By Stephen Lendman
After Hamas was overwhelmingly elected in January 2006, Israel, Washington and the West ended all outside aid, imposed an economic embargo and sanctions, and politically isolated the new government.
Stepped up repression followed, including regular IDF incursions, bombings, killings, targeted assassinations, arrests, property destruction, and Israeli-instigated internal conflict that left Fatah usurping authority in the West Bank, leaving Gaza alone under Hamas.
In June 2007, conditions worsened after Israel imposed its siege, medieval-like, according to some, for its harshness. Now, nearing its third anniversary, it’s still in place, slowly suffocating and strangling 1.5 million people, trapped by closed borders, regular incursions and attacks, and shortages of everything needed to function and survive. A humanitarian crisis resulted and continues. The West and most regional states are culpable, complicit or indifferent to a real time catastrophe.
Israel’s Policy of Exclusion and Restrictions
The Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement (www.gisha.org) is a 2005-founded Israeli NGO, "whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents" – rights international and Israeli law guarantee. Yet under 43 years of military occupation, Palestinian rights have been systematically compromised, abused, and violated, worst of all in Gaza under siege.
In January 2010, Gisha examined the situation in a report titled, "Restrictions on the transfer of goods to Gaza: Obstruction and Obfuscation," saying that:
"Beginning in September 2007, Israel openly stated that it would restrict the movement of goods into and out of Gaza (not for security), but (to) apply ‘pressure’ or ‘sanctions’ on the Hamas regime."
Earlier, claimed security concerns were cited – from open borders and goods through them, including "dual use" ones with military potential. Hereafter, a limited "humanitarian minimum" would be permitted excluding everything deemed not "essential for the survival of the civilian population."
What followed were exclusions halting exports, normal economic activity, production, agriculture, and availability of commonplace items like shoes, paper, school supplies, and tea called "luxuries." Gisha called it "economic warfare (and) collective punishment designed to weaken the (Gazan) economy as part of its warfare against the Hamas regime."
Because of Western complicity and regional indifference, Israel maintains tight control, squeezing the life out of Gaza, using Hamas as pretext, a government it doesn’t control like Fatah under Abbas.
In a December 2008 paper titled, "Gaza Closure Defined: Collective Punishment," Gisha was blunt in calling Israel’s action:
"Not a siege, not a blockade, not economic sanctions (but an imposed) closure for purposes of collective punishment (illegally in place to harm) the civilian population and civilian institutions by blocking the passage of goods necessary for health, well-being, and economic life." It’s solely a political act for political gain, unrelated to security or military necessity.
Linking it to Hamas’ use of rockets, its right to self defense under international law, is bogus on its face. Claiming foods, medicines, fuel for electricity and other essential to life goods relate to security is outlandish and illegal under international law.
A Gisha May 6 news release said that:
"After 12 months of unsuccessful (Freedom of Information Act) attempts (to) obtain (Israeli) documentation about (its) policy concerning the entry of food and other goods into (Gaza), and after claiming for many months that no such documents exist, Israel has finally admitted that it does indeed possess the information (including) a list of goods whose admission into (Gaza) is permitted." More on this below.
In 2009, one of several Haaretz reports alleged arbitrariness and corruption in Israel’s Gaza policy as well as vagueness about what constitutes "humanitarian," let alone the low quantities let in that fall far below minimally sustainable levels for 1.5 million people. As a result, other humanitarian aid efforts and Gaza’s tunnel economy supplement to compensate, but never enough to relieve dire conditions that worsen, not improve.
Gisha’s Obtained Israeli Documents
They list policies that include:
(1) "The procedure for admitting goods into the Gaza Strip," that regulates how requests for goods transfers are processed and updates allowed products.
(2) "The procedure for monitoring and assessing supply in the Gaza Strip," that regulates the monitoring of the supply of goods permitted, ostensibly to prevent shortages.
(3) "A list of humanitarian products approved for admission into the Gaza Strip."
(4) A document called "Food Needs in Gaza – Red Lines," that reportedly establishes minimal nutritional requirements for subsistence, or as Ehud Olmert advisor Dov Weisglass said in early 2006:
"The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger." In other words, make them suffer enough to reject Hamas or force its officials to accede to Israeli demands and function like Fatah as Tel Aviv’s enforcer – and if fail at both, slowly suffocate and strangle the entire population.
The "Red Lines" document reportedly establishes minimal nutritional requirements at below subsistence levels. Unreleased to the public, it’s believed to contain detailed tables of the number of grams and calories of each permitted food item by age and gender. Israel refused to release it, saying the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t require it because it’s a "draft document" that doesn’t serve as basis for policy. Gisha countered by saying:
"This argument does not provide an answer to the question of how Israel manages to ‘provide effective warning of expected shortages’ of goods in Gaza while continuing to insist that there is no working document that defines (their) minimum required quantities. It is not clear why Israel….chooses to invest so many resources in the attempt to conceal information….How is the disclosure that Israel forbids the entry of sage and ginger, yet allows in cinnamon, related to security needs?"
Israel balks at releasing anything for reasons of national security and its foreign relations (its image), with no further explanation, except that the information in this case was so "confidential" that only a court in closed session should hear it, excluding Gisha attorneys.
Yet what logic excludes cans containing food, but allows Israeli produced tomato paste? Or why large tubs of margarine are embargoed but not individual sticks. Below is a list of allowed and banned items, subject to arbitrary changes and permissible quantities.
Wheat, animal feed, flour, cooking oil, cooking fat, sugar, salt, pasta, dates, garlic, chickpeas, rice, beans, lentils, kidney beans, margarine, some dairy products, powdered milk, frozen meat and fish, frozen vegetables, animal medicines, gas for medical use, empty bags for flour, certain medicines and medical equipment, diapers, toilet paper, detergent, washing liquid, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, cleaning products for tiles and glass, toilet cleaner, yeast, fertilized and unfertilized eggs, some fruit, semolina, polyethylene for greenhouses, some agricultural materials, tea, instant and regular coffee, canned tuna, salami, canned meat, bath and washing-up sponges, cloths to mop floors, baby wipes, some canned goods other than fruit, dried herb mix, black pepper, chicken stock powder, blankets, olives, matches, candles, sticks for brooms, rubbish bins, mops, hand cleansing gel, aniseed, cinnamon, camomile, water dispensers, potatoes, mineral water, tahini, combs, hair brushes, shoes, wood for doorposts and window frames, small amounts of aluminum, and some kitchenware.
Prohibited items include common ones like sage, cardamon, jam, vinegar, chocolate, fruit preserves and dried fruit, seeds and nuts, biscuits and sweets, fresh meat, fabric for clothing, fishing rods, musical instruments, writing implements, notebooks, newspapers, toys, razors, heaters, horses, donkeys, goats, cattle, and chicks.
Any and as many of the above items can be changed arbitrarily by military order without further explanation – Israel’s customary practice to harass, abuse and cause harm enough for Amnesty International (AI) to title its one year after Operation Cast Lead report, "Failing Gaza: No rebuilding, no recovery, and no more excuses," concluding with a "call to action" for Quartet members, the EU, Russia, UN and US, to end the blockade by all available means under international law to assure that Palestinian rights are restored, enforced, and assured.
Nothing has been done so far, AI calling it "a sign of the wider failure to hold all parties to account for (ongoing) violations of international law." In January 2009, former Ireland President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson said:
"Their whole civilisation has been destroyed, I’m not exaggerating….It’s almost unbelievable that the world doesn’t care while this is happening." Its silence makes it complicit.
In June 2009, Jews for Justice for Palestinians accused Israel of "deliberating keep(ing) Gaza on the edge of starvation," based on a Yotam Feldman-Uri Blau Haaretz investigatory report explaining that Israel’s policy isn’t fixed, but continually subject to change at the whim of the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Occupied) Territories (COGAT).
For example, after excluding them, carrots and pumpkins were allowed in. Yet items like cherries, kiwi, green almonds and pomegranates are prohibited and halvah most often. At the time, no official approved or banned items lists were available, COGAT officials saying only that "Any goods that we allow in, or prohibit – you’ll know about….by phone. That’s the way we work."
A former COGAT senior officer said:
"If you go back two years (ago when the blockade began), you see that it was utter foolishness. There was a vague, unclear policy, influenced by the interests of certain groups, by this or that lobby, without any policy that derived from the needs of the population….What happened was that Israeli interest took precedence over the needs of the populace."
They, in turn, use their tunnel economy to compensate for shortfalls, but it’s never enough to meet needs. Since the blockade’s imposition, the Karni terminal has been closed. Earlier, over 600 trucks crossed daily. Now Kerem Shalom crossing handles most goods by conveyor belt for wheat, seeds and animal feed.
Nissim Jan, a former Shin Bet agent, profits most as "head of the crossings department." He built a small empire profiteering from the siege that includes a logistical and shipping services company, as well as real estate deals. He’s also erecting a building in the Barnea area of Ashkelon, apparently partnering with Didi Yamin, the contractor. In addition, he’s closely connected to Nasser Saraj, in charge of Israel – Gaza crossings.
According to one Israeli:
"The services Jan supplies on both sides of the crossing have made him one of the most significant figures at Kerem Shalom."
He says that "Nothing that happens at the crossings escapes my notice."
Defense Ministry sources told Haaretz that they’ve been checking complaints about his activities, including charging a fee for every truck entering Gaza. Jan denies it, yet he profits both ways by charging Palestinians for services rendered. He was fined for one incident involving about 100 tons of cooking gas, reported at the time to be stolen. He claimed he paid the fine to say "Leave me alone."
His operation clarifies an added reason for maintaining the siege – the fact that Israeli businessmen profiteer from the misery of 1.5 million people, and do it on both sides of the border.
– Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.