Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Israel easing of Gaza siege a "PR Stunt"

Following widespread condemnation and outrage worldwide in the wake of their slaughter of humanitarian aid workers on the Gaza aid flotilla, Israel has said they will “ease” their almost four year old siege of Gaza.

This move by Israel was agreed between their Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his role as envoy for the quartet of mideast so-called “peacemakers” which comprises the European Union (EU), the US, Russia and the United Nations (UN).

Blair has hailed it as a “sensible policy" despite the fact that Israel will continue with what will remain an inhumane and completely illegal siege, and will continue to decide who or what gets in or out of Gaza. Himself a serial violator of International law during his tenure as British Prime Minster and responsible for countless war crimes committed by British troops during their occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, Blair went on to effectively back Israel's continued naval blockade by stating that “there is no need to bring things directly into the seaport in Gaza."

The shameful acquiesance and support shown by Blair and the quartet should come as no surprise. Despite the pretence of being “neutral mediators”, the quartet has colluded with Israel in maintaining their barbaric siege and in the continued repression of the Palestinian people in general.

They have consistently refused to take any action against Israel in spite of their countless human rights abuses and war crimes. This includes their murderous month long assault on Gaza last year that resulted in the slaughter of more than 1400 Palestinians, amongst them hundreds of children, or their murder of those aboard the Mavi Marmara at the start of this month.

Their continued theft of Palestinian lands and resources by Israel, their construction of their apartheid wall and ongoing building of illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank has been met with no sanction whatsoever by the quartet.

While they refuse to recognise or directly talk with the democratically elected representatives of Gaza, they have no hesitation in meeting and trading with Israel despite their atrocities and contempt for international law. While Blair and the quartet have consistently raised the issue of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier currently held by Hamas, they have refused to raise the issue of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including children and elected representatives, held in appalling conditions in Israeli jails.

Israel's siege continues to impose real hardship and poverty on the civilian population of Gaza. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than 10% of children are suffering from chronic malnutrition. Referring to the psychological effect the siege was having on children, the UN's John Ging expressed grave concern over mental health statistics which he said showed that “most of the children living in Gaza are traumatised”.

The entire infrastructure and economy has been obliterated by Israel. Their bombing of Gaza has seen them destroy factories, shops, houses, schools, universities, hospitals and homes. The enforcement of the blockade has ensured that these remain unbuilt or unrepaired as the necessary materials are prevented by Israel from getting into Gaza. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) “the quality of Gaza's health care system has reached an all-time low”.

There is virtually no commercial activity within Gaza as a result of Israel's deliberate policies. The naval blockade and the occupation by Israeli troops, of the so-called “buffer zone”, in which two thirds of Gaza's farmland is situated, has all but destroyed the fishing and agricultural industries within the strip.

There is close on 50% unemployment with up on 80% of the population living in poverty. According to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, 95 per cent of Gaza's factories have closed, 93 per cent of Gaza's water is polluted and 98 per cent of residents suffer from blackouts .

However, not everyone has swallowed Blair's line in relation to Israel's latest move as the UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) have made clear that only a complete ending of the siege will satisy them.

UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness said the situation on the ground was “grim”. He said it was “a humanitarian catastrophe in every sphere of life. So we need to get this illegal blockade lifted".

"With international law” he added “you're either violating or you're not. And this blockade is a violation. So if Israel wants to stop being in violation of international law it has to end the blockade, not ease it."

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa, also slammed Israel's move. According to Smart, "this announcement makes it clear that Israel is not intending to end its collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population, but only ease it. This is not enough ... Israel must now comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade.”

Writing in the Irish Times on Monday (June 21) Trócaire Director Justin Kilcullen said that Israel’s move to 'ease'' wont improve peoples lives. “The port will still be closed. The airport will still be closed, and now it seems Palestinians will only be allowed to leave by land through the border crossing at Rafah with Egypt. This collective punishment of civilians is in violation of people’s human rights and of international law.”

Sligo éirígí activist Gerry Casey also dismissed Israel's claims of “easing” their siege of Gaza as nothing more than a Public Relations (PR) stunt.

Echoing those calls for a complete and immediate end to the blockade Casey said:

“The Palestinian people as a whole continue to be denied their freedom and the right to a sovereign and independent Palestinian state. In particular the people of Gaza are suffering unimaginable hardship and horror as Israel continue to impose their inhumane and illegal blockade. The 1.4 million residents of Gaza, which includes in the region of 750,000 children, are victims of collective punishment by Israel.”

He added: “Israel's claims of an “easing” of the blockade is merely a PR exercise designed to deflect attention away from their war crimes, their massacre of humanitarian aid activists on the Gaza aid flotilla and their continuing siege of Gaza in defiance of international law.”

Casey concluded: “Israel has no right to decide who or what gets in or out of Gaza. The blockade must be ended completely and immediately and those responsible for implementing this illegal and barbaric siege must be swiftly brought to justice.”

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