A new blockbuster Wikileaks cable published by Afterposten rips the mask off the Israeli strategy regarding its four-year-long siege of Gaza. Until now, Israel has suggested a number of red herring defenses of the siege: that it was meant to topple Hamas; that it was meant to combat arms smuggling, that it was meant to win the release of Gilad Shalit. But now, Wikileaks reveals in this October, 2008 cable that the purpose of the siege is pure and simple to bring the people of Gaza to their knees and sow human misery:
Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.
Of course, what is a humanitarian crisis by Israeli definition and by the standards of any reasonable person are vastly different. Humanitarian aid groups functioning within Gaza have repeatedly noted that there is now and has been for some time such a crisis. But for Israel that phrase seems to mean beggars succumbing to starvation on the streets and babies dying in their cribs of malnutrition. Anything short of this is life as usual.
In a development that may ensure international arrest warrants for those generals responsible for this policy, the cable reveals just how total was Israeli control of every element of the internal Gaza economy. Israel can no longer claim it doesn’t occupy Gaza, when its National Security Council (and not the Bank of Israel) determines how much cash enters the enclave:
…Decisions on shekels in circulation in Gaza and the territory’s economy in general are treated by the GOI as security matters, and therefore are subject to the same high levesl of uncertainty that the GOI uses to keep potential sources of security threat off-balance.
…While the GOI believes that maintaining the shekel as the currency of the Palestinian Territories is in Israel’s interests, it treats decisions regarding the amount of shekels in circulation in Gaza as a security matter. Requests by Palestinian banks to transfer shekels into Gaza are ultimately approved, partially approved, or denied by the National Security Council (NSC), an organ of the Israeli security establishment, not by the Bank of Israel (BOI). As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to econoffs on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge…
The NSC…ultimately has the final say in permitting new liquidity into Gaza. When the PA or a Palestinian commercial bank ask to move shekel bank notes into Gaza, the request is usually submitted to the BOI. The BOI defers to the NSC…
The NSC abides by the principal [sic] that Gaza should receive just enough money for the basic needs of the population but it is not interested in returning the Gazan economy to a state of normal commerce and business. The agency…will not permit any large-scale transfer of assets from Ramallah-based banks to their branches in Gaza for fear of improving the purchasing power of entities wishing to harm Israel.
While I’m not an international human rights lawyer, I believe that this passage alone guarantees a court date in the Hague for Israeli security personnel and military commanders. This is the very definition of collective punishment which is prohibited under the Geneva Convention. Over the years I, and many commenters in the threads here have claimed that Israel effectively occupied Gaza and so was responsible for everything that happened there including all the misery, suffering and degradation. But little did we know how right we were and that Israel exercises such intimate and complete control over the Gaza economy, which in turn determines the level of misery suffered by the average Gazan.
This cable is the equivalent of Emil Fackenheim’s life’s work studying the Nazi train system in order to understand fully the mechanisms that enabled the Holocaust to function. As I wrote above, Wikileaks here has laid bare the very process by which Israel administers starvation and human suffering in Gaza.
The following passage also notes that Israel’s refusal to allow the PA to pay salaries of its Gaza employees drives an ever-deepening wedge between Gaza and the West Bank, which is Israel’s goal but anathema to those seeking a unified Palestinian state:
GOI officials…doubt the effectiveness and authority of the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA) to regulate and police Palestinian, and especially Gazan banks. This double standard in the treatment of Gaza and the West Bank by the GOI is yet another example of how Gaza is becoming increasingly isolated from the West Bank, despite the best efforts of the PA/Fatah to maintain unity.
In other words, Israel’s policy essentially infantilizes Palestine, rendering it incapable of ever being a coherent, unified entity.
No doubt there are those Israeli advocates who will argue that the situation in Gaza has improved with the government’s announcement that it will ease the blockade. But I have seen little proof of any substantial change of policy. In fact, Bibi Netayahu said just today that the siege would continue until there is no more arms smuggling from Egypt. Certainly, there have been a few marginal improvements. Perhaps a few more trucks enter Gaza every day and there may be a few more items for sale in markets. But infrastructure remains wrecked. Construction materials are prohibited, which results in only Hamas-approved projects being built.
No, Israel wants Hamas to continue to control Gaza. It wants that bogeyman with which it can threaten the Israeli people. It wants to use Hamas and the siege as a wedge to prevent final status talks and an overall solution to the conflict. Israel, in short, likes the status quo–which is why all efforts to get Israel off the dime and bring it to the negotiating table are doomed to fail unless much stronger measures are used (and they won’t be).