Friday, January 22, 2010

Israel is Not Responsible for the "Siege" on Gaza.


By Avi Tarengo  


Amnesty International has called on Israel to end “the siege on the Gaza Strip”. The problem with this is that one word, “Egypt”, is missing. According to Amnesty, the Gaza Strip has no opening to the world other than the border with Israel. The timing of the campaign is not coincidental: “The Mubarak Line” which is being established on the Egypt-Gaza Strip border is an excellent opportunity to place responsibilities towards the civilian population of Gaza on Israel’s shoulders.


 Does Israel have any policy regarding the Gaza Strip? Meaningful policy is supposed to take into account Israel's long-term interests, including its perception by the world. Five years ago, Israel vacated its citizens and army and left Gazans a well-developed economical and agricultural infrastructure. Since the disengagement, Israeli “policy” towards the Gaza Strip has been outlined by a series of symbolic and random decisions, most of them contradicting one another. The indecision regarding Israel’s position in the Gaza Strip can be expressed by the lack of an answer to this simple question: Is Israel still the “occupying force” in the Gaza Strip? The lack of a clear policy is what allowed Judge Goldstone to place the responsibility on Israel as the “occupying force” which is supposed to take care of all the needs of the Strip’s residents.


 Unlike Israel, Egypt administrates a clear policy, which slowly but consistently advances Egypt towards achieving its goals. “The Mubarak Line” is not meant to serve Israel’s interests nor is it meant to stop the smuggling of rockets to the Gaza Strip, as Egyptian ambassador Al Hadidi explained so well to the Turks (who complained of the difficulties in transferring aid to the Gaza Strip through Egypt): “Our goal is to prevent the detachment of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. The Gaza Strip must remain under the status of Territory considered occupied by Israel, and the humanitarian aid must come from there - not from Egypt. Recognizing Gaza as an independent entity will damage Palestinian unity and will harm the Palestinians’ cause – remove it from the world’s agenda.”


The Egyptian ambassador is very much aware of what he is saying: When two weeks ago a “supply convoy” by activists making its way to the Gaza Strip was blocked in Egypt, it did not lead to angry articles in the world press. This is in contrast to a nonstop worldwide protest about how Israel is supposedly imposing a “siege”. The world press considers any difference in opinion between Egyptian authorities and Hamas authorities as an internal Arab issue, one of many local conflicts which are not worthy of coverage by the international press - and this is precisely what Egypt is worried about: That the split between Hamas’ regime in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah’s regime in the West Bank will allow Israel to reduce it's assistance to the Gaza Strip which would naturally impose this burden on Gaza southern neighbor – Egypt.


It is surprising that the Egyptians attribute to Israel the ability to administrate a policy. Had they checked, they would have found that the issue of completing the civic disengagement from Gaza has been routinely removed from Israeli government agenda due to constrains placed by economic interests.



Rice Yes, Pasta No


Although Israel is proud of the fact that the scope of aid to the Gaza Strip has increased by a whopping 28% during 2009, the worldwide press and even the American senate are complaining about the decision to allow rice into the Strip but to disallow the transfer of pasta. This way, the worldwide press can write about the “Israeli siege” (which naturally leads to the reversal of this specific decision).


In response to the criticism, Israel is now opening the passageways in order to import strawberries from the Gaza Strip (imports which will add foreign currencies to Hamas’ regime), allows export of flowers from Gaza to Europe and increases the transfer of funds in cash from the EU into Gaza bank accounts. At the same time, individuals with economical interests in Israel continue to profit by transferring apples and fuel to the Gaza market as well as profiteering from monetary transactions with Gaza banks.


Mubarak and Aboul Gheit can stop worrying - Israel's policy consists of an attempt to imagine that we are the Gaza Strip’s “Big Brother”, to “show Hamas” and the entire world that "we are still in control", although this statement has absolutely no bearing in facts or create any meaningful political gain for Israel.


For this purpose, Israel continues to maintain the “customs envelope” which is common to Israel and Gaza, and the Bank of Israel takes care in preventing the collapse of the banks in Hamastan by regular infusion of cash – cash which actually finances the booming tunnel trade.



Hamas - A Member Group of the Muslim Brotherhood


The construction of the Mubarak Line was intended to serve an additional Egyptian interest: In Egypt, Mubarak knows well how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood and keep it under a tight leash (Why doesn't Amnesty focus on the question of how Egypt deals with in-house opposition?). But to deal with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Egypt must apply external control: The Mubarak Line gives Egypt the opportunity to use a carrot and stick approach by modulating the amount of materials smuggled. Whenever Hamas’ policy is not to Egypt’s liking, Egyptian police tightens the screws, conducts operations to seize goods and the Gaza economy is pressured. The pressure is only removed when Hamas understands the message and straightens itself according to Egyptian policy. The smuggling tap is slowly opened. Egypt would never fully close or fully open the smuggling tap: The modulation is a key to effective external control over Hamas and directing it to operate according to Egypt desire.


The Egyptians use similar tactics regarding the opening of the Rafah border: Using an excuse that The PA (so called "President Abu Mazen’s”) forces are the only force allowed to operate border passport control, Egypt has refused to open the border for the past three years (causing some to point the blame at Israel). Of course this creates an impossible situation, so to alleviate the "humanitarian situation" Egypt opens the border for Gazans who are "stranded" at the border. Such openings are done almost every week but are described by Egypt as “one-time only” – to justify the fact that the opening takes place without the presence of the PA forces.


The result is that thousands of Gazans pass through the crossing every month, but only when Egypt coordinates this “abnormally” with Hamas’ Interior Ministry. The crossing opens and closes at Egypt’s will. How does Amnesty call this phenomenon, which repeats itself every week for the past 36 months? “The Israeli Siege on Gaza”.



Avi Tarengo is an Israeli researcher and journalist, and an expert on terror financing.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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