid, and instead has announced that it is to administer an internal investigation. Israel, trying to somewhat appease the international community, has added “two foreign observers” to the commission. The observers include Irish Nobel Prize laureate David Trimble, and Canada’s former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces Ken Watkin. David Trimble, one of the “foreign observers,” recently joined a Friends of Israel group. If Israel is to include outsiders in the internal probe, it should at least let them be chosen by an external party. The “observers” should also have an active participating role; simply observing the commission and not offering their input seems futile. The structure of the commission is inhibiting in other ways as well. The commission must use summaries of the events, as soldiers cannot be directly questioned. It can ask for more information if not satisfied, though there is no guarantee they will receive more information (BBC).
The purposes of the commission are to: examine the “security circumstances” of the naval blockade on Gaza and whether this conforms to international law, decide if the actions of May 31st, conform to the principles of international law, and consider the actions of those who organized and took part in the flotilla “and their identities” (BBC). The last requirement, not surprisingly, shifts the focus away from Israel and tries to make them the victims. This culture of victimization and no sense of accountability will no doubt result in another travesty of justice. (more…)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid. The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).
Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region. The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera). As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA. He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered. He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)
Several days after Israeli commandos raided an aid ship headed for Gaza, heads of state around the world are focusing their attention towards investigating the events of May 31 and working towards ending the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been very vocal in condemning Israeli actions after the death of several Turkish citizens, has made a statement calling for the formation of an international investigation. According to Erdogan, the acceptance of such an investigation would be the only way to better Israeli-Turkish relations. He went on to say that if Israel refused an international investigation that, “it means that they are hiding some facts.” In addition, Prime Minister Erdogan has been reported to be considering a trip to Gaza aboard a Turkish Naval vessel. While this has caused some in Israel to threaten violence at another attempt to breach the blockade, the official tone is much more moderate and IDF leaders have made statements essentially telling their colleagues to calm down. (more…)
Activists are returning to their respective countries and funerals are underway for the nine slain activists in Turkey, one of whom was a 19-year-old dual U.S. citizen. However, the atmosphere of the international community continues to exhibit volatility.
More accounts of the events are pouring in as the activists return. Following the attack, Israel had created an information blackout, barring the captured activists from speaking to media in Israel, but as they return home their stories are emerging. Bulent Yildrim, the head of the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), said: “I took off my shirt and waved it, as a white flag. We thought they would stop after seeing the white flag, but they continued killing people.” Norman Paech, a former German politician accounts: “The soldiers were all masked, carrying big guns and were extremely brutal.” Haneen Zoubi, an Arab-Israeli MP claims Israeli vessels fired on her ship a few minutes before soldiers descended from helicopters. You can also hear an account of the events from former ambassador and former CNI board member Edward Peck, here. (more…)
Just a few minutes ago an interview with former CNI board member and frequent host of our radio show “CNI Jerusalem Calling”, Ambassador Edward Peck, was released by ABC News, giving an insider’s account of what actually occurred between the flotilla and the Israeli navy. In the interview, Ambassador Peck recounts his experience and deportation. He mentions that he and the other people captured were kept in isolation and knew very little about what was going on. He also mentions that another US citizen, Paul Larudee, was injured and remains in an Israeli hospital.
In addition, more countries have stepped forward to condemn the Israeli actions. The EU and Russia issued a joint statement earlier today condemning Israel’s actions and use of force, even going so far as to call for an end to the blockade on Gaza. Shortly after, France joined them in calling for the release of the civilian activists being held.
Even Hamas and Fatah seem united in condemning the attacks and urging the international community to open the borders into Gaza. Today, the PA’s Interior Ministry announced that the Rafah crossing has been opened and restrictions lifted. And Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, released a statement arguing that this attack could help unify Palestinians, stating
“Israel’s crime today is an opportunity for Palestinian unity on the right national platform. It is also an opportunity for the Arab world to re-take the initiative today and to take a strong position against the Israeli bullying and to open the Rafah crossing and to end the siege once and for all.”
Could this attack provide the catalyst for re-opening negotiations between Hamas and the PA? And could it possibly push the international community to get more involved in helping the Gazans and permanently lifting the blockade?
The international community is in a furor after yesterday’s events on the Gaza flotilla that left at least 9 activists dead by the hands of the IDF. Major protests were sparked around the world, from Paris to Istanbul, against the actions of Israel. Strong condemnation was elicited from the UN, though the U.S. had it watered down a bit, Turkish PM Erdogan, who called the raid a “massacre,” the EU, and many other nations. It is clear that most of the world is united such condemnation of Israel, and the state is facing further isolation than ever before.
It is difficult to fathom what went wrong on this humanitarian mission, and the UN has called for an impartial inquiry into the raid. Naturally, there are two differing narratives. The Free Gaza flotilla left Cyprus with the intention of trying to open up three year blockade on Gaza by delivering 10,000 tons of aid. Israel intercepted the flotilla 40 miles away from the Gaza coast, though its formal blockade of Gaza only extends 25 miles off the coast. When the flotilla said its destination was Gaza and would not stop, Israeli forces proceeded to board the ships. Under the UN Charter on the Law of the Sea, a vessel can only be boarded in international waters if it is suspected to be transporting weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Seaborne special forces, which are trained for combat and not crowd control, proceeded to board. (more…)