Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The real meaning of 'easing' the blockade of Gaza

Strawberries in Gaza. Thye Israeli military agreed to a limited amount of strawberries and flowers, cultivated with the help of Holland, to be exported to Europe. Israels supporters were delighted by this show of Israeli leniency.

Whoever interpreted the news that Israel let through a limited amount of strawberries and flowers for exportation to the European market  as a sign of lifting the pressure and improving the situation in Gaza, should read the recent bitter article that Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International in the UK, contributed to the Middle East Channel of Foreign Policy.

Referring to the fact that the Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, constantly keeps repeating how much the blockade of Gaza has been ''eased'' since the summer, she writes:
As a recent report from 26 humanitarian and human rights organizations shows, six months of a less-oppressive blockade regime has made only a minimal difference to the lives of Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants. Here are a few headline findings:
  • Imports into Gaza are still at 35 percent of pre-blockade levels
  • Israel has granted approval in 7 percent of projects submitted by the UN's Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) for constructing clinics and schools (though only a fraction of the number green-lighted has actually had materials sent through)
  • There is still no free movement of people in and out of Gaza (movement levels are 1 percent of those in the year 2000, for example)
  • In the past six months there have been almost no exports allowed out of Gaza (true, a Europe-bound consignment of strawberries and flowers was allowed out in late November, but this is a mere fraction of what is needed)
Or, to cite another telling figure: the U.N. has estimated that Gaza needs 670,000 truckloads of construction materials to rebuild its shattered roads and buildings; in the past half year Israel's "easing" has allowed in a grand total of 4,290. At this rate it will take another 78 years to get those materials in (fresh destruction from any future Israeli military assaults on Gaza would, of course, set even this hopelessly postponed date back still further).
Not surprisingly the figures tell the story far more accurately than the rhetorical device of referring to an "easing." If we're going to employ these concepts realistically, we'd actually be better talking about a noose that‘s been loosened very slightly, but better still would be to avoid misleading use of politicized metaphors and have recourse to the figures themselves.
That said, even when the data is cited by commentators there seems to be evidence of Israel's things-are-getting-better message subverting the truth.
So on the very day that NGOs were publishing their latest bleak (but factually-based) assessment of the continuing harm and deprivation caused by the blockade, Tony Blair's Quartet office was accentuating the positive with a highly selective run-through of import-export data).(....)
Israel's own response to detailed criticism has had a predictable quality: the selective provision of figures that ignore the pre-blockade situation to focus on the good news supposedly heralded by the "easing" story. Plus, when the blockade has been condemned, there's been the standard-issue criticism of NGO bias.

Allen points out that - at last - the EU's Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton has voiced critiscism of the 'unsatisfactory' nature of what the easing measures have achieved, and that it is high time that the internationale community takes action vis a vis the infringement of international and humanitarian laws that the blockade in fact is. Her article is worth reading in full.  .

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