IDF’s Gaza Siege Provides Hamas Showcase
Yesterday, I interviewed the director of the Israeli NGO, Gisha, Sari Bashi, about conditions in Gaza. Bashi, a graduate of Yale University and Law School and an international human rights lawyer, clerked for an Israeli Supreme Court justice. To top it all off, she’d just completed an ultra-marathon. I imagined her running up and down Masada and mountains throughout the Judean Desert under a sweltering sun. A thoroughly sober, intense and impressive figure.
Gisha is the group which has valiantly fought an 18 month legal battle against the IDF to expose its guidelines for enforcing the siege against the enclave’s 1.5-million civilians. The army memo I published last week which offered “mathematical” formulas to determine how little flour a Gazan needs to survive came thanks to Gisha (and my trusty translator, Ed. Mad X).
Gisha’s director told me that while the siege has eased “somewhat” in terms of it being somewhat easier to obtain essential items like food, there is no change regarding the prohibition on importing reconstruction materials. Less than 1% of the amount requested by donor countries willing to assist rebuilding efforts has been admitted. Bashi tells me the only building sites in Gaza that are actually building anything are ones affiliated with Hamas or the many Islamic charities supporting it. In front of the building sites of UNWRA, for example, you see an empty hole and a sign promising a building.
Of course, Hamas is able to import all the materials it needs (including ones to make weapons) through the elaborate tunnel system. It builds mosques, schools, hospitals, etc. No one else. The parties harmed by the siege are the international aid organizations like UNWRA and ones affiliated with the European Union, which cannot build anything. Their building materials are banned and so their projects are aborted.
Another damaging ban that continues even post-Mavi Marmara is that Palestinians may not import any raw materials or goods that can be turned into products for export. That means the Gaza economy will remain a basket case. That trained workers will be laid off and forced to seek employment with the Hamas government, which is the only entity paying regular salaries.
As I thought about this, I realized that Israel has actually allowed Hamas to turn Gaza into its showcase, just as southern Lebanon post-2006 war has become Hezbollah and Iran’s showcase. If there was anyone in the IDF or Israeli government capable of doing strategic, rather than tactical thinking, they’d realize it is in the interest of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to create an alternative to Hamas in Gaza. There should be competing spheres of influence in Gaza in order to present alternatives to the population. When you allow Hamas to maintain a monopoly as Israel has done, you turn the place into a bastion for Islamic resistance.
But then I realized that’s precisely what Israel means to do. It NEEDS Gaza as a showcase for the “bad Arabs” which it can show the world anytime the heat is on it demanding that it compromise on some issue it prefers to stymie instead. Gaza under the flag of Hamas is a tremendously useful propaganda vehicle for Israel. Almost like a safety valve.
If Israel did allow other international aid agencies to function fully and freely inside Gaza, then that image of unalloyed evil Israel is trying to project would be dissipated.
Since Hamas began in the 1980s, it has enjoyed a strange symbiotic relationship with Israel. In the beginning, the latter saw Hamas as a viable competitor to Fatah and so did little to discourage its growth. Now, Hamas continues to serve a useful role in Israel’s maintenance of the Occupation and status quo. Yes, in a strange and perverse way the two are good for each other.
Bashi recounted for me some of the legal permutations of Gisha’s struggle with the IDF to release these formerly secret documents. When the group took the IDF to court to get the documents, the latter first denied they existed. Gisha’s response was: “OK, if they don’t exist would you file a sworn affidavit to that effect?” Amos Gilad, the Israeli official responsible for implementing the siege, at that point decided not to perjure himself and conceded the files existed, but were only in draft form. Gisha reminded him that the Freedom of Information Act request covered ANY documents whether in draft or final form. That’s how they got the memo that was released last week–18 months late!
Bashi also reminded me that the army has only released those documents which portray the way the siege was conducted BEFORE the Mavi Marmara massacre. After, siege conditions were eased slightly. But the IDF maintains it does not have to release the new post-Marmara guidelines.
The legal thinking behind their refusal is straight out of Kafka’s Trial. When Gisha first filed its FoIA petition it requested all documents governing the ways in which the siege was enforced. The IDF is claiming that the petition the group filed 18 months ago applies only to guidelines that were in effect 18 months ago. In other words, the new guidelines imposed since Mavi Marmara should be subject to a NEW FoIA request. Which would mean that the IDF could stretch out its appeal against compliance possibly for another 18 months. This matter is now under consideration by an Israeli judge. Hopefully, we should know soon whether the IDF will follow the law or be allowed to creatively interpret it to suit its purposes.
Not surprisingly, the IDF also refused to release a separate “red-lines” document which lays out the minimum amount of calories that a Gazan can consume and remain functioning.
To support Gisha’s important work guaranteeing Palestinians the right to travel, work, trade, and live freely in Gaza and throughout the Conquered Territories, visit its site.
27 thoughts on “IDF’s Gaza Siege Provides Hamas Showcase – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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This unspoken policy was made eminently clear to my family after 1995, when my Gazan-born husband and I returned to Palestine to live and help build the nation.
A trained environmental engineer with critical development skills and a PhD, my husband had lived in the West and eagerly participated in Western democracy. Men like my husband should have had the red carpet rolled out for them. Instead, he was continually denied permission to live in Ramallah or anywhere in the WB. I was continually denied a work permit. We were forced to live like criminals, and gave up, returning to the US after 2 years with our children.
I have known since 1995 that Israel has no interest whatsoever in a peaceful, democratic, developing Palestinian neighbor.
We plan to return to Gaza in December for the first time since 1997. I can’t wait to see for myself the situation there.
Palestinians are less than feudal subjects in the eyes of Israelis.
Great kudos to NGO, Gisha, and superwoman and fellow attorney, Sari Bashi, of whom I now know and will do whatever I can to support! This was a great analysis, Richard. I, too, thought immediately of the shadowy nature of Hamas’ upstart. Israel can be confusing at times. It seems as though all of their policies are transparent, but they do them anyway. For instance, we all know there is a red paper about calorie restrictions. We all know there is a nuclear arsenal. We all know there are 1.5 million people suffering horribly. It’s all out in the air. But, then, in a moment only narratable by Rod Sterling, pro-IPAC and Israeli politicians and supporters will simultaneously ask, while peering at your from under the belly of the pachyderm, “What big elephant in the room?” *pretends to shoot himself*
I, too, send kudos to Gisha and her NGO.
If I recall, and have been given to understand, Hamas was actually created by Israel and the CIA as a counter force to Arafat and his Fatah. What Israel now suffers from this gambit is what is called “blowback.”!
No, not “created.” That’s an overstatement. You’re thinking of the Village Leagues, which were a figment of the IDF’s imagination. Hamas was a genuine grass roots movement. It just so happens though that Israel piggybacked onto it & attempted to use it to divide & conquer Palestinians by weakening Arafat. Of course, this helped bolster the insurgent group in its formative stages. No doubt Hamas would still be a presence in Palestinian life & politics no matter what Israel had done. But undoubtedly Israel has done much over the yrs. to strengthen Hamas, just as Palestinian militants have done much over the yrs to strengthen rejectionists among Israelis.
Hamas was not created by Israel. Hamas began as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and was not militant in the least at first. The goal of the organization was to encourage religion and provide badly needed social services, which it did quite effectively. Israel, particularly under Yitzhak Shamir, nurtured Hamas strongly as a rival to Fatah.
Hamas should recognize previously signed international agreements and Israel’s right to exist.
To say that Israel supports Hamas as a straw figure is like saying that rape victims support organizations support rapists as a justification for their existence.
We could live very well without those Muslim extremists bombing our civilian population. And we could use the cheap Palestinian labor force if it was not so prone to terrorist attacks and back stabbing.
“Hamas should recognize . . . Israel’s right to exist”
Yeah, and the other way around, too. Israel should recognize Palestine’s right to exist. It’s ALL about you, isn’t it ??
“And we could use the cheap Palestinian labor force . . ”
There’s nothing like a good old colonial enterprise !
Israel has signed agreements with the Palestinians which the Hamas one-sidedly nulled and voided.
And of course we could also use Palestinian engineers (but not the bomb making ones :), lawyers, doctors etc. And, I assume had they been allowed to provided services to the Israeli population, their prices would not stay low for too long – basic economics.
I like the way you quickly walked your comment back. Why? Because you realized it robs you of all credibility; definitely not because you recognize the apartheid injustice of it? We all know that Israel exploits Palestinians in many ways, so don’t try to pretend you didn’t mean to say “And we could use the cheap Palestinian labor force”, when all you do is spew hasbara talking points.
No, actually Hamas has said it would be willing to have the PLO negotiate such agreements on behalf of the Palestinian people if there is a referendum to ratify them afterward. Again, nice try but you’ve botched things once again.
I think you meant to say “exploit” them.
No, Israel blockades 1.5 million Gaza civilians against international law in such a way that it will face international justice for this criminality. You will be judged for this. Of that you can be sure.
“Israel has signed agreements with the Palestinians . . . ”
Could you give me ONE serious official Israeli source recognizing the existence of a Palestinian state, and most importantly: with well defined borders.
Luckily, you have Hamas, Ahmediejad etc etc, or you would have to invent them.
What were the excuses of not making peace with the Palestinians BEFORE Hamas came into power ??
I’ve heard that one of the main obstacles at Camp David (you know, the “generous offer”-negotiations) was the color of Saeb Erekat’s tie !
I don’t think Ahmedinejad reads Tikun Olam but I should still spell his name correctly. Not that I admire him that much.
“To say that Israel supports Hamas as a straw figure is like saying that rape victims support organizations support rapists as a justification for their existence.”
You have made an appeal to the emotions as if Israel was an individual human being — in this case, the implication is likely that Israel is a woman, who is being raped — by the Palestinians it is brutally occupying. Notwithstanding that you obviously ignore Israel’s vehement need to keep UN Human Rights inspectors out of the territories, and that you conceded that you are really seeking to make these indigenous peoples a secondary labor class instead of your equals, let us measure your integrity and credibility before us by the absurdity of this analogy.
A basic course in world history will teach you that powers that seek to grab land will always find some crazy justification for them and always speak of inevitable wars or wars that are manifest in their destiny. How often does the Israeli intelligence chief or the IDF’s Gen. Ashkenazi come out and speak of the “next, inevitable” war. The inevitably of war is an indication that Israel wishes to make unjust moves in this world that REQUIRE violence. What about an inevitable peace?
The man who was in jail for all those years in South Africa – he spoke only of inevitable peace. Look at where that country is now. Your narrative will lose to the one that preaches a golden era of Pax Y’Israel. Tikun Olam! Most of the world wants their children to be able to coexist in peace and not fight the wars of their fathers. Wish more for your children, Avi.
Has yr brain stopped working? Yr analogy only holds if rape support organizations want the issue of rape to continue & flourish for their own aggrandizement, which is both ludicrous & offensive, as is yr analogy. But nice try.
I’m sure you could & also sure you don’t realize the subtext of yr statement. But alas you don’t get to choose yr enemies (though I guess you do in a sense through the policies you adopt which create them) though they get to choose you. If there were no Hamas Israel would face much stronger pressure to negotiate its way out of the conflict. Much higher.
Is there any difference between Israel and North Korea?
They both starve people for the sake of power
Your logic is faulty. At best you have shown a similarity, not a lack of difference.
And Israel does not starve people for the sake of power. Israel blockades an active enemy who does not recognize its right to exist.
Ahem, exist in what borders precisely?
“Israel blockades an active enemy who does not recognize its right to exist.”
What a laughable statement! So the entire population of Gaza is Israel’s active enemy and deserves to be punished? It’s even more ludicrous when you consider that children make up half of Gaza’s population.
And who’s really not recognizing whose right to exist? Seems to me Israel is expanding rapidly while territory designated for Palestinians is shrinking incredibly. Palestinians are being driven from their homes and forced into a life of misery and poverty while Israelis are flourishing in prosperity. The facts speak for themselves: Israelis are the ones who are not recognizing the rights of Palestinians and especially their right to exist on land legally designated for them.
What is more laughable is that he seems to be the only one on the face of the earth that doesn’t understand why the Palestinians refuse to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.” I wonder whether the American Indians, if they had been asked the same question of the US 150 years ago, would have answered any differently.
I have had Gazans tell me exactly what Richard is saying in this piece – and I’d pretty much gotten the picture myself as well. Hamas serves a purpose for the Israelis – they justify the siege, justify continuing the occupation, and keep the Palestinians in a perpetual state of disunity allowing for the continued rape and pillage of their land. Hamas, in fact, is the reason for everything. Laughably, both Netanyahu and his goons even maintained that Hamas was somehow involved in the Mavi Marmara incident. Hamas is the scapegoat, the handy excuse for the random shootings, bombings and house demolitions in Gaza and the West Bank. To get away with murder, the Israelis claim the victim was a member of Hamas. Hamas was blamed for Operation Cast Lead although it kept the terms of the cease fire and Israel subsequently violated them.
Even the smuggling tunnels are allowed by Israel to continue to exist – because doing otherwise would put Hamas out of business, and without Hamas, who would Israel blame for everything?
While I’m no expert on this issue, I believe that most native Americans in the 19th century had no problem recognizing that the U.S. government existed. They DID have a problem w. that gov’t going back on its word & fraudulently abrogating most treaties that it negotiated w. them. Which proves that you need the power of deterrence/resistance in some form if you are negotiating with a stronger adversary in order to force them to honor their commitments.
They didn’t “recognize” it in the same way the israelis insist Hamas does, which entails acquiescence to having their land stolen forever by an entity without borders, and giving up their right of return under international law (which the Indians didn’t have at the time).
You recognize that Israel starves people, but then try to justify it as a means to combat an “active enemy”. Using your logic, Iran has not only a justification, but a national imperative, to strike Israeli military targets AND to systematically starve the Israeli population to make them understand Iran’s LEGAL right to peaceful uranium enrichment. Do you agree with this?
Now, recognizing that you are starving people, do you feel no moral burden? Are you okay with a Palestinian infant, before the age of walking, dying due to a political occupation because Israel’s active enemy is Hamas, a group they helped upstart?
Well, yes there is a diff. though I’m not defending or minimizing Israel’s policies. N. Korea starves its own citizens, Israel only starves its neigbors.
This is all very well but is it taking us anywhere?
Israelis bad; Palestinians good? OK, maybe that could really be the case. Or is it Palestinians bad and Israelis good? Well, whatever; best of luck trying to find out about that one. But, even if such a determination could be made and then universally accepted, it’s hardly likely to improve the situation, certainly not in the short term.
It’s my belief that all these accusations and this everlasting blame game will never amount to anything of worth. They’re like the trees preventing us from seeing the wood; only thing they seem to do is keep getting in the way. In the end, it’s the land, stupid; that’s the only currency with any lasting value in this matter. Sort that out and it’s problem solved. Keep drifting off that target and nothing will ever be accomplished.
This conflict may bring out the worst in people; it may also bring out the best. But, either way, it still looks set to rumble on remorselessly unless some quite massive spokes are inserted into all of its many wheels.
Well, stranger things have happened. It seems the news today, after millennia of searching, is that mankind may have, at last, found a cure for the common cold.
Yet how much more pressing is the need to find a cure for the common war.
How about occupiers bad, occupied, if not good, at least well within their rights to resist. Fake equivalence, lots of blame to go around gibberish, upholds the status quo. Israel will not be content until they have driven Palestinian resistance into the arms of Al Qaeda, which they already conflate with Palestinian resistance and which the average idiot believes.
So, that would be the Israelis bad; Palestinians, not so bad?
Well, maybe the Israelis are very bad people and they deserve all that’s coming to them. Not, I suspect, the most congenial of outcomes after sixty plus years of conflict. But, then these things never do quite seem to pan out in a good way.
And what does that say about everyone else, those of us not so immediately caught up in this battle for dominance, for lebensraum, for survival?
Some of us here may try to figure out all the competing agendas. If we succeed, we can elect to come down on one side or the other. Does it matter if we are right in our choice? How right can we ever hope to be? 100%? 50%? 25%? There is no convenient calculator to determine the matter so exactly. We must hope we are doing the best we can and are not making matters any worse than they already are.
The situation, as I see it, is not unlike that of those miners in Chile. Trapped far below the ground, they had no means of extricating themselves other than relying on the efforts of those above.
The Israelis and the Palestinians appear to be still at the bottom of a very deep hole. And that hole is becoming deeper day by day. One thing I know for sure; it’s now going to take one hell of a big spade to dig them out.
I guess the only real question to ask ourselves is this.
Do we keep on talking and talking about the situation?
Or do we start shovelling?
If talk is cheap, then let’s try something that is universally regarded as a lot more expensive.