Gideon Levy on the "inhumane and illegal siege"

July 3, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Gideon Levy

For the past several weeks it has been very hard to get coffee in Gaza. Gas is dirt cheap (NIS 2.40 per liter), and diesel is even cheaper (NIS 1.70); it’s all flowing through the tunnels from Egypt. But there is no coffee. Only after inquiring at a number of grocery stores might you find a bag of coffee, but the grocer will sell you only 250 grams for NIS 18 shekels – an exorbitant price in Gaza. Coffee, as you know, is not a “humanitarian” item; you can live without it. And indeed, Gaza has gone over to tea. Spoil them rotten – that’s Israel’s Gaza policy.

Every few weeks there’s a shortage of another item. Water is in sufficient supply for the time being, but electricity is intermittent. They are repairing the power station but there aren’t any spare parts. You try living in the Gaza heat and poverty without electricity. On Tuesday, for example, the electricity supply to Beit Lahia was cut off for hours. They have begun to clear away the rubble from Operation Cast Lead, but they haven’t started to rebuild, not even a room, except for mud houses, because there is no cement and gravel.

The $2 billion promised with much ceremony at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit about six months ago – of it $900 million from the new America under President Barack Obama – is lying in vaults at the international banks. A senior American diplomat explained a few days ago that his country is not transferring the money “because Israel is objecting,” and an American law prohibits trading with Hamas. He said this in utter seriousness, as if there were no American commitment to transfer the money, and as if the great America were dependent on Israel. However, the burden of Gaza’s suffering is also weighing on Obama’s shoulders: Without its rehabilitation, his great promise is hollow.

The Hamas government has been in existence for two years and the siege on Gaza continues at full strength and cruelty. Washington is busy with the fate of the Migron settlement, Israel is busy with the Dudu Topaz case, and the world has lost interest. When there are no terror attacks, there are no Arabs: When Gaza isn’t shooting, it is abandoned to its fate. That is the message Israel is sending its imprisoned neighbors: Launch Qassams and we’ll take an interest in you, don’t launch Qassams and we won’t take an interest. Only abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is still reminding us of Gaza’s existence: The activists for his release demonstrated again last week. But instead of demonstrating for the release of Palestinian prisoners, they demonstrated for tightening the siege and collective punishment. Only Gilad was born to be free.

The mass experiment on human beings has failed miserably; two years is enough time to determine this. Not one of the siege’s aims have been achieved and the damage is only piling up, perhaps for all eternity. Folly and malevolence, a fairly common combination, have melded into one of Israel’s most fateful mistakes. Even if we leave aside the moral aspect of the inhumane and illegal siege, it is no longer possible to ignore its stupidity as a policy. Shalit has not been released – no siege is going to free him. Hamas has not fallen – the group is only more firmly establishing its regime. And above all, a new reality is developing before our eyes that is worse for Israel than all its predecessors.

The siege has splintered the Palestinian people even more. This is not the first time Israel has split up the Palestinians: Since 1948 it has been systematically separating Palestinians from Palestinians, dividing and ruling. The diaspora abroad, the refugees in the Arab countries, the inhabitants of the territories, the Arabs of East Jerusalem and the Arabs of Israel – sometimes members of a single family – are developing into separate splinter peoples.

Now the next splintering has come along, the most stupid of all: the split between Gaza and the West Bank. While Israel is preventing Gaza from having any connection with the West Bank, it complains that there is no Palestinian partner. While we are strengthening the Hamas regime, thanks to the siege’s hardships and the wrongs of Operation Cast Lead, we are lamenting “the Hamastan in Gaza.” And what would happen if Israel were to lift the siege, enable the reconstruction and bring Gaza and the West Bank closer together? A huge disaster; a chance for moderation.

Leave aside, then, the moral aspect – it doesn’t have any takers in Israel. But what about good sense? What is Israel getting out of the siege, apart from the enjoyment of the other side’s suffering and another stage in its disintegration? Yasser Arafat was too strong, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak and now there is a new ray of hope for all the spoilers: The Palestinians are split and there’s no one to talk to.