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Blockade-busters to return until siege ends
By Michael Jansen June 20, 2010
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While international civil society, certain governments, and some influential world figures are calling for the "lifting" of Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza, Israel and its acolytes are speaking only of an "easing" of the economic blockade. This past week the Israeli cabinet announced that all food imports and some construction material would be allowed into Gaza. But Israel and its associates say nothing about an end to the siege or a total halt to the blockade.

Among these acolytes are Quartet envoy Tony Blair, a slippery politician who should have never been offered this job, and spokesmen of the Israel lobby-ridden Obama administration.

Blair has is putting forward a plan calling for Israel to adapt its blockade strategy by making a list of goods prohibited for security reasons rather than of permitted goods, to allow in construction materials for UN projects, and to consider the deployment of EU and Palestinian Authority (PA) monitors at the crossing between Egypt and Gaza (and perhaps at the goods crossings between Israel and Gaza). According to Blair, who has consulted Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the "plan" would vastly increase the amount of goods permitted into Gaza. But the "Blair plan" is a snare and delusion designed to end the clamour for an end to the siege and blockade.

If the "Blair plan," is adopted Israel would continue its naval blockade, Gaza’s private sector would remain unable to freely import goods for sale and materials for manufacturing, and Gaza would be unable to export its agricultural produce and manufactured goods.  Consequently, the status quo would be marginally altered but not completely changed.

If Gaza and its 1.5 million citizens are to recover from Israel’s 43-year old policy of de-development and cultivating dependence either on Israel or the international donor community, there must be free flows of goods and people both ways across the Strip’s borders.

Israeli commentator, Amira Haas, argues convincingly that Israel's ultimate aim is to break the connection between Hamas-ruled Gaza – regarded by Israel as "enemy territory" – and the West Bank where compliant Fatah administers pockets of Israeli-controlled Palestinian populated territory.

Eventually, Israel would like to see Egypt take control of Gaza, oust the de facto Hamas government, and assume responsibility for the overcrowded Strip. Cairo, however, considers such an eventuality a nightmare scenario and refuses to follow the Israeli script. Consequently, Gaza remains a land in limbo and its inhabitants are compelled to live under primitive and harsh conditions. Unlike Tony Blair, Robert Serry, a trustworthy UN official, insists that the blockade must end. "The flotilla crisis is the latest symptom of a failed policy," he argues. This crisis can be turned into an opportunity to deal with "the closure policy or the blockade of Gaza." He says, "The basic principle that should guide the policy on Gaza is clear. Everything should be allowed into Gaza, unless there is a specific and legitimate security reason" for exclusion.

Serry heads the UN Office of Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and knows the situation in the Strip very well. He is not a politician but a director of a global humanitarian aid effort. He understands that the situation in Gaza will not improve and that the Strip will not have "an economy" if the siege and blockade continue in any form.

Gaza’s private sector, 95 per cent dormant, needs to be revived. Its farmers must be allowed to grow their crops on all the Strip’s available land, including the 30 per cent along the border with Israel which Israel has declared a "buffer zone" and uses force to deny farmers access.  Gaza’s fishermen must be allowed to put to sea in their small boats and sail out to the 20 nautical mile limit to net good catches.

Gaza’s doctors must be allowed to go and come so as to keep up with advances in medical science and to import essential medical equipment. Gazans with ailments must be allowed to go abroad for treatment. Gaza’s students must be permitted to leave the Strip to study for high level degrees. The goods Gaza is permitted to import must be up to a decent standard – unlike most of the goods currently being smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt. Above all, Gaza must have a reliable supply of electricity.

Current is currently cut six-to-seven hours in twenty-four. If the "Blair plan" is imposed and the blockade remains in force, blockade busting ships will continue their voyages undeterred by nine activist fatalities on a Turkish ship in the six-vessel convoy on May 31st. Two ships are scheduled to set out from Lebanon for Gaza next week and a flotilla of at least half a dozen boats is set to sail during the second half of next month, dispatched by the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza.

Claiming that it cannot distinguish between violent and peaceful activists, the Israeli navy can be expected to use force to prevent the ships from reaching Gaza – with unpredictable results. While Blair may be able to fool uninformed public opinion he cannot confound civil society activists, inspired by the five successful voyages to Gaza made by the Free Gaza movement in 2008. The blockade-busters are certain to return to the challenge, again and again, until the siege and blockade of Gaza are brought to an end.

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