AMMAN: Pallet loads of potato chips are hardly an answer to the plight of Palestinians, now in the fourth year of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Likewise, a continued ban on shipments of coriander to the impoverished enclave cannot be seen as a serious plank in Israel’s national security blueprint.Since the blockade began in 2007, world opinion has chosen to ignore its impact on daily life in Gaza. But Israel’s gross over-reaction in killing nine protesters as its forces commandeered a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla two weeks ago has finally focused attention on the cruelty of a blockade justified by Israel as essential to preventing the smuggling of weapons to Hamas.Under a barrage of international criticism, Israel is easing some of the restrictions – but in identifying the products that seemingly no longer constitute a security risk the Netanyahu government has exposed the blockade as an exercise in collective punishment of a civilian population.Along with chips, Israeli authorities have decreed that the likes of jam, halva and razor blades have ceased to be a security risk and will be allowed into Gaza. Coriander and cardamom, and possibly even cookies, might soon be cleared for shipment too.The gesture prompted a withering response from Gisha, an Israeli non-governmental organisation that monitors the detailed management of the blockade. “Gisha is pleased to learn that coriander no longer presents a threat to Israeli security,” its website says.In anticipation of permission for cookies to go to Gaza, however, Gisha lights on the blockade as economic warfare, saying: “It is not enough to permit Gaza residents to purchase Israeli-made cookies. Israel should stop banning raw materials such as industrial margarine and glucose, so that Gaza residents can produce their own cookies and restart the economy that has been paralysed for three years.”The list of prohibited goods still includes building materials – which Israel says will be hijacked by Hamas, a designated terrorist organisation. But it also lists the essentials for two industries by which a people dependent on food donations might work to feed themselves – fishing and market gardening.Gisha says they are still denied fishing rods and nets; nets for greenhouses and tractor spare parts; irrigation pipes and planters for saplings; and heaters for chicken farms.If only in this humanitarian dimension, there is something grotesque about Israel’s insistence on a policy that has demonstrably failed – Hamas survives and is getting stronger in Gaza. And that the world has acquiesced amid so much civilian suffering and privation in Gaza is equally disturbing.The global outcry in the aftermath of the botched Israeli attack on the Free Gaza Flotilla signals a move for change. But just what can be achieved remains to be seen.As with every crisis point in the 62 years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an international consensus that ”something” has to be done to ease Palestinian suffering can bog down in endless negotiation, winning just minimal change as world attention shifts to other issues.Such an outcome was evident in the reported remarks late last week of unnamed Israeli officials who told the Associated Press that the easing of the blockade was more about defusing pressure for an international investigation into the attack on the flotilla than on relieving Palestinian suffering.There was further muddying of the issues with an Israeli claim that the blockade would not be lifted unless Hamas agreed to Red Cross visits to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006 – an issue that is already the subject of Egyptian-mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas.George Mitchell, Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, told reporters in the aftermath of the attack that Washington was working ”aggressively” to make sure that Gazans received adequate supplies.Writing in the International Herald Tribune on Friday, the foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain condemned Israel’s “unbending determination to force compliance with the blockade … [and] a logic that must now be abandoned”. They used the word du jour for describing the blockade – “unsustainable”.Just as there is a new argument in the US that Israel’s national security and settling the country’s conflict with the Palestinians are separate issues of American national security, there is a new global embrace of the separateness of Israel’s strategic need to deny Hamas weapons and the economic and humanitarian needs of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.Moves are afoot to have European Union monitors – instead of Israeli troops – examine the freight depots that serve Gaza. The ministerial trio also proposes that the Gaza port be reopened to cargo ships that would come under international inspection – to intercept smuggled weapons.Whatever the fate of the blockade, there is an expectant sense in the region that the emergence of non-Arab Turkey as a new and powerful champion of the Palestinian people has set the scene for dramatic changes in the management of the crisis.Likening Arab governments to lemons squeezed of their juice, because of their lost credibility for failing to extract concessions for the Palestinians, a former adviser to the late King Hussein of Jordan observed to the Herald: “It’s going to be a hot summer.”He was not discussing the weather.
Nanjing Night Net