Let Them Eat Coriander!

Blockade "Eased" as Gaza Starves More Slowly

As Israel this week declared the “easing” of the four-year blockade of Gaza, an official explained the new guiding principle: “Civilian goods for civilian people.” The severe and apparently arbitrary restrictions on foodstuffs entering the enclave – coriander bad, cinnamon good – will finally end, we are told. Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants will have all the coriander they want.  

This “adjustment”, as the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed it, is aimed solely at damage limitation. With Israel responsible for killing nine civilians aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla three weeks ago, the world has finally begun to wonder what purpose the siege serves. Did those nine really need to die to stop coriander, chocolate and children’s toys from reaching Gaza? And, as Israel awaits other flotillas, will more need to be executed to enforce the policy?

Faced with this unwelcome scrutiny, Israel – as well as the United States and the European states that have been complicit in the siege – desperately wants to deflect attention away from demands for the blockade to be lifted entirely. Instead it prefers to argue that the more liberal blockade for Gaza will distinguish effectively between a necessary “security” measures and an unfair “civilian” blockade. Israel has cast itself as the surgeon who, faced with Siamese twins, is mastering the miraculous operation needed to decouple them.

The result, Mr Netanyahu told his cabinet, would be a “tightening of the security blockade because we have taken away Hamas’ ability to blame Israel for harming the civilian population”. Listen to Israeli officials and it sounds as if thousands of “civilian” items are ready to pour into Gaza. No Qassam rockets for Hamas but soon, if we are to believe them, Gaza’s shops will be as well-stocked as your average Wal-Mart.  

Be sure, it won’t happen.  

Even if many items are no longer banned, they still have to find their way into the enclave. Israel controls the crossing points and determines how many trucks are allowed in daily. Currently, only a quarter of the number once permitted are able to deliver their cargo, and that is unlikely to change to any significant degree. Moreover, as part of the “security” blockade, the ban is expected to remain on items such as cement and steel desperately needed to build and repair the thousands of homes devastated by Israel’s attack 18 months ago.  

In any case, until Gaza’s borders, port and airspace are its own, its factories are rebuilt, and exports are again possible, the hobbled economy has no hope of recovering. For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in Gaza, mired in poverty, the new list of permissible items – including coriander – will remain nothing more than an aspiration.  

But more importantly for Israel, by concentrating our attention on the supposed ending of the “civilian” blockade, Israel hopes we will forget to ask a more pertinent question: what is the purpose of this refashioned “security” blockade?   Over the years Israelis have variously been told that the blockade was imposed to isolate Gaza’s “terrorist” rulers, Hamas; to serve as leverage to stop rocket attacks on nearby Israeli communities; to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza; and to force the return of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit.  

None of the reasons stands up to minimal scrutiny. Hamas is more powerful than ever; the rocket attacks all but ceased long ago; arms smugglers use the plentiful tunnels under the Egyptian border, not Erez or Karni crossings; and Sgt Shalit would already be home had Israel seriously wanted to trade him for an end to the siege.  

The real goal of the blockade was set out in blunt fashion at its inception, in early 2006, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian elections. Dov Weisglass, the government’s chief adviser at the time, said it would put Palestinians in Gaza “on a diet, but not make them die of hunger”. Aid agencies can testify to the rampant malnutrition that followed. The ultimate aim, Mr Weisglass admitted, was to punish ordinary Gazans in the hope that they would overthrow Hamas.  

Is Mr Weisglass a relic of the pre-Netanyahu era, his blockade-as-diet long ago superseded? Not a bit. Only last month, during a court case against the siege, Mr Netanyahu’s government justified the policy not as a security measure but as “economic warfare” against Gaza. One document even set out the minimum calories – or “red lines”, as they were also referred to – needed by Gazans according to their age and sex.  

In truth, Israel’s “security” blockade is, in both its old and new incarnations, every bit a “civilian” blockade. It was designed and continues to be “collective punishment” of the people of Gaza for electing the wrong rulers. Helpfully, international law defines the status of Israel’s policy: it is a crime against humanity.  

Easing the siege so that Gaza starves more slowly may be better than nothing. But breaking 1.5 million Palestinians out of the prison Israel has built for them is the real duty of the international community.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. mary said on June 25th, 2010 at 10:34am #

    So much of any easing of the cruel restrictions on the lives of the Palestinians in Gaza.

    Two items on the Australians for Palestine site.

    BREAKING NEWS: Israeli air force strikes Gaza, resident wounded June 26, 2010
    IMEMC – 25 June 2010

    The Israeli Air Force carried out, on Friday at dawn, four air strikes targeting areas in the northern and southern parts of the Gaza Strip; one resident was wounded.

    Local sources reported that the Israeli Air Force fired several missiles at empty lands east of Jabalia and Beit Lahia, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip; damage was reported, no injuries.

    The army also shelled an area south of the Gaza International Air Port in Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, inflicting one injury.

    Furthermore, the army bombarded an area in al-Salaam neighborhood in Rafah.

    The Israeli army stated that the shelling targeted tunnels, weapon storage facilities, and that the attacks came in retaliation to homemade shells fired at settlements and military basis across the Gaza border.

    UPDATE: 2 Palestinians working in the tunnels were found dead after the bombings.
    _________________________________________________________2.Ma’an News Agency – 25 June 2010

    Seven oxygen machines donated to the Palestinian Authority by a Norwegian development agency were seized by Israeli officials en route to hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza, the Ramallah-based health ministry said.

    The machines, the ministry said in a Thursday statement, were confiscated by Israeli officials who claimed that the generators attached “came under the category of possible use for non-medical purposes” if they were delivered to the southern Gaza governorates.

    While only one generator was bound for southern Gaza, all seven were taken, the statement said, and “all were badly needed for medical treatment.”

    The six others were bound for government hospitals in the northern Gaza, inducing the European Hospital in Gaza City, the Rafdieyah hospital in Nablus, and other facilities in Ramallah and Hebron.

    The Ministry of Health made an official appeal to the Norwegian Development Agency, which had supplied the machines, asking that they intervene and demand the release of the equipment at the soonest possible date.

    “Any delay in obtaining the medical equipment will negatively affect the health of patients,” the statement concluded, holding all partners responsible for the well being of Palestinians as the goods are withheld.

  2. Ismail Zayid said on June 25th, 2010 at 11:06am #

    It is not only coriander that the Palestinians in Gaza can now enjoy! Israel’s generosity extends to allowing them to have pasta, biscuits and hummus!!! Isn’t that the height of generosity?!!!
    The irony is that most Western leaders, including Tony Blair, are expressing satisfaction and praise for this limited easing of sanctions.

    It is time that the international community stands firm and demand complete termination of this Israeli blockade on Gaza and the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.

  3. Rehmat said on June 25th, 2010 at 6:48pm #

    How about pistachio from Iran and Buqlawa from Lebanon?


  4. John Andrews said on June 26th, 2010 at 12:19am #

    Exellent as always Jonathan.

    Blair, in his farcical capacity as ‘Middle East Peace Envoy’ was doing all he could to get his orange features all over British TV screens this week as though he personally was responsible for this great humanitarian gesture.

    But the game is up. More and more people are slowly seeing the truth: Gaza is a concentration camp, and just about every western government is complicit in keeping it that way.

  5. mary said on June 27th, 2010 at 2:58am #

    The power station in Gaza is out of action because the PA have not paid for the fuel yet the quisling Abbas is making a show of defending these Palestinians likely to be expelled from Jerusalem.

    Latest News on

    ?June 27 BREAKING NEWS: Abbas meets lawmakers facing expulsion
    ?June 27 BREAKING NEWS: Blackout crisis in Gaza intensifies
    ?June 27 BREAKING NEWS: Likud approves resumption of settlement activities

    It’s 30 degrees C in Gaza with a poor drinking water supply and a bust sewage system. The poor people – what must it be like for them.